Centering Is the New Mentoring

By January 19, 2016Generations


Mentoring is often discussed in leadership and people development circles but rarely done completely, if at all. Leaders need to take a renewed look at what a new mentoring model should be and what our responsibilities are. Mentoring is a way to engage the diversity of ages and lead across all generations.

Mentoring is often related to coaching.

When we hear mentoring, many think “coaching.” Mentoring is not coaching though. Coaches call plays. Mentors enable others to call plays. Maybe it is a subtle difference. Although both can guide, some coaches have a more aggressive approach in how they do it.

Coaches invoke images of individuals yelling at you from the sidelines, wearing headsets to coordinate play, and addressing the media when things go right and wrong.

While coaches may spend more time telling, mentors spend more time listening and asking questions. In the questions, the guidance follows. It follows in the answers given and the unfolding self-awareness.

Mentor conjures up a similar thought today. Even the definition is about the person; it is about someone who is wise or trusted or influential. It is an incomplete, non-diverse approach. In some ways, it becomes too narrow.

And within these thoughts, a new mentoring model emerges. Mentoring is only half the model. The other half is discovering. Mixed into the model is a diversity of people and sources. The old mentoring model is transformed into the Centering Model.

Let’s explore the Centering Model™ more closely and the role of diversity within it.

The Centering Model contains two columns:  One opens a Discovering path while the second focuses on a new Mentoring way. You are in the middle of it, engaging in each quadrant. You are the sponge, soaking in the knowledge and insights of others while giving back all along the way.

new mentoring model

The Discovering channel is the place to begin.

Discovering is a vital way to grow as a leader. To discover is an active mindset. It is not sitting back and being coached. Instead, it is proactively digging in and branching out to learn more. The very definition of discovering gets to this point:  To see, get knowledge of, learn of, find, or find out; gain sight or knowledge of (something previously unseen or unknown). We don’t know everything, whether it is about ourself or the person sitting across from us.

The Centering Model begins here.

Internal. Let’s start with self. The Centering Model begins with self-discovery. It is all about awareness. You need to be aware of who you are and what you stand for. You need to be aware of how you change in certain situations or why you are feeling uneasy about certain decisions or actions done. It starts with you understanding yourself.

Self-awareness is one of the most under-rated leadership skills discussed. Knowing who you are and what your opportunities for growth are open you up to accepting greater diversity of interactions and insights to strengthen your core areas and enlighten your blind spots. Self-awareness also creates a sense of self-accountability. You know what lines you might cross, and you build in ways to prevent it. You know where you need help, and you ask for it. A self-aware leader rises.

Mindfulness gains traction as a key leadership practice and an important component of being self-aware. Meditation, yoga, and other practices generate greater consciousness of our thoughts and centers our actions to respond in more productive ways. Mindfulness is defined as: “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.”

Benefits of mindfulness are many, including less stress and depression and better relationships and self-compassion. Aetna, a large insurance company, and Duke University teamed to study the impact of mindfulness. Some of the benefits of mindful practices include: “decreased stress levels by 28%, improved sleep quality (20%), reduced pain (19%), and improved productivity 62 minutes per employee per week.”

Bill George, former Medtronic CEO and a senior fellow at the Harvard Business School, states it best:

“Mindfulness enables leaders to be fully present, aware of themselves and their impact on other people, and sensitive to their reactions to stressful situations. Leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals.”

To be open to further discovery and mentoring, you need to be comfortable in who you are and where you are going. Focus on being fully aware of who you are and what you want to be.

External. Traditional mentoring usually falls in this arena. You pair up with someone, usually older, and they mentor you. It is about helping you go forward from where you are today to where you want to be (or they want you to be). There is nothing wrong with this approach, and it needs to be leveraged fully.

When you spend time with your mentor, ask a lot of questions. Explore what decisions they made in their past and the lessons learned from them. Explore what their principles are and how they worked in good and bad times. Explore what mistakes they made and what they did to prevent them from happening again. Explore their successes and what the turning points were and choices made to gain the positive traction forward. In other words, don’t be reactive in the present moment with a mentor. Be proactive. Don’t wait for them always to guide the conversation or deliver tidbits of wisdom.

