Best Practices in Leadership Mentoring

Best practices and danger zones to keep in mind when developing mentoring programs or relationships, including those focused on diversity and inclusion.

I have had the privilege to mentor and coach leaders for more than 50 years. These range from leaders of teenage gangs to university presidents to the CEOs of prestigious Fortune 100 companies. Most of those I mentored had the smarts, agility, commitment, and potential to be successful leaders. The key success factor was their ability to see themselves in future roles.

According to Jennifer Sokolowsky, in a recent report for mentoring organization Chronus,

“Mentoring is a tested way to develop leaders with the help of others within their organization. Mentoring programs give partners the dedicated time and focus they need to work on enhancing their capabilities as leaders, as well as the opportunity to build trusting relationships with experienced senior leaders who can help them improve their management skills. These relationships foster personalized learning and feedback tailored to a leader’s strengths and needs” (

Mentoring can be a valuable tool for developing emerging and future leaders. By defining the goals and objectives of the program, choosing the right mentors, providing training and support for mentors, creating a structured mentoring program, and monitoring and evaluating the program, you can create a mentoring program that helps future leaders reach their full potential.

Best Practices and Danger Zones

Here are some best practices and danger zones to keep in mind when developing mentoring programs or relationships.

Best Practices:

  1. Establish clear goals and expectations: Before beginning a mentoring relationship, it is important to establish clear goals and expectations. What do you hope to accomplish through the mentoring process? What are the specific skills or competencies the mentee wants to develop? By establishing clear goals and expectations, both the mentor and mentee can work toward a common vision.
  2. Build trust: Trust is essential in any mentoring relationship. It is important to establish a safe and supportive environment where the mentee feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings. This can be achieved by establishing clear boundaries and confidentiality agreements.
  3. Encourage self-reflection: A good mentor will encourage their mentee to reflect on their experiences, strengths, and areas for growth. By encouraging self-reflection, the mentee can gain a deeper understanding of their leadership style and identify opportunities for improvement.
  4. Provide feedback: Feedback is critical to the growth and development of emerging leaders. A good mentor will provide constructive feedback on the mentee’s performance and offer suggestions for improvement.
  5. Set up regular check-ins: Regular check-ins allow the mentor and mentee to track progress toward their goals and adjust the mentoring relationship as needed.

Danger Zones:

  1. Power imbalance: It is important to ensure that the mentoring relationship is not characterized by a power imbalance. The mentor should not use their position of authority to exert undue influence or pressure on the mentee.
  2. Overreliance on the mentor: While a good mentor can provide guidance and support, the mentee should not become overly reliant on the mentor. The goal of mentoring is to develop the mentee’s skills and competencies so they can become more self-sufficient and independent.
  3. Lack of confidentiality: Confidentiality is essential to building trust in any mentoring relationship. It is important to establish clear boundaries around what information can be shared and with whom.
  4. Lack of diversity: It is important to ensure that mentoring relationships are diverse and inclusive. Mentors should be mindful of their own biases and work to ensure that the mentoring relationship is open to people of all backgrounds and experiences.
  5. Lack of follow-through: Finally, it is important to ensure that both the mentor and mentee follow through on their commitments. The mentor should be willing to invest time and energy in the relationship, and the mentee should be willing to put in the work to develop their skills and competencies. Without follow-through, the mentoring relationship is unlikely to be successful.
    Mentoring Leaders for Diversity and Inclusion

Mentoring leaders for inclusion is an important process that helps to build more diverse and inclusive organizations. Inclusive leadership means creating an environment where all individuals—regardless of their race, gender, age, or other factors—feel valued and supported. Here are some specific tips for mentoring leaders for inclusion:

  1. Foster self-awareness: Encourage the leaders you’re mentoring to reflect on their own biases and assumptions, and to consider how these might impact their interactions with others.
  2. Promote empathy: Leaders who are more empathetic are more likely to understand the perspectives and experiences of people from different backgrounds. Encourage your mentees to practice active listening, put themselves in others’ shoes, and seek out feedback from those they lead.
  3. Encourage education and learning: Encourage your mentees to educate themselves on topics related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This could include attending workshops or conferences, reading books and articles, or listening to podcasts or Webinars.
  4. Create opportunities for networking and community building: Help your mentees to connect with other leaders who are committed to creating more inclusive organizations. This could involve attending networking events, joining professional associations, or participating in online communities.
  5. Lead by example: Mentors need to model inclusive behaviors and values. Make sure you are consistently demonstrating respect, empathy, and openness to different perspectives.

The Benefits of Mentoring Circles

A mentoring circle is a peer-to-peer mentoring format sponsored by the organization that enables employees who share common interests or learning objectives to develop and learn together as a group. In the process, participants become more engaged with employees across the organization. Since they are employee driven, circles require less administration and are highly scalable. The key benefits are:

  1. Building intra-organizational personal relationships
  2. Facilitating learning and knowledge sharing in a collective format
  3. Promoting career development by increasing employees’ functional expertise and skill sets

The magic of mentoring circles comes from the serendipitous relationships, connections, and desire to help one another over many years.

Please send your questions, comments, and cases regarding best practices in mentoring for leadership to me at:

Neal Goodman, Ph.D.
Dr. Neal Goodman is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, and coach on DE&I (diversity, equity, and inclusion), global leadership, global mindset, and cultural intelligence. Organizations based on four continents seek his guidance to build and sustain their global and multicultural success. He is CEO of the Neal Goodman Group and can be reached at: Dr. Goodman is the founder and former CEO of Global Dynamics Inc.