What Educational Leaders Must Do to Ensure Mentoring Success


As an education leader you already know the value of mentoring. But how do you go about institutionalizing that value for others?

You may have tried launching a mentoring program and achieved a modicum of success and are looking for a solution that will assure long-term sustainability and impact.

A Mentoring Culture Solution

A mentoring culture strengthens relationships throughout an organization. It supports and sustains all the mentoring that goes on in an organization. It adds to the vibrancy and productivity of a school district or system. It helps people feel more connected to each other. And, most importantly, it promotes mentoring excellence as the standard of practice.

Sounds great and like work, right? Creating a mentoring culture is an iterative process. It involves continuously promoting individual and organizational readiness, generating multiple learning opportunities, settings and processes to foster cognitive, affective and behavioral learning, and providing support to help everyone engaged in mentoring be successful at it.

An organization like a school, a school district or a school system with an existing learning and/or development culture has a distinct advantage in creating a mentoring culture.

Eight Hallmarks of a Mentoring Culture

Through my practice and research I have found eight hallmarks that characterize a vibrant and full mentoring culture; alignment, accountability, communication, value and visibility, demand, multiple mentoring opportunities, education and training and safety nets.

Each hallmark is distinct although no one hallmark can work to its potential entirely by itself. The hallmarks build on and strengthen each other. The more consistently each hallmark is present, the fuller and more robust the mentoring culture.


Successful mentoring programs are tied to something larger than just themselves. When mentoring is aligned within an organizational culture, it is not perceived as an add-on but is part of the organization’s DNA. Because there are very compelling reasons to engage in mentoring that are tied directly to outcomes, it is far likely to be sustainable.

Is mentoring aligned with your organization’s culture? Is it linked to your strategic goals? How does your vision for mentoring align with your organizational values? What do you need to do to be more aligned with your values and your actions?


Good intention is not enough. A mentoring culture works when there are set goals, responsibilities and expectations in place and mentoring becomes seamless and routine. A structure supports mentoring partners. Routine benchmarking is the norm. To manage expectations and encourage self-accountability, roles and responsibilities — for principals, administrators, superintendents, program managers, for example — are clarified.

What are your reasons for engaging in mentoring? What are your compelling reasons to invest in mentoring? What benefits do you want to gain as a result of your investment? How will you measure results?


Mentoring has ongoing visibility in a mentoring culture. The benefits of mentoring to the district are crystal clear. A strategic communication plan drives consistent communication with key stakeholders. Communication is two-way and includes stakeholder feedback about what is working and what is not working and drives process improvement.

What is your strategy for communicating with your stakeholders? Who are the stakeholders with whom you need to communicate? What information does each stakeholder need? What mechanisms are you using to communicate? When and how often do you need to communicate? Who is responsible for ensuring the communication takes place?

Value and Visibility

Creating value for mentoring never stops. Whether it is through email, personal contact, role modeling, banners and posters, or conversation, ongoing advocacy takes place all the time in a mentoring culture. Celebrating milestones, little and big, and positive closure to relationships or — on a programmatic basis — a cycle of mentoring, creates huge value. Celebration elevates and disseminates knowledge about mentoring, aligns the culture, honors achievement, provides incentives and reinforces the purposing vision. As an educational leader you need to be talking about mentoring in formal presentations, speeches and informal meetings to reinforce its value.

In what ways is mentoring currently visible and adding value in your organization? Can you identify specific ways you can raise the current level of mentoring visibility and heighten the value of mentoring in your organization?


Demand and credibility go hand in hand. When mentoring creates a buzz it spurs further demand. People are voluntarily vocal in their support. They actively advocate for mentoring because they are believers. They share experiences and talk about how mentoring is creating value. They “catch the fever” and become eager to learn more about mentoring opportunities. They participate in formal mentoring and seek informal mentoring relationships on their own. Mentors want to be mentees. Mentees want to be mentors; many end up engaging in simultaneous mentoring relationships.

What are benefits of creating demand for mentoring in your organization? What concrete strategies can you immediately execute to build demand for mentoring in your organization? How will you know you are effective?

Multiple Mentoring Opportunities

Although mentoring activity goes on in nearly every organization, most need to work at creating concurrently advancing and supporting multiple mentoring opportunities. Mentoring cultures that adopt a blended approach promote quality mentoring interaction for informal and formal mentoring. Group mentoring, reverse mentoring, cascade mentoring and mentoring mosaics are very popular options today. A mentoring culture creates open best practice communities to regularly share information and resources.

What opportunities for mentoring are currently available in your organization? What other types of mentoring and mentoring partnerships are possible that fit the culture of your organization?


Mentoring training, when well-executed, becomes a natural springboard to organizational mentoring excellence. Offer multi-level mentoring training for new, somewhat experienced, and veteran mentees and mentors. Facilitate peer mentoring roundtables for mentors or mentees — or both together — to promote timely sharing of best mentoring practices and an opportunity to benchmark their progress. Conduct renewal training for experienced and veteran mentors. Prepare mentors to transition to the mentee role. Include mentoring training in your leadership development program.

What education and training do you need and for whom? What is already in place that you can build on? What kind of ongoing training support is needed? How do you support informal mentoring? What is it mentors need to know?

Safety Net

A safety net provides support for individuals, teams, and organizations to continue to move forward in a coherent way. Anticipate potential mentoring partnership stumbling blocks and organization roadblocks. Having safety nets in place will help you more easily overcome or avoid obstacles with minimum repercussion and risk.

What stumbling blocks can you anticipate? How are you going to address them? What strategies should you put in place if and when they occur? What organizational roadblocks might get in the way? How will you address them?

Mentoring is not only a professional leadership competency; it is indispensable to long-term leadership success. In addition to enlarging your own capacity to lead, keep in mind that leaders who are personally and organizationally committed to mentoring are far better able to support the growth and development of their people. Ultimately, mentoring can help your organization improve retention, build morale, increase commitment, accelerate leadership development and succession planning, provide ongoing career development support, reduce stress and facilitate individual and organizational learning. Now who wouldn’t want that?

Dr. Lois Zachary is an internationally recognized expert on mentoring and has been cited as “one of the top 100 minds in leadership” today. She is president of Leadership Development Services, LLC and director of its Center for Mentoring Excellence®. She is author of “The Mentor’s Guide,” “The Mentee’s Guide,” “Creating a Mentoring Culture” and co-author of “Starting Strong.”

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