Executive Mentoring and Leading horses to water

The old saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” applies to executive mentoring as well. One thing I have learned over the years is that not all advice offered, event good advice, is always welcomed. One of the great pitfalls of executive mentoring is assuming that, having asked for advice or counselling the person, the subject the Mentor’s good intentions, may well decide to march to the beat of their own drum anyway.

Mentoring is one of those conditions that must be sought after and desired. It cannot be imposed. In the right circumstances it can be provided largely without the recipient being fully aware that it is happening and often that approach produces the most effective and longest lasting results. Successful mentoring however cannot be decreed as a solution from on high. That is because success depends so much on the development of a trusting and caring relationship.

Pat Parelli

I say “caring” because a successful mentor cares about what is happening to their protege and provides guidance and support not because there is a fee in it for them but because they genuinely want to contribute to positive outcomes for the recipient.

A horse doesn’t care how much you know, until he knows how much you care.”  ~ Pat Parelli, renowned horse trainer.

 I once knew of a Board Chairman who was very pleased with the operational outcomes being achieved by their CEO but was a little irritated with their aggressive stance and lack of consultation on some strategic matters. The Chairman suggested to the CEO that he get some mentoring on his approach to Board consultation, but the CEO dismissed the advice and continued in his usual path. In frustration the Chairman drafted up a resolution instructing the CEO to engage a suitable mentor. Of course that action had the effect of seeing the CEO dig in his heels even more and matters went from bad to worse. A  formal mentor can only succeed where the protege  is receptive to and appreciative of the dialogue they are to share. Persevering with a counselling approach when the recipient just does not want to hear, is a pathway to an even more difficult road for that person.

The best way to encourage a person to accept external mentoring is to begin with informal and unstructured conversations about the things that they see as challenging in their role and for the prospective mentor to be willing to spend a lot of time listening without advising. A protege needs time to consider their own needs and to develop a yearning for the learning.

Give a horse just a glimpse of the watering hole and he will drink deeply when he is thirsty.


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