Our Interview With Jerry Willbur

July 1, 2014

Here is our interview with Jerry Willbur that originally appeared in the July issue of Mentoring & Coaching Monthly. Jerry Willbur will be holding a Plenary Session as well as a Pre-Conference Workshop at the 2014 Mentoring Conference at UNM. 

Dr. Willbur holds a Doctorate in Human Resource Development and has over twenty years of senior executive experience in organizational effectiveness, operations, sales, business training, human resources and strategic planning. He is currently Director Vice President Emeritus for the IMA and head of The Leadership Mentoring Institute. Over the years Dr. Willbur has written three books on leadership and mentoring published by major universities and several articles published in ASTD Journal, Dental Economics, and several mentoring publications.

Could you tell us about your work and research at the Leadership Mentoring Institute?

The Leadership Mentoring Institute is only one of my activities, but I admit it is the one I get the most enjoyment from. I am now using it as a non-profit to help set up mentoring programs for young children that are facing challenges in life. We focus on children in the K-5 grades, believing early intervention is best. We have published several papers on the tremendous impact mentoring can have with children this young—especially when we use it to teach children success oriented skills such as goal setting, active and authentic communications, encouraging peers, etc. So many of our children come from negative and stress filled environments with very little positive adult input. We use trained older mentors to connect with the children and teach these skills as well as to ‘read with not to’ young people. Along with Dale Baugh, the Director of Live Your Dream Foundation, I will be co-presenting a session at the UNM conference on using literature and success skills to mentor challenged students. Once you see the powerful impact caring mentors can have on young minds it changes your life forever! I never plan to retire, just reload, and spend full-time trying to get more people involved in this type of mentoring!


You have decades of experience in the field of mentoring. How has mentoring changed over that time?

When I started researching mentoring back in the 1970’s there was a lot of confusion as to what mentoring was. Many of the earlier researchers referred to it as sponsoring or even discipling. It is easy to forget that much of management until the 1970’s was concerned more with manufacturing and the proper use of machines and less with developing people. Leadership was focused more on finance and command and control. In 1966 Peter Drucker came out with a revolutionary book “The Effective Executive” and really popularized the idea of a more people oriented style of leadership. One of his five main points was that an effective executive builds on strengths of both the organization and its people. Soon thereafter the Japanese leadership style was introduced to the USA, sort of a shock and awe experience, as it had a huge and devastating impact  on the automobile and steel industry, among others. People wanted to know what their competitive secret was, how did they create such a disciplined workforce and quality products? Many American researchers went to Japan to study their approach, especially the House of Mitsui’s several hundred year old system for developing highly effective managers. What they discovered was a mentoring system, or at least a strong emphasis on one-on-one interaction. Over the years as we have moved more into the era of high tech knowledge workers and the service industries, the emphasis has continued to grow on the importance of people rather than machines. As people researched how to be more effective as a people-oriented leader, the case for mentoring became stronger. The research on effective mentoring has become very extensive and I don’t think very many people question it as a tool to develop leaders any more. Now it is more how do we integrate mentoring into our overall strategy and culture? People are starting to recognize that the only sustainable competitive advantage many organizations have is talented people, and mentoring is a great way to attract and retain them.


How do you think mentoring will change in the future?

I think a lot of the change will come out of work being done right here at the UNM’s own Mind Research Network with the work of Dr. Kent Kiehl and others. This is why I am excited about speaking at the conference. UNM is on the leading edge of doing brain imaging and seeing the impact various activities have on the brain. We now know the human brain remains very ‘plastic’ even until late in life, allowing it to adapt as we learn new tasks. While we may not be able to show an actual cause and effect, I think we will eventually see a correlation between people being mentored and the making of new neural connections and improved functioning in the brain. For example, at the Mind Research Network and elsewhere they are doing a lot of research into the paralimbic system in the brain. This system seems to have a lot to do with developing or at least exhibiting emotional intelligence, something I feel is critical to effective mentoring. Why this excites me is that in the past we who practiced mentoring could sense it working and see the results in changed behavior from an effective mentoring relationship. But many people always viewed it as ‘touchy feely’ and not really scientific. Now I think we are on the verge of being able to see in brain scans the actual impact of mentoring, as the effective mentoring connection possibly helps elevate or release neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, improving learning and retention. I think all of this will just solidify mentoring, the powerful one-on-one connection, as a key to human development.


What is the best piece of advice you can give to someone wanting to enter into a workplace mentoring relationship? 

I mentioned that The Leadership Mentoring institute is only one element of what I do in mentoring. My other job is serving as Senior Vice-President, Chief Talent Officer for Delta Management Group. This is a healthcare support services organization I’ve helped form over the last seven years. Our mission is to help hospitals compete more effectively and efficiently in a difficult and ever more competitive market place. We feel the key to success if developing leaders at every level of the organization. What I do with Delta Management is executive mentoring. I have developed systems to identify strengths in leaders, and then design customized development programs to help them build on their strengths. So the best piece of advice I can suggest to someone entering into a workplace mentoring relationship is to first prepare yourself. For example, I suggest people go get a paperback book like “Go Put Your Strengths to Work” by Marcus Buckingham and you can take the Gallup Strengths Finder survey. If you know your strengths, and find a subject or job you have a passion for that utilizes them, it makes it much easier for a mentor to work with you. If you can identify strengths you don’t have but desire, or need to improve on, and recognize the strength in someone else, it makes a great approach to contact them and say I’ve noticed this strength in you and wonder if would give me ideas on how I can get better in this area. Being specific like this really helps. I always say to mentors that mentoring is something you do with people, not to or for them. Also, most mentors like to help people that they see are helping others. Find a volunteer activity, especially mentoring someone else, and you will experience having mentors seeking you! The best mentors are already very busy, so the more prepared you are the better! The better you already know yourself the better! Always respect their time and the effort they make to help you. 


You will be a big part of the 2014 Mentoring Conference at UNM. Can you give us a brief taste of some of the insights that you will provide during your workshop and plenary sessions? 

I don’t want to repeat what I just discussed in the third question, but this is what I will be talking about in both the pre-conference and plenary sessions. The pre-conference workshop will focus on emotional intelligence. What emotional intelligence (EQ) really is and how we can improve the level of emotional intelligence through mentoring. I also see EQ as only one part of the total leadership quotient, so I will be talking about other factors such as Adversity Quotient (AQ) and Strategic Judgment (SQ) and several other leadership factors that amplify the impact of EQ. A big emphasis will be on how we actually engage with people. We will also look at the field of positive psychology and the power of neural plasticity to help people change at any stage of life, all of it connected to emotional intelligence. In the plenary session I will be discussing the quest to understand, enhance, and empower the mind through mentoring. I will touch on the exciting breakthroughs in brain imaging and what this means for mentoring. I will talk about creating and sustaining mentoring cultures as a strategy to attract and retain top talent. My challenge will be to focus all of this into a tight package and still get people excited about the future of mentoring!