Mentorship is Leadership in Action

Photo Used by Permission from Cascade SF — Chloe Bregman mentoring Freecode Camp at UXNight

Mentorship is a powerful relationship that catalyzes change within our lives. The challenges we face in our careers are not just arising in the workplace but can be based on events at home or thought patterns that have been held deep within us for most of our lives. Mentorship is a highly effective way to help each other break free of these self limitations to realize our full potential.

Leadership — A Trajectory of Continual Growth

Great leaders aren’t the indispensable wheel without which nothing would happen. Great leaders hire great people, empower them, and serve teams from behind as well as in the front. They inspire and guide their teams to show up and actualize their full potential — achieving feats the team didn’t previously realize were possible. To mentor teams, leaders also need to show up and actualize their full potential. Just as leaders inspire their teams, a mentor can inspire greater leadership.

“As a leader your focus changes; your number one priority is to bring out the best in others,” says Wellins, who is senior vice president at management consulting firm DDI.

How do they do this? Authentic leaders have a clear vision, vulnerably share it with others, and rest open to learning about the opportunities and challenges around achieving their vision. They don’t need to be right or have all the answers to be able to solve the problems but they need an openness to share their crazy ideas, integrate feedback, and empower their team to execute.

Great leaders are open to capitalizing on the possibilities created by moving their visions from conjectures about the world to a shared actuality within the world whether that results in an immediate success or failure.

“Authentic leaders frame their stories in ways that allow them to see themselves not as passive observers but as individuals who learn from their experiences.” Dealing with actualities instead of conjectures creates the possibility to learn and grow. Applying the new learnings creates velocity towards achieving their vision. Mentorship is leadership in action. It catalyzes us towards our goals.

Mentorship is a step in the direction of continuous learning and a growth mindset. Admitting what you don’t know is empowering precisely because it creates the opportunity to learn. We never start off seeking out a mentor because of all the things we know. We look for a mentor to help us with all the things we know we don’t know.

The Mentorship Relationship

Winfrey said, “Mentors are important and I don’t think anybody makes it in the world without some form of mentorship,” she added.

No one has ever achieved greatness without the inspiration and tutelage of others no matter how indirect that may have been. Our interdependence is part of the beauty of being human. Whether or not the relationship starts out as arranged or organic, all mentor relationships require the same base attributes to thrive — trust, authenticity, vulnerability and openness to learning. We need to be vulnerable to allow ourselves to share the experiences that we would rather not in order to be helped through the places that scare us and move beyond what we previously believed to be our limit. The mentorship sweet spot is the best space to be in to to catalyze change by learning all the things we don’t know we don’t know.

Asking for help is often portrayed in our culture as a sign of weakness but it is actually a sign of great strength. To solve the challenges facing ourselves we need to be honest with ourselves. When we are honest, it is easy to identify our own personal challenges and admit we don’t have all the answers. When we enter a mentorship relationship, we practice self-love and bravery by asking for help and in the process empower ourselves to reach our full potential.

Mentorship is not about giving someone all the answers but about helping the other person discover the answers themselves.

A true mentor will be vulnerable to share authentically with integrity in the great unknown. “I don’t know” is one of the most powerful statements. Sharing the realization that neither person has the answer alleviates fears that if only I knew more I would be able to do more, achieve more, or be more. The vulnerability of the mentor saying I don’t know but let’s try to figure this out frees the mentee from defining their journey through success and failure. It reframes the world into let’s learn.

Unlock What You Don’t Know You Don’t Know

Most of the patterns or ways that we limit ourselves in our lives are outside of our own field of awareness. What’s in our field of awareness are the things you know (how to speak english) and the things you know you don’t know (how to speak dog). Most of the patterns that drive our actions arise from the largest area — things we don’t know that we don’t know. It’s our blindspot which also happens to contains all the knowledge in the universe outside of our awareness. This is a cosmic epicenter of possibility and creativity that we want to pull from in mentorship.

Of all 3 areas — the only area we can gain new transformative information that we weren’t aware of previously is in the area outside of your awareness — information that we don’t know that we don’t know.

What can we do with these three areas of possibilities right now?

  1. What we know that we know = Information we can use right now to actualize our lives
  2. What we know that we don’t know = Information we can acquire through learning, coaching and practice to actualize our lives
  3. What we don’t know that we don’t know (0ur blindspot) = Information we don’t have so we can’t do anything about

The beauty about us being an interdependent species is that although we can’t see our own blindspot someone else can help us see them especially when we are vulnerable and sharing authentically. Once we have trust in a mentor who has actualized within themselves what we wish to actualize within ourself, we can remain open to them lovingly poking as many holes as they can into our blindspots to widen our views and perspective to learn what we didn’t know that we didn’t know but needed to know to change.

Areas of Mentorship

Over the past 8 years of mentoring I have noticed 4 key areas within I have needed or provided mentorship.


Skill Development, Knowledge Acquisition, Behavioral Competencies

These areas typically require coaching. The learnings are derived in gaining conceptual knowledge, skill or behavior that the mentee previously didn’t know but may have been aware that they didn’t have the skill or knowledge. Not always but usually the gains have a bigger impact in the short term. They impact and improve current work projects and relationships.


Widened Perspectives, New Information Previously Outside of Awareness, Self-Growth, Personal Power, Wisdom

These areas typically require mentoring. The learnings are derived in gaining insights about the world, oneself and others. These insights come from our blindspots, from a mentor suggesting our pointing out something that is outside of our field of awareness. These insights come from someone bringing up something we didn’t know we didn’t know about ourselves or the world that was completely outside of our field of awareness. Not always but usually these gains have a bigger impact in the long term.

Pay It Forward — Mentoring Benefits Us All

Mentorship gives us the space to transform and pay it forward in the world. It helps us become better leaders as well as members of our communities.

  1. It helps us grow personally. As we teach we learn — As we learn we teach.
  2. It helps another member of our community grow towards being the most actualized version of themselves. In doing this it helps us see more potential in members of our community as we realize our hidden biases that we have unconsciously built within ourselves to limit what possibilities we create for others.
  3. In doing the above two, it helps create an empowered community to actualize our collective highest potential. The greater any one of us is at sharing our gifts with the world, the more we collectively benefit.

Get Involved

Mentoring or being mentored isn’t time consuming or costly. There are no special qualifications that allows someone to become a mentor. We all have gifts and knowledge that we have built up over time that are beneficial to share with each other and the world. If you don’t feel like you are ready to mentor someone in their career or mentor as a leader at work, consider mentoring a child in your community.

For those interested in one-on-one speed design mentoring, I mentor at CascadeSF UXNight in San Francisco, CA. I mentor startup founders, designers, and product managers individually on a case-by-case basis.