The Leadership Waltz: Mentoring Vs. Discipling Between Leaders and Followers

The leader’s job is both dynamic and daunting. The leader must choreograph the corporate vision, purpose, values, strategy, tactics, and goals. The leader must also compose the team through which he or she executes the business model.

Leaders must influence followers by continually adjusting some 90 material variables validated in a 2006 article by Dr. Bruce Winston and Dr. Kathleen Patterson, “An Integrative Definition of Leadership.” Additionally, the leader must continually orchestrate the emphasis among these variables against the backdrop of competitive realities: (i) customers purchase comparative value, (ii) value is a function of price, (iii) price pressure in the market is relentless, (iv) firms have more control over their costs than they do over their prices, (v) profitability is a function of price and cost, and (vi) profitability is the prerequisite to employee career possibilities.

Effective leaders practice something that consulting firm Middle Market Methods deems R4: the right people with the right skills in the right positions at the right time. Especially with respect to skills, this alchemy is a blend of discipling and mentoring. Discipling and mentoring may be espoused firm values. As such, a leader’s corporate legacy may be institutionalizing the discipling and mentoring processes.

The familial relationship between children, parents, and grandparents offers some insights about the organizational principles of discipling and mentoring between leaders and followers. Grandparents and parents may share similar values. Additionally, they may have similar motivations and aspirations for the child. However, parenting and grandparenting tactics may differ.

Grandparenting resembles mentoring. Grandparents tend to have less face time with the child. They may approach the child altruistically with influence. They may invite the child to learn in a non-directive or non-threatening way. Perhaps the child may be more receptive to the grandparent’s overtures because the emanating source is not the comparatively authoritative parental figure. Grandparental mentoring may result in the child’s attainment of perspective or the development of wisdom. Successful grandparental mentoring may prepare the child to analyze ambiguous situations and make mature choices.

Parenting is akin to discipling. Parents tend to have more face time with the child. Parents may wish to indoctrinate the child. The parental teaching approach may include both positive and negative reinforcement. Parental discipling may result in the child’s perception of right and wrong. The desired outcome of parental discipling may be the child’s “good” Pavlovian response to situations beyond the parent’s line of sight. Successful parental discipling may result in the child’s institutionalized values and character.

Homer’s Odyssey first introduced the word mentor, and positioned the role as a trusted advisor. In Chip Bell’s Managers as Mentors, he explains mentoring as the process by which the mentor helps a mentee learn. Bell expounds on the learning formula by describing its informal, infrequent, and non-conformist aspects. The thought comes to mind of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates as bridge opponents. Both are corporate icons in their venues, yet they mentor each other in business and non-business topics.Neither is tempted to upstage the other.

The root word of discipling is disciple. The Online Etymology Dictionary imparts an image of a student who accomplishes understanding. Students require teachers. Thus, the teaching, or discipling process, connotes an environment of order, authority, and rigor.

The comparison and contrast of discipling with mentoring may be viewed as the difference between proficiency and craftsmanship. A leader may disciple his or her followers to attain levels of expertise. For empowered, delegated business cultures, discipled knowledge includes situations requiring confirmation with the chain of command. This is especially important in virtual and global organizations. Leaders may measure the effectiveness of their discipling by the follower’s ability to apply acquired skills in order to predictably perform assigned accountabilities.

The discipling concept enjoys several practical examples. The certified public accountant and bar exams attest to technical competencies for potential employers. Commercial banks routinely subject new hires to credit training programs. Even tenured employees receive continuing education and compliance training, such as sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity, and conflict management.

The craftsmanship objective of mentoring comes with a different game plan than is the case for discipling. Mentors do not trump mentees with authority. True mentoring is offered to the mentee for personal consideration and voluntary adoption. The mentor’s insights are presented to the mentee as a medium for reaching a higher level of performance and person fulfillment. Through effective mentoring, the mentee may reach the apex of psychologist Abraham Maslow’s human needs hierarchy: self-actualization.

While the mentee is free to eschew knowledge without immediate consequence, a poor decision may impair career development. This choice affords the mentee discernment. Moreover, since the learning experience includes the mentor, there is occasion for the mentor to test stylistic approaches for sharing knowledge with other potential mentees.

Mentoring is a reciprocal opportunity. The mentor may become the mentored (mentee). While the mentoring role may imply seasoned seniority, the (possibly) junior mentee may impart knowledge to his or her mentor. For example, the veteran mentor may offer insights about multi-cultural, virtual teams to the mentee. The mentee may return the favor with technological insights for managing projects, such as Microsoft Project Server and Microsoft Share Point.

Discipling and mentoring may be examined through Frederick Herzberg’s two-factor theory of hygienic and motivating factors. Perhaps the hygienic factors align with discipling. Hygienic factors include company policy and administration, supervision, interpersonal relations, working conditions, salary, status, and security. Perhaps the motivating factors align with mentoring. Motivating factors include achievement, recognition of achievement, the work itself, responsibility, advancement, and growth.

Work teams are increasingly diverse-age, gender, demographics, and geography. Consequently, the leader’s strategy for discipling and mentoring his or her team must reconcile with the business model’s theaters of execution. The leader has to be sufficiently savvy to select the best script for discipling and mentoring followers. Against these complexities, the leader may forego direct discipling and mentoring in favor of an indirect route. These paths may be intra-organizational or extra-organizational.

Leaders should consider cultural variation in their discipling and mentoring strategy. The Geert-Hofstede cultural variation tool provides comparative insights in the categories of power-distance index, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance index, and long-term orientation. For example, a wide variation in the power-distance index may indicate that discipling is easier than mentoring. In more egalitarian cultures, mentoring may be easier than discipling.

Dr. John Ivancevich provides generational insights in his textbook, Human Resource Management. The Greatest Generation is mostly retired from the workforce. Whereas their formal educations may be comparatively Spartan to succeeding generations, their experiences are invaluable. Are they mentors in waiting?

What about Generation X? They are approaching the last scenes of their careers. What do Gen Xers offer as disciplers and mentors for Generation Y’s advent into the workforce? May these generations trade knowledge in the context of mentoring?

The true dividends of discipling and mentoring are the mutual gratification of improved employee performance. While the effect of discipling may be overt, mentoring may leave no traceable causational evidence. Therefore, the leader must be content with favorable performance outcomes, never knowing for certain the portion attributable to mentoring. Such is the leadership waltz.

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