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  • Writer's pictureDr. Patrick E. Crawford

Who are you mentoring?

Leadership Thoughts | Issue #161

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In the world of leadership, the guidance of a mentor or a coach is crucial as a compass in uncharted territories.  Last week's issue of Leadership Thoughts explored the value of leadership coaching. Although the terms coaching and mentoring are sometimes used interchangeably, there are significant differences. Mentors and coaches are essential to personal and professional growth, but their approaches and relationships vary considerably. Mentors offer ongoing, informal support and guidance focusing on overall development through shared knowledge and personal experiences. In contrast, coaches are trained to enhance specific skills or achieve particular goals within a structured timeframe, utilizing techniques like active listening and questioning to encourage self-directed advancement. While mentorships may involve deep personal bonds and general life advice, coaching relationships are more formal and centered on immediate objectives while maintaining professional boundaries. Ultimately, the decision between a mentor or coach depends on an individual's needs and the assistance they seek.

Finding a Mentor

During my first month as a new school superintendent, I realized that, unlike the principal position, I had no one within the system to whom I could ask for advice about being a superintendent. At that time, I never gave much thought to having a mentor, although looking back on my career, I see that I had many who contributed to my success.   My first attempt at finding a successful superintendent who might take me under their wing was discouraging. I approached Frank from a neighboring district and asked if he could advise me about being a superintendent.   He replied, "Yes, this is the worst time in history to be a superintendent." I immediately decided to extend my search for help. Fortunately, I connected with several leaders who gave me outstanding advice and guidance.  

A Mentoring Program

When I was the Director of Professional Development for the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA), we developed a superintendent's mentoring program for all new superintendents.   When I contacted experienced superintendents to volunteer their time to mentor a new superintendent, I never had one person reject the request. After a microlearning conversation about the role of mentor and how it goes beyond 'give me a call if you have a question,' they eagerly embraced the idea and almost immediately reached out to meet with the new superintendent. Whether through a formal process like the one we had at PASA or through personal networks, the value of having mentors is evident in every leader's success story. 

Who are your mentors?

Who are your mentors? This is not a rhetorical question; take a few minutes to recognize and thank those who have helped you get where you are. Often, mentoring comes to us through discussions or observations. When a peer or colleague takes a particular interest in your success and goes out of their way to support you, a bond occurs based on trust that can't be duplicated.    

Who are you mentoring?

Who you mentor is a crucial question that reveals a person's leadership style and belief system. Mentoring displays a willingness to invest in the success of the team and the organization, not just their own. When you mentor, you are creating an atmosphere where others can flourish. Active mentorship fosters a culture that prioritizes close relationships and promotes cohesiveness within teams, ultimately benefiting the organization's overall culture. Mentoring can also play a crucial role in succession planning, as leaders work to prepare the next generation of leaders who will face future challenges within the organization.

Successful mentors possess a strong sense of empathy and emotional intelligence. They can tailor their mentoring approach to cater to the individual needs of their mentees, demonstrating an understanding and ability to address a wide range of personal and professional obstacles. This quality is crucial in leadership, impacting how leaders engage with their teams and navigate through intricate circumstances.

Mentoring has a powerful impact that goes beyond just the two individuals involved. It creates a ripple effect throughout the organization. Mentoring demonstrates the leader's ability to inspire and develop leadership skills in others. Through mentoring, we can see how an individual creates an atmosphere where leadership and personal growth go hand in hand.


Mentoring plays a vital role in developing effective leaders. Whether through formal programs or natural connections within professional networks, mentors significantly influence personal and organizational success. I encourage you to reflect on those who have guided your path and consider how you can pass it on by becoming a mentor. Embracing the responsibilities of a mentor not only strengthens your leadership but also prepares future leaders to navigate the complexities of their roles, creating a successful and more resilient organization.

Reflection Questions

When you think back on your career, is there a specific moment when a mentor or coach significantly impacted your professional journey? How did their guidance shape the path you took?

Do you clearly distinguish between when you need a mentor's wisdom versus a coach's structured guidance? What factors would affect your decision to seek one over the other?

Have you taken on the role of mentor or coach in your professional environment? Can you recall a situation where your guidance was crucial to someone else's growth? How has this experience influenced your leadership style?


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