Follow My Lead
by Evan H. Offstein and Jason M. Morwick

nly a month into your company’s process improvement project, the plant superintendent says he is considering discontinuing the quality initiative. The project is behind schedule, has failed to gain momentum within the plant and has angered many of the operational managers who clearly are not interested in supporting quality improvement during the annual operations peak.

As the leader of this process improvement program, you begin to worry about its success as well as your advancement in the organization because the superintendent associates the project’s success or failure with you. As you leave the plant manager’s office with only a slight glimmer of hope, a seasoned manager pulls you aside for a cup of coffee and a bit of counsel. After agreeing to weekly office calls with this wise, experienced manager, you feel, for the first time since the project began, a sense of confidence and optimism.

Quality professionals face tough obstacles and unique challenges. They often need special leadership attention but don’t always receive it. That’s where mentoring can make a difference.

Mentoring is a leadership tool that helps develop an organization’s managerial talent via the interaction between a mentor and his or her protégé. When mentoring, a manager with experience, expertise, wisdom and power teaches, counsels and helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person develop professionally and personally.1

Mentors ensure junior managers are competent and committed to organizational goals. They also have a vocational and psychological impact on their protégés.

Some vocational benefits include:

• Sponsorship—mentor backs protégé with his or her own reputation.

• Exposure and validity—mentor ensures protégé’s talents are showcased.

• Protection—mentor shields protégé from political landmines.

• Challenging assignments—mentor assigns protégé to projects that will stretch and develop the junior manager.

Some psychological benefits include:

• Role modeling—mentor can set an example of how to behave within the organization.

• Acceptance and confirmation—mentor can be a risk free sounding board for the protégé.

• Counseling—mentor advises the protégé on what to do and what not to do.

• Friendship—mentor provides friendship, which makes the protégé feel more like a peer and helps him or her get socialized into the organization.

Mentoring, however, affects more than just the individual. It also impacts the organization. Ask any HR director what mentoring can do for a company, and you will likely hear the following:2

• Improve staff performance.

• Achieve better retention.

• Achieve higher promotion rates.

• Identify people with high potential more easily and earlier.

• Maintain greater organizational loyalty.

Five mentoring techniques can positively influence the implementation of a quality program:

1. Legitimacy. Having a well-respected mentor back a young quality professional lends credibility to the junior manager and the project. Other managers are less likely to challenge a quality professional when they know a powerful mentor backs him or her.

2. Relevance. When a mentor sponsors a quality professional, he or she is showing quality initiatives are valuable to the organization.

3. Protection. Quality projects usually require some incubation time before they take off. Unfortunate-ly, not all operational managers are patient with initial quality results. Mentors can use their power to shield both the protégé and projects from elimination.

4. Networking. Quality improvements come at a cost. Because a mentor tends to be well connected within an organization, his or her network can become a resource for the protégé.

5. Teaching soft skills. Many quality professionals are trained in statistical methods and procedures. Successful quality professionals, however, can simplify and communicate the numerical benefits of quality projects to others. Mentors can teach junior quality professionals important skills not found in a book, such as persuasion, reflective listening and consensus building.

Continuous improvement happens when quality managers are improved. A good way to accomplish this is through a caring and seasoned mentor.


1. Kathy E. Kram, Mentoring at Work, Scott Foresman Press, 1985.

2. Terri A. Scandura, “Mentorship and Career Mobility,” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 1992.

EVAN H. OFFSTEIN is a member of the management faculty at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, MD. He earned a master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant and is completing his doctorate in organizational behavior/human resources at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.


JASON M. MORWICK is a quality manager at CHEP, a global supply chain company in Orlando, FL. He earned an MBA from Regis University in Denver.

104 I SEPTEMBER 2004 I www.asq.org

Mentors can help an organization improve.


If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board at www.asq.org, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.


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