The Legacy of Leaders

Organizations that build a strong tradition of leadership and nurture leaders at all levels consistently outperform their competition. General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Hewlett Packard, Dell and Herman Miller are such companies. They have dominated their industries through a tradition of excellent leadership.

THE MENTOR One important way of leaving a legacy of leadership in your organization is to develop and retain talented people through mentoring. Mentors build strong leadership cultures by instilling a passion for performance excellence, through their generous contributions of time, attention to the development of others and constructive feedback.

A mentor is someone who has:

Skills in technical aspects of a professional pursuit and the ability to teach those skills to others.

Skills that demonstrate competence in managing relationships.

Character that demonstrates the ability to use power in wise and constructive ways.

The ability to be honest and fair in assessing what's working and not working in the performance of a protégé for the purpose of strengthening and improving performance.

The ability to give feedback that does not provoke defensiveness and cannot be ignored.

Who are the most important mentors, teachers or coaches in your personal or professional life? Why? How did they change the way you thought, felt or acted? Who are you currently helping to develop as a leader and how are you practicing the art of the mentoring?

THE PROTÉGÉ   Protégé comes from the French word proteger, which means to protect. A protégé is a person under the patronage, protection or care of someone truly interested in their personal and career development. To be a protégé is a high honour. It requires not only gifts and talents and a solid character but also a singular commitment to learning and growth.

A protégé must:

Consistently initiate learning opportunities through requests for information, feedback and advice.

Be open to positive and corrective feedback without defensiveness.

Manage the self-critic so that corrective feedback can be balanced with positive feedback.

Consider the feedback that is given without dismissing or deflecting it.

Remain committed to mentoring especially when faced with challenging feedback.

Incorporate and demonstrate positive change from mentoring.

Who do you consistently seek out for feedback and advice? What areas of your leadership do you need to strengthen or improve? How do you know this? Do you make time for personal and professional development outside of your daily work routine?

FEEDBACK   Feedback is the primary vehicle of the mentor and protégé relationship. Feedback comes from insight - the ability to see performance opportunities and obstacles that either support or hinder the personal development or career path of the protégé.

Many people think they want feedback but become resistant, defensive or dismissive when they receive it. This indicates that their real desire was for the mentor's approval rather than real feedback.

Choose as a guide one who you will admire more when you see him act than when you hear him speak.


Former Olympic skier Steve Podborski, one of the original Crazy Canucks and the first North American to win the Alpine World Cup, once encouraged me to give him corrective feedback in his new role as a spokesman for a major corporation. "That's how I improve," he said.

Guidelines for giving feedback are:

Provide context for the feedback you are providing, including what you see, why it's important and how change might be incorporated.

Make sure you consider the proper time and place for the feedback so that it can be delivered confidentially, and that there is ample time to discuss how performance might be improved or changed.

Be honest and specific so that feedback is clear, direct and easy to incorporate.

Check-in to gauge how the protégé understands and incorporates the feedback that is being provided.

Check back later with the protégé to ensure they have an opportunity to ask questions, share insights and voice concerns that may have occurred through reflection.

Those who seek mentoring, will rule the great expanse under heaven.
Those who boast that they are greater than others will fall short.
Those who are willing to learn from others become greater.
Those who are ego-involved will be humbled and made small.


seven barriers to growth

Tiger Woods, the golf prodigy, has changed his swing three times as a professional. Each change brought with it a hail of criticism. Yet, Woods has persevered despite the controversy .and continues to win. Leaders who do not look for ways to continually learn, improve and grow become a liability. "Learning is like rowing upstream," says the old proverb "not to advance is to drop back."

There are seven barriers to growth that mentors and protégés must remain vigilant to:


The practice of Mentoring is a perennial wisdom. It has survived for thousands of years for one reason - it works. Organizations that preserve "tribal wisdom" by ensuring that knowledge, skills, values and history pass from generation to generation, leader to leader through mentoring build a sustainable learning culture. That's the kind of organization that enjoys a legacy of strong, enduring leadership and sustained success.

Posted on October 1, 2005 .