Mentoring for Leadership

When establishing a new mentoring program it is crucial to get buy-in from senior leaders, develop a strong training program for mentors as well as mentees, outline clear expectations and protocols and clearly define your terms of reference.

June Read developed Pacific Western Transportation’s first group mentoring program. She shared her learning, pitfalls and the opportunities with us at a recent Workplace Fairness Lunch.

The peace bridge Calgary

At Pacific Western Transportation, June ran two new mentoring programs which ran for 1 year each with two groups of people. In the first group of 7, she recruited 3 existing employees and 3 new hires, and in the second round, they worked primarily with new hires. In one year, the interns circulated through departments at Pacific Western at a pace and in a program customized for them. While June acted as the anchor, overseeing their year, they were matched with a mentor and coaches in each department.  The goal was to develop leaders by giving them the opportunity to learn the pain points in each department and gain learning through the breadth and depth of the business.

This ambitions program met with great success but was not without it’s own pain-points.  From June’s comments, I gathered the following learnings:

  1. Establish clear expectations, and be transparent at all stages. Setting expectations at many different levels is very important. It includes things like work hours and duties, values and goals, processes & procedures, and appropriate behaviour. Success is based on having mentees that understand and share corporate values and expectations.
  2. Define roles and terms of reference clearly. At PWT they established roles for a coach and a mentor that had different expectations. In this case, the coach was expected to demonstrate skills, observe, and correct. It was the mentor’s role to aid self-reflection, focus on the long term big picture, ask questions, and support with strong emotional intelligence. At times, though not always, the mentor and the coach were the same person. This definition may differ from your understanding of the role of the mentor. In the end, what really matters is a shared specific understanding of the terminology you use.
  3. Establish a recording and evaluation protocol. Mentees were expected to complete and record assignments and assessments which were collected by June and returned at the end of the program. Mentees were pleased to have a record at the end to aid their memory and learning.
  4. Work with business leaders to develop understanding and buyin. One of June’s major challenges was getting buy-in from senior leaders. She initially met with resistance in the form of comments like “I don’t have time for this.” This approach is not unusual with mentoring programs, and is often rooted in a fear – for example of being replaced. Asking patient questions and taking the time to build relationships with staff at all levels of the organization who were impacted by the mentoring program paid large dividends for June and the success of the program. June stressed that a program must be led from the top down.
  5. Celebrate the milestones and acknowledge participants. After each unit finished, participants celebrated with their mentors and coaches. Both mentors and mentees benefited from the experience as it gave them an opportunity to see their jobs in a different light. Mentees thanked all coaches and mentors with personal notes and gifts.
  6. Train mentors and coaches rigorously. 20 mentors and coaches were trained to push out information to 115 people.


The Mentoring Group website contains many useful references, including the Mentor’s Guide, the Mentee’s Guide and New Mentors and Protogees, all written by Linda Phillips-Jones, PhD.

The International Mentoring Association is a source of newsletters and webinars.

Cyber Mentor  is run through the University of Calgary. This program matches female mentors with young women who are interested in careers in science, math, engineering and technology.

Fred Jacques, PhD, of the University of Calgary Haskayne School of Business provides consulting services and information on setting up mentoring programs.

Software for leveraging mentoring and coaching is also available, including Chronus and Riversoft.

June Read is a committed volunteer for a number of organizations like the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the Institute of Performance and Learning, as well as the Chair of the Business Administration advisory group at SAIT, to name just a few of her initiatives. She is recently retired after many years working with Pacific Western Transportation Ltd. In her last few years as PWT, June Read was instrumental in establishing a highly successful new mentoring program designed specifically to develop new leaders.