The Mentor (Yoda) Leadership Style

by Christian Haller on April 24, 2011

Mentor Leaders help followers identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and tie them to their personal and career aspirations. They encourage followers to establish long-term quality of life plans, including development goals and help them conceptualize an actionable plan for attaining them. They make agreements with their followers about their role and respon­sibilities in enacting development plans, and they give instruction and feedback, as agreed. In the best case, mentor leaders excel at giving employees challenging assignments, even if that means the tasks won’t be accomplished quickly. In other words, these leaders are willing to put up with short-term failure if it furthers long-term learning.
Most of us can and should use mentor leadership skills much more often than we do; it tends to be the least used of the six leadership styles. Most leaders will tell you that they simply don’t have the time for mentoring, that it is faster and easier to do the work themselves to meet increasing pressures to satisfy ever increasing goals.  Leaders who fail to mentor though ultimately sabotage themselves.  They miss out on the improved working environment that it generates.  More directly, it ultimately holds any leader back. By growing their followers, mentor leaders developing an ever increasing pool of people to delegate more responsibility, freeing them to pursue their own development goals and strategic thinking.  Likewise, mentoring is an essential element of long term succession planning and therefore, group survival.
Now, there can be a paradox in a mentor leader’s posi­tive effect, because mentoring focuses primarily on personal development, not on immediate task-based activity. Most people I work with are taken aback by the question as to what would they do if the company the work for or the group they belong to ceased to exist.  Most would have to begin a long journey to find a new group, be it a job or church or whatever.  With successful mentoring, followers are developed to the point that they could belong to any group or company they choose – and therefore, as a result, are able to contribute to whatever group choose, because it meets their needs and passions, not because they have to.  This changes everything for the better.  Leaders, who attempt to keep followers by some bond of necessity, have no real followers at all.
So, mentoring does improve results. While mentoring works well with most followers, it is at its best when people on the receiving end actively embrace the mentoring support. It works rather poorly with followers disinclined to improve. The mentor leadership style makes little sense when followers, regardless of the reason, are resistant to changing their ways.
Although the mentoring leadership style rarely improves short term bottom-line results, it generally is the fastest means to long term sustainable results.
Like the other leadership styles, the mentor/yoda style is not all roses.  Improperly, the leader can use mentoring as the ultimate excuse for procrastination and failure to deliver results over any time frame.  It can become far too personal in a work or school setting with the mentor leader assuming the stance of counselor, for which they are not equipped.  It can become parenting, with the “do as I say” attitude that delivers resentment.
Also know, that practice does not make perfect, rather, perfect practice for the situation at hand and the needs of the follower makes perfect.  The demands of the mentor leader are very high and they must hold themselves accountable for be fully qualified to mentor followers before they attempt to do so. It is a true skill which few can master; it is not just telling stories and transference of skills.
Of course, our friends empathy and intent come into play again for the success of the mentor leader and his followers. With empathy on the part of the mentor, the followers will feel manipulated and used.   Likewise, if the intent of the mentor leader is not develop the followers into the realization of the followers’ goals and passions, but instead into the vision of what the leader needs, he and the follower will both fail.


Kevin Bettencourt April 24, 2011 at 14:50

I really enjoy your blog. As a manager it’s awesome to be pointed out the different roles I can take. When to use each is the key.

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bryan April 24, 2011 at 15:59

I love yoda and believ mentoring is much more effective then most styles…”do or do not..there is no try”….

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Sonya Lenzo April 24, 2011 at 22:28

I have been blessed with just a few mentor style bosses and they were great to work for..
Sonya Lenzo

John Moulder April 25, 2011 at 06:23

Great article . Mentoring just seems to be ignored these days .

Dewayne Chriswell April 25, 2011 at 07:20

Thanks for pointing out the benefits and the pitfalls of mentoring. It is a very useful style of leadership, and your explanation helped me to understand the right circumstances for it to be effective.
Dewayne Chriswell

Steve C April 25, 2011 at 10:27

Mentoring key individuals needs to be a primary role for leaders. This develops managerial depth in an organization.

Steve C

Kevin Bettencourt April 25, 2011 at 20:37

The description you supply that tells the strengths and weaknesses is perfect for giving direction as to when to use each style.

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Jennifer Battaglino April 25, 2011 at 22:57

When you find that mentor and when that mentor finds you, it can be so powerful and can bring both parties to a new level.
Jennifer Battaglino
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Neil Dhawan April 26, 2011 at 00:15

I’ve learned how important having not only a mentor, but the right mentor is to giving the proper instruction and feedback. You bring up a very good point about the follower “actively embracing” the guidance.


Clare Delaney-Young April 26, 2011 at 00:50

I knew someone whose leadership style was only mentor, and he didn’t get the intent or empathy right. Disaster – for his staff, and the company. Mentorship is hugely important, but as you said in an earlier post, the styles need to be mixed not monochromatic.

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Michael D Walker April 26, 2011 at 01:36

I use the mentoring leadership style as often as I can. Obviously it can’t always be used, especially when heavy deadines are approaching, but when used judiciously, it’s great for developing your team into a stronger unit and allows you the opportunity to take some much needed time off!


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