Peer Mentor Network

Monday, April 17, 2006

Radical Mentoring

A friend sent me this interesting article from Fast Company about a very aggressive form of mentoring by Katherine Mieszkowski that may generate some interesting discussion. This article reminds me how important it is to have a mentor who does more than just stoke your ego. There is always room for development and if your mentor isn't helping you identify those areas for you, then find another mentor. If any of you know of a situation in which "radical mentoring" has failed, please share. Enjoy!

The cofounder and CEO of iVillage on tough mentoring:

Candice Carpenter, Cofounder and CEO of iVillage, wears her tenacity on her sleeve. Success, she believes, comes from commitment, discipline, and sacrifice. "You don't bail out at the first sign of trouble," she says. "You stick with a situation."
One source of Carpenter's beliefs are "radical mentors" - senior executives who've cared enough to push her, even when it hurt. Radical mentors "move people along faster than they want to go," she says. "It's not natural for people to grow as fast as you need them to. People don't grow if you're soft with them. You catapult people forward by being extremely blunt."

Sound tough? It is. Carpenter suggests that senior leaders ask themselves this question: Who are 10 young leaders that I can grow quickly, and what's a crash course that's right for them? "Then you form a contract with those people: 'I would like to help you move along faster. Are you willing to buckle your seat belt and go?' " Mentors have to manage their commitments as well. "I can do this with only a few people at a time," says Carpenter. "It takes a lot of energy."

The key to radical mentoring, Carpenter says, is real-time feedback - direct, honest, public. For example, when she was training to be an Outward Bound instructor, she violated one of the basic rules of crossing a river safely - she buckled the belt on her backpack - and nearly drowned as a result. "My instructor pulled me out of the river," she says. "And then humbled me in front of every student in that course. I have never forgotten that. It shed me of my pride, and I'm grateful for that lesson. Pride is a heavy burden."

Most business decisions don't involve such life-and-death consequences. But the principles of radical mentoring are the same: Personal growth hurts; people won't benefit unless they consciously sign up for it; the process requires as much commitment from the mentor as from the mentee.

Carpenter is convinced that this kind of intellectual honesty is what young people need - especially in fast-moving industries. "People have much greater capacity for growth than they get credit for," she says. "Once you get your first taste of being really challenged, you want to be challenged more."


  • This article is interesting. It's also an article that I would love to pass on to my own mentor. A lot of the time new employees (or mentees), such as myself, are not challenged enough. I don't know if it is because we haven't had time to prove ourselves or because our mentors are not willing to take the time to prepare us and challenge us.

    Another thought that I had is that mentors (usually older) are some times not as efficient as their fresh out of college/new to the workforce/younger mentee. I have been out of college for five years and have held a number of different jobs (I've already changed my career path once!). Though I am no expert, I have noticed a major difference in the efficiency of my older co-workers and the younger employees (myself included). We grew up in a time of computers, the internet, video games, VCRs and DVDs, tapes and CDs, cell phones, text messaging, instant messaging, voice mail, and the all important cable television. We are technologically capable (well, most of us!). All of this has taught us how to multi-task and work quickly and efficiently. While our mentors are in trainings for computer software or copy machine use, these tools are second nature to us. This brings me back to my point, are we not being challenged by our mentors because we are more efficient than they are?

    By Anonymous Leah, at Monday, April 17, 2006  

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