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Q&A: Ken Blanchard on Mentoring

The management guru and author of The One Minute Manager discusses his new book, One Minute Mentoring, and the keys to cultivating great mentors.

BY Audra Heinrichs | Apr 5, 2017
Photo by Igor Kisselev/Shutterstock


Leadership expert Ken Blanchard launched his eponymous management consulting and training company with his wife Dr. Marjorie Blanchard in 1979. He has also co-authored 60 books, including the enduringly popular The One Minute Manager, Raving Fans and Gung Ho! (with Sheldon Bowles). For his latest work, One Minute Mentoring: How to Find and Work with a Mentor—and Why You’ll Benefit from Being One (New York: William Morrow, May 2017), Blanchard collaborated with former Twitter executive Claire Diaz-Ortiz to tackle the subject of mentoring relationships and how to form them. Blanchard talked to Worth about what it means to be a good mentor, how to find a suitable mentor and how to put his famous parables into practice.

HOW IS ONE MINUTE MENTORING DIFFERENT FROM OTHER BOOKS ON THE SUBJECT?

It’s easier to read and learn from. Other books out there read like textbooks. One Minute Mentoring is written in the parable style Spencer Johnson and I popularized in The One Minute Manager. It’s an entertaining story about the mentorship between a young salesperson, Josh, and a seasoned executive named Diane. As the characters learn about mentoring, so does the reader.

HOW DOES SOMEONE GO ABOUT FINDING A MENTOR? WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED?

There’s an old expression that says, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It’s been true in my life that when I’ve needed a mentor, the right person shows up. For example, one of my greatest mentors was Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote The Power of Positive Thinking. After the huge success of The One Minute Manager, my publisher called me up and asked if I wanted to write a book with Dr. Peale. At that time in my life I was really searching spiritually, so it was a perfect time for a mentor like Norman. The point is that if you are open to learning, you will find people to mentor you. Who do you admire? Who is doing things in the world that you’d like to do? Those people might already be in your life. Reach out to them.

YOU CO-WROTE THE BOOK WITH CLARE DIAZ-ORTIZ, WHOM YOU CONSIDER A MENTOR EVEN THOUGH SHE’S ABOUT FOUR DECADES YOUNGER THAN YOU. WHAT ARE THE LIMITATIONS—AS FAR AS AGE, EXPERIENCE, EXPERTISE, AND SO ON—OF WHAT MAKES A GOOD MENTOR?

Age is rarely a limitation to being a mentor. In the book we talk about cross-generational mentoring, in which young people teach older people new and different skills, like technology. Experience and expertise are more important than age. It’s especially important to find a mentor who shares your values and whose personality is compatible with yours. It’s one thing to consult an expert on a particular issue for short-term learning; it’s another thing to take on a long-term mentor. While expertise is important, if you don’t respect the person or enjoy being with them, your mentoring relationship won’t progress smoothly or last very long.

YOUR WRITING IS KNOWN FOR YOUR USE OF PARABLES. WHY DO YOU FIND THIS STRATEGY SO EFFECTIVE?

If you state facts in a nonfiction narrative, people get into their judgmental mind. When you tell a story, you can get around that tendency people have to judge ideas. Plus, you can see how abstract principles play out between the characters. When you show people how a principle works in action, it’s easier to understand than when you tell them in an abstract way. And for me stories are a lot more fun to read than textbooks.

YOU’VE WRITTEN DOZENS OF BOOKS. WHAT ARE YOU PLANNING TO TACKLE NEXT?

One of the topics I’m most passionate about is servant leadership—the greatest leaders recognize that they’re here to serve, not to be served. I’ve just finished editing an anthology called Servant Leadership in Action. In the book, dozens of top leaders share great stories about what it looks like to be a servant leader. Inspiring stuff!

For more information on The Ken Blanchard Companies, visit kenblanchard.com.

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