In many cases, however, you will not have a mentor. It is just a reality of leadership. Not having a formal mentor should not be a stopping point, however. There are other sources available for discovering more about who you are and how to become a better you. Here are a few ideas:

  • Go to a conference you have never been before. You never know what you might learn and discover. You may begin thinking about new things in new ways or old things in new ways. The good news is that thinking drives more discovery and puts you on a path for always improving how you lead. For those things that don’t resonate, put them aside for now. Either you are not ready for this element, or it just doesn’t fit with who you are or what you want to become.
  • Select several biographies of different leaders. Read them. If someone’s life and achievements or failures resonate with you, then dig deeper. Develop a library of that person. When you feel complete with that person, select another. Good biographies bring leadership, lesson, failures, and successes to life. They enlighten. They instruct. They engage us to select principles and mindsets that will help us develop in new ways.
  • Attend public sessions at colleges. In most places where you live, there is likely a college or university and they will likely have speakers and will invite the public to attend. Go. Listen. Learn. Engage. Yes, there will be some boring ones, but they are never wasted. And, if you don’t have a local university, there are many sessions online, too. Just remember, you are positioning yourself to learn, grow, and improve the ways you lead, think, interact, and learn. Go!
  • Develop keen observer traits. Observing others is a great ability to develop. By watching how others address opportunities, handle the big challenges, and work through problems with people delivers a great deal of knowledge and insight. Observing others is as much about learning what to do as it is to learn what not to do. We have the luxury of understanding their successes and mistakes, with little cost to us.
  • Be a good conversationalist. People like to talk about themselves. A fact of life. This sets up an opportunity to ask many questions about their experiences and insights. It is not forcing questions upon people or prying into their life. It is about discussing how they got to where they are and what challenges they worked through to get there. How did they handle successes? How did they work through mistakes? Being a good conversationalist is a mix of asking good questions and listening well.
  • Watch for accountability moments. Accountability plays a huge role in life and leadership. We need to be held accountable for our choices and actions. Family and friends will hold us accountable, but a mentor adds a different, needed dimension. Without one, the best way to improvise is through news articles and other current stories we read in which people get caught. How this holds us accountable is by understanding the impact of poor choices and actions. In many ways, it serves as a wake-up call as to why we need to continue to strive to make the best choices possible and take the most appropriate actions possible. Seeing what happens when we don’t serves as a solid reminder. Our newspapers offer a continuous source of these stories each month. We need to take them to heart in our own work.

The point is simple: You may not always be assigned or find a mentor so put together your mentor/discovery montage. Your discovery montage needs to be diverse with a mix of ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, experiences, and more. The more diverse your discovery montage, the stronger you will be as a leader.

The new Mentoring is a multi-directional channel.

new mentoring modelMoving to the other column, this is where the other half of Centering happens. Mentoring is about your experiences and how you share them. With mentoring, it broadens your view into new areas and extends between generations. Reaching back, there are insights you offer to older generations and, reaching forward, there are perspectives you can share with the next generation. Both are equally important and add a needed dimension to diversity and growth.

Reverse. In the Centering Model, it is a multi-way street. Just like an aspen root system, connections and flow of information needs to spread out to maintain a healthy leadership ecosystem. Younger leaders have a perspective, lessons learned, and key insights to share with older leaders. Reverse mentoring is a real, necessary action to take. It keeps all leaders healthy.

The challenge here is getting a leader from an older generation to listen and accept advice and insights from a younger generation. There will be people open to such an exchange, and they will ask. In most cases, the effort will need to be more subtle.

Listening skills will be key, especially in finding that opening to provide your perspective. Empathy plays a role here, too.

In reverse mentoring, you will need to be aware of the other person in what they are saying and how they are saying it. Listen and watch for the openings to offer your insights. Here are some tips:

  • Engage silence. Listen closely to the words being spoken. Listen to their tone. Listen to the emotions. Let them finish their sentences and complete their thoughts. Listen fully. When they are finished, start with “What I hear from you is….. Is this correct?” Once clarified or confirmed, then offer your insight, question, or experience.
  • Watch for body clues. Are their arms open or folded? Are they comfortable or uptight? If arms are folded and the body signs are closed, then you may wish to wait for a different time, a different opportunity to offer your thoughts. Know the right timing to be heard in an open and mutually-beneficial way.
  • Interact with understanding. In conveying your thoughts and perspective, don’t force it or be forceful. Be thoughtful in your approach. Ask questions along the way. Ask for reactions along the way. Gain their insights to your insights. It is a true give-and-take interaction in which your insights can be delivered and accepted.

