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Updated: Oct 29, 2023

Credit Leadership is an Art author Max De Pree with this great advice. I consider mentoring a professional responsibility, whether I'm acting in my role as a superintendent of schools, a member of the education leadership faculty at California State University, Fullerton, where I teach leadership courses and supervise doctoral dissertations, or as a leadership coach. In all three of my roles, inquiry is rooted at the core of my leadership development coaching strategy.

Teachers foster curiosity and build independent thinkers by coaching their students using an inquiry-based model. Mentors rely on the same principle: provide the means for your mentee to reach their own conclusions. It's a form of empowerment and builds decision-making capacity.

I refer to this methodology as thinking out loud, with a thought partner. Whether I'm working with a colleague, a student, or a mentee, I'm simply helping them to build their intuitive capacity. Leaders have to trust their intuition. Most leaders possess the "answer" to whatever question it is they are asking. My job is to help them find the answers within themselves, therein building the confidence they will need to lead decision-making processes at the highest levels, and in so doing realize their full potential. I've been privileged to have soaked in the wisdom of many great leaders throughout my career. My mentors have impacted me to the degree that their influence is reflected in my daily work.

Leadership coaching results in no monetary compensation, at least it doesn't for me at this point in my career; and mentoring takes more time than either one of my paying jobs, since I take the time to learn about my mentee's world. Why do I take the time to learn about my mentee's world? Because context matters. Leadership is situational. Opportunities and constraints exist in an organizational context.

While the oft-used cliché, "think outside the box," is considered a coveted leadership trait, the reality is that we do our work inside the box (organizational context). Coaching advice, then, will vary accordingly based on context.

Coaching is by far the most rewarding work I do, and I love my other jobs! As time consuming as it is, it is time well spent. I'm not only perpetuating our profession, I'm reminding myself of the power of the human connection - the nexus of authentic leadership. Read Leadership Styles Don't Define Leaders. Leaders Define Leadership Styles, for more on authentic leadership.

Choose your mentors wisely. And don't judge their ability to mentor by their position or title. Judge them based on their ability to bring out the best in you. Their compensation will be the reward that comes from your success and your interest in mentoring others with an equal investment of time and selflessness.

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