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June 25, 2022
Organizational Success Depends on Mentoring People Who Will Lead
Book Leader Mentoring

If the key function of leadership, arguably, is to prepare organizations for future success, it is imperative that nonprofits identify—and cultivate—leaders capable of taking them forward, for which Leader Mentoring offers critical, concrete counsel.

Leaders are creative people, and just as mentoring has always been seen as necessary to the growth of artists, emerging leaders benefit from structured mentoring, writes Michael Shenkman, a widely experienced consultant and professional mentor. In fact, his mantra is “no mentors, no leaders.”

Precisely because he puts leading on a creative continuum, rather than a managerial one, Shenkman proposes that leaders “go through the same process of being discovered, being nurtured, and finding exemplars, as artists do.”

Leading is completely different from managing, he writes: “Managerial training and motivation techniques today have appropriated some of the ideas about leading (such as innovating, driving out of the box, and motivating with persuasion and passion rather than authoritarian coercion.) But those things alone do not transform managing into leading no what the rhetoric in which it’s dressed.”

Preparing future leaders starts with a looming challenge: how to identify candidates, especially since, as Shenkman writes, “the best leader candidates don’t necessarily present themselves in the same way managerial candidate for promotion do.” The guidance he provides, based on many years working with executives to foster new leaders, alone makes the book a valuable read.

The next step—mentoring those candidates—is a delicate proposition, more a matter of art than science.

Mentors can only catalyze and energize what mentees are willing to do make a change in their lives, according to Shenkman. Mentors are not instructors, teachers, or coaches. They don’t provide answers; they insist that questions be faced (even if answers don’t emerge). They help mentees identify the qualities and values that will sustain the creative act of leading, not the skills needed to execute a project.

Clearly, not every current leader can mentor, due perhaps to lack of time, skills, or disposition, which has given rise to professional mentors the organization can hire. (While Leader Mentoring focuses on professional mentors, much of what it offers applies to non-professionals, including those within an organization who want to mentor the next leaders.)

Mentoring is a serious undertaking for mentees, of course, but also for the organization. “Your organization’s leaders must be willing to absorb the wave of energies released by leader mentoring… if a need for creative leading is recognized and managers are encouraged to accommodate new ideas and refreshed outlooks on the organization, potentially disrupting dynamics will break through old constraints,” writes Shenkman.

The value of leader mentoring flows directly from the realm of risk – when the organization is at risk, as many nonprofits are as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as when leaders ask people to take risks to address change. Leaders themselves, by choice or necessity, “drive into risk” to steer the organization forward, and therefore need the self confidence, imagination, and creativity that will see them through.

There may be some people who could be described as “born leaders,” but most, Shenkman argues, will benefit from someone who can guide and challenge them to become the leader their organization needs, in other words a mentor.

Leader Mentoring is available from Amazon.

Reviewed by Peter Lowy
March 2021

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