Forward. There will always be someone younger than you. Whether it is someone from Generation Z or just the younger end of your generation, someone will be starting out just like you did. It is important to pay it forward, meaning give just as others gave to you. Go to a college or high school campus and see if there is a mentoring role you can offer with students.

By interacting with and mentoring someone younger, your leadership insights and skills will be refreshed, too. It is part of the diversity, just at the younger end of the scale. In a meaningful way, you are giving someone younger an opportunity to serve as a reverse mentor to you. It is a great cycle to be in. Embrace it.

An Aspen Truth for leaders is to collaborate across generations to gain strength.

Aspens are strongest when there is a mix of young and old. The most influential Millennial leaders will reach across generations to make progress. The Centering Model is a way to reach across generations and activate our relationships, partnerships, and growth.

Just think about it. In each of the four quadrants, you will be reaching a different generation and, if not, you need to try harder. And, yes, your generation counts. Even though you may be a key part of the very large Millennial generation, you still are unique. You need to understand your perspective and then build on it by interacting individuals within your generation and with other ones.

Use the spectrum below as a guide and ensure you have at least 4 to 6 individuals in each generation in which you have some ongoing interaction with. Write down their names and what you have learned from them.

mentor by generation

A new mentoring approach needs to be considered and used. The Centering Model is a good place to begin making this leadership development shift. The essential key is to do these Centering activities with empathy and an open mindset.

How do you see mentoring changing? Does the Centering Model incorporate the right elements? What would you add?


Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Danny Rubin says:

    Totally agree with you about the importance of self-awareness. That is a learned skill and can make such a tremendous impact in personal and professional relationships. Great piece here, Jon!

  • Marisa says:

    Hi Jon,
    I am going to come back to this one… there’s so much here. As a solo-entrepreneur, isolation is a major issue, even though I’m constantly in communication with people from across the spectrum of age and experience. Mentorship seems like something for people who are in an office each day or who have the freedom to take a ton of meetings (not the reality of the work at home mother).
    What I am taking away from this piece today: there are other ways to be mentored besides having coffee with someone each week.

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Hi Marisa,

      Thanks for your comments and insights. I agree. There are other ways to be mentored. In reality, we need to shift to a Centering Model in which discovering is matched with mentoring. Mentoring even shifts to what we offer others older and younger than ourselves. Even in an office, the old mentoring ways never seem to work quite right.

      For work-at-home individuals, the Centering Model still works, I think. It may be through the online seminars or courses or going to conference to make the necessary growth connections. In some ways, the self discovery may be more possible in these situations while we need to stretch ourselves to connect on the mentoring side of the equation.

      Grateful for your perspective on this. Thank you!


  • Alli Polin says:

    Wow. What a robust piece from you. I think that the Centering Model is a powerful one because it puts you in control and gives you responsibility for your growth – you’re on center stage. It’s more than finding a mentor and having a quarterly conversation.

    It’s also interesting how you differentiate coaching and mentoring. As a certified coach, my perspective is at odds with your definition (I suspect it has to do with the transformation of coaching from the old sports model). Asking questions, listening, not assuming you have all the answers is definitely the role of many coaches today and many mentors share their experiences more readily and aggressively too. Again, I think a key differentiator on the coaching spectrum may be training – I was trained how to listen, question, hold up a mirror and help someone to reflect and not give them the answers because they are within. Many coaches who are not trained fall more on the telling / direction side of the spectrum and in my opinion, we need more coaches and mentors who embrace your Centering Model.

    ~ Alli

    • Jon Mertz says:

      Thank you, Alli, and a great point on coaching. I believe the career coaches take a much different tact than sport coaches. Through your training and methods, the “coaching” is done with much more empathy and asking questions that help develop directions and new skills. For the traditional mentors, I believe some of the sport coaching models are used more, mostly due because of the lack of training in how to really be a mentor. We need to refresh both sides of the old mentoring formula, in my opinion.

      Your feedback and insights are always very helpful, Alli, and I appreciate it so much! It helps me think through things more. Very valuable.

      Thanks! Jon

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