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Is mentoring out?



An article in today’s Wall Street Journal expresses doubts about the extent to which managers should offer advice and guidance to their reports.  The Journal article (“Today’s Bosses Find Mentoring Isn’t Worth the Time and Risks?”, p. B1) takes the example of a CEO of a California-based telecommunications firm, who believes that managers can’t afford constantly to offer advice and guidance to their subordinates.  “We have to presume the competence of employees – and then, when we’re disappointed, spend time coaching and training,” said Scott Flanders of Freedom Communications.  This model comprises teaching by example and intermittent (rather than ongoing) feedback.


Quality time with their staff is an increasingly demanding task for managers because of the number of subordinates.  A senior VP at Coca-Cola cited in the article had about ninety individuals working for him.  His month consisted of extensive travel, domestic and foreign.  “I try to make every interaction I have with someone on my team a teaching experience,” he told the Journal.


Critics of the hands-off approach to managing worry that in the long term the organization will pay the cost of a deficiency in leaders and workers who can step up to handle challenging assignments.  An assumption that self-reliance will fill in the gaps from spotty leadership is dangerous.


Remember the three-cornered triangle:  At Corner 1 are the owners of the organization, at Corner 2 are the customers and the market, and at Corner 3 is the labor that makes or breaks the triangle if given insufficient attention. Put too much time and effort into Corners 1 and 2 and Corner 3 will cause problems, including legal ones.