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The Mentoring Difference

November 12, 2010
By: Kevin Spafford, Farm Journal Columnist
 
 

 

Recently, I had the privilege of visiting with Carl Larson of Nored, Inc., and LaMoure Equipment, Inc., and Gregg Halverson of Black Gold Farms, both of North Dakota. I was fascinated and humbled by the breadth and depth of their collective experience.
Both men are extremely successful
by any measure of business or professional accomplishment. The most telling feature of the foremost leaders in agriculture is a willingness to share, which is matched by a corresponding desire to learn.
The balance of using what you know and learning what you don’t can be
examined by looking at the difference
between management and leadership.
Management is a set of skills and
capabilities that can be learned from a book, taught by an instructor and experienced in group, team, business or community settings. Leadership, by comparison, is entirely different.
Leadership is an ability resulting from experience, desire, education, coaching and charisma. Books, teachers, experts and even great leaders have struggled with the concept of teaching leadership. Concepts can be taught, principles can be memorized and good practices utilized, yet without experience leadership is a theory. Like any other skill or ability, leadership is best learned as a combination of academic study, practical exercises, real-life experiences and coaching.
Both management and leadership are required to succeed in any undertaking:
nManagement is the environment. Leadership establishes the environment.
nManagement is about doing things right. Leadership is about doing the right things.
nManagement wants control. Leadership is founded in trust.
nThe manager says, “You will…” The leader says, “We should…” 
A good mentor is invaluable for leadership development. In our work with clients through the transition process, the conversation centers on developing capable leaders to continue the business.
The succession planning process is founded on a smooth ownership transition. Every person dependent upon the long-term success of the operation will rely on the current leader and a prepared next generation. Be it a family member, loyal employee or third-party alliance, there are many people
invested in the success of your operation. Dad may not be the best mentor for a son or daughter. A mentor/protégé relationship may be best facilitated from an arm’s-length perspective using an industry leader.
The mentoring experience is designed to:
nprepare tomorrow’s leaders for a lifetime of career growth and development.
nleverage the skills and abilities of our most productive industry leaders to help next-generation leaders be more productive in a less amount of time.
nenhance the competencies and capabilities of both mentor and protégé.
nincrease the leadership “bench strength” of the participating organizations.
A mentor/protégé relationship is established on common points of understanding. There must be a willingness to talk freely and share openly. A wise man once said that the teacher always learns more than the student. In the right relationship, both mentor and protégé will each play an instrumental role in the other’s professional growth and development. In addition, the mentoring relationship must be founded on specific objectives and identifiable goals.

Seven questions. If you are a protégé looking for a mentor, the following questions may help you identify the right person to augment your professional development plan:
1. Does the prospective mentor have enough of the right experience to offer real solutions and quality feedback for my most pressing concerns and questions?
2. Has the prospective mentor invested enough time into a vocation, project, role or endeavor to offer valuable feedback and support my efforts?
3. Has the prospective mentor recovered from failure and tasted victory? Success and failure is a required learning experience. Failure teaches more than success, yet the latter is
always the goal.
4. Does the prospective mentor have a wide network of professional and vocational associates? The depth and breadth of a mentor’s experience is partially based on his or her professional or vocational network.
5. Does the prospective mentor have a number of other interests and obligations that may detract from an otherwise constructive relationship? Excessive commitments can interfere with a candidate’s time and attention.
6. A mentor should own, manage or work in a business or endeavor that is comparable in size and structure and complementary in scope to your vision. Does the prospective mentor fit this description?
7. Will your mentor/protégé relationship work only in person? Specific location is important only if you or your mentor feel that eye-to-eye contact is the only way to communicate. Otherwise, technology allows us to create relationships literally around the globe.

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