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Mentoring, Servant Leadership and Transformational Leadership

Servant Leadership





Now that is a thought provoking title! Think of the leaders in your organization today. Do any of them demonstrate the qualities of an effective mentor, servant leader or transformational leader? Let’s take a look at what each of these roles would look like.

A mentor is a person who through a trusted relationship helps guide, support and counsel a person through the world of work with a focus on personal and professional growth and the facilitation of critical thinking skills. The mentor uses the Socratic Method to guide the person to the answer through asking a series of questions.

What are the characteristics of an effective mentor?  Typically we see an effective mentor as someone with excellent interpersonal skills. They are a great communicator with solid active listening skills. They draw on their experience, not so much to tell people what to do, but to use that experience to frame the right questions to guide the mentee to the answers. An effective mentor has awesome relationship building skills – they can build a trusted relationship quickly and are willing to share personal information in order to help build that relationship. They are genuine and caring with each and every person that they come into contact with. They understand the difference between personal and professional growth and how to guide the mentee through both of those areas. They also know the value of a good coach and when they need to hand off to that coach for the betterment of their mentee.

A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. Servant leadership is a lifelong journey that includes discovery of one’s self, a desire to serve others, and a commitment to lead. Servant-leaders continually strive to be trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, visionary, empowering, relational, competent, good stewards, and community builders.

What are the characteristics of a servant leader? These characteristics are central to the development of a servant-leader: listening – putting the emphasis on listening effectively to others; empathy – understanding others’ feelings and perspectives; healing – helping to foster each person’s emotional and spiritual health and wholeness; awareness – understanding his or her own values and feelings, strengths and weaknesses; persuasion – influencing others through their persuasiveness; conceptualization – integrating present realities and future possibilities; foresight – having a well-developed sense of intuition about how the past, present, and future are connected; stewardship – holding an organization’s resources in trust for greater goods; commitment to the growth of people – serving the need of others; building community – creating a sense of community among people.

A Transformational leader enhances the motivation, morale, and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms. These include connecting the follower’s sense of identity and self to the project and the collective identity of the organization; being a role model for followers, inspiring them and keeping them interested; challenging followers to take greater ownership for their work, and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of followers, aligning followers with tasks that enhance their performance.

What are the characteristics of a transformational leader? We need to look at this from the four pillars of transformational leadership. They are:

1.            Individualized Consideration – the degree to which the leader attends to each follower’s needs, acts as a mentor or coach to the follower and listens to the follower’s concerns and needs. Demonstrates empathy and support, keeps communication open and places challenges before the followers. This also encompasses the need for respect and celebrates the individual contribution that each follower can make to the team. The followers have a will and aspirations for self-development and have intrinsic motivation for their tasks;

2.            Intellectual Stimulation – the degree, to which the leader challenges assumptions, takes risks and solicits followers’ ideas. Leaders with this style stimulate and encourage creativity in their followers. They nurture and develop people who think independently. For such a leader, learning is a value and unexpected situations are seen as opportunities to learn. The followers ask questions, think deeply about things and figure out better ways to execute their tasks;

3.            Inspirational Motivation – the degree to which the leader articulates a vision that is appealing and inspiring to followers, they challenge followers with high standards, communicate optimism about future goals, and provide meaning for the task at hand. Followers need to have a strong sense of purpose if they are to be motivated to act. Purpose and meaning provide the energy that drives a group forward. The visionary aspects of leadership are supported by communication skills that make the vision understandable, precise, powerful and engaging. The followers are willing to invest more effort in their tasks; they are encouraged and optimistic about the future and believe in their abilities;

4.            Idealized Influence – provides a role model for high ethical behavior, instills pride, gains respect and trust.

When we look at the characteristics of a servant leader and a transformational leader we see a lot of what we look for in an effective mentor.  We see strong communication and listening skills realizing that communication is two way.  There is a sender and a receiver and the roles change. We see empathy in the understanding of feelings and perspectives. This plays a large role in the understanding of cultural differences. Understanding who you are as a person is a characteristic that effective mentors need to have and this is a similar characteristic for the servant leader and the transformational leader as well. The ability to be able to conceptualize assisting in the motivation of followers is also a role that an effective mentor has. This is particularly of interest when you are working with a person to help them see how they are a part of the success of an organization – they need to see the bigger picture and how they can help the organization realize that vision. The commitment to the growth of people is an effective mentoring characteristic that is evident in both leadership styles.

There is a strong correlation between effective mentoring, servant and transformational leadership. We need to look at our leadership development programs to make sure that we have a mentoring component in the program to reinforce the characteristics that we are looking for in our leaders today and in the future. When we develop our succession plans and succession development (usually a missing piece) we want to make sure that effective mentoring is a part of the development strategy. We can enhance the soft skills and knowledge transfer elements of that strategy in order to better prepare the successor for their new leadership role. After all, we would not want to set them up for failure!

Leadership and mentoring are a part of the future of all organizations. We just need to take the time to better understand why. The business value is there to support us embracing the “power of mentoring”. After all, can we afford not to?



1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformational_leadership

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Servant_leadership#Characteristics_of_being_a_servant_leader

3. http://www.asha.org/students/gatheringplace/ExcMentor.htm

4. Special thanks to Glenda Ball and Debra Lawrence for their contribution to this article