A Secret To Mentoring: Mentees Will Often Mentor The Mentors

John Maeda
3 min readAug 23, 2022
Notes from my recent mentoring session for rising leaders at work. Sculpture is by internationally known artist Vasa in the MoMA collection.

When I was asked if I wanted to be a part of our Mentoring Development Program, I jumped at the opportunity to do so. Because who doesn’t love to be mentored, coached, improved? Although the more senior you get, the more often you find that YOU are the one being asked to do the mentoring. And that’s awesome, too! Because in the process of mentoring others, you’ll get to improve as well … if you are open to it.

Mentees will often mentor the mentor.

The reason a mentor can be mentored is because with all their vaunted experience, they can get a bit … rusty over the years. Or too caught up in their own “blah blah blah” that they’ve lost sight of the kind of honesty and powerful naiveté they once had when they were at a more junior level. In The Laws of Simplicity I recall discovering the nature of a “black belt” in the martial arts as embodying this important ethos:

“In the martial art of Karate, for instance, the symbol of pride for a black belt is to wear it long enough such that the die fades to white as to symbolize returning to the beginner state.” — The Laws of Simplicity

Listening to my mentees in our first session together, they shared their role model for being a leader. I’ve noticed that when we’re younger, our role models tend to be our parents because we haven’t had a lot of exposure to many leaders. But then again, I still look up to my parents as role models as leaders so that perspective can definitely be timeless. A few exemplar leadership behaviors shared about my mentees’ working parents and other leaders in their past include:

  • Human: Putting people first.
  • Being: Leading by example.
  • Sharing: Giving the spotlight to others.

And in terms of how those leaders acted:

  • Diverse: Knowing there’s many ways to see the world.
  • Resilient: Not letting tough stuff bring them down.

Lastly, how their leaders interacted at an individual level:

  • Go-for-it: Entrusting you with responsibility.
  • Yes-you-can: Stretching what you thought you could do.

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John Maeda

John Maeda: Technologist and product experience leader that bridges business, engineering, design via working inclusively. Currently VP Design and A.I. at MSFT.