The CEO Refresher Websites for Professionals
Take control of your online presence
with your own professional website!

Shadowing For Leadership Development - Part 3
The Mentoring Dialogue and Facilitating the
Shadowing Process

by Daniel D. Elash, Ph.D. and James R. Long, Ph.D.



Successful companies develop leadership skills within a strategic context and in a disciplined manner: routinely, rigorously, and repeatedly. Any company can do this if the purpose is clear, key supportive relationships are established and the needed information to complete a successful program is available. We refer to the nature of these relationship interconnections as "thought partnerships."

Thought partnerships become the medium within organizations that facilitate effective collaboration, timely sharing of knowledge, and innovation. The interconnection of many thought partnerships then defines the organization's potential as an adaptive social system. The premise of such a social system is that thought partnerships manage the knowledge and create capability that is greater than the sum of the individual participants. In other words, "no one is as smart as everyone." This belief becomes a fundamental tenet of any organizational process that requires people to work and to think together to create value. It also becomes a key ingredient in any leadership development effort. One leadership development technique that exemplifies thought partnering is a process we call "shadowing."

What is Shadowing?

Shadowing is a technique in which a person wishing to learn a skill (student) accompanies, observes and collaborates with another (mentor), while that person is employing their expertise on a value-producing assignment. Shadowing is a multi-stage process that offers the student the freedom to create his or her own success story. It uses job-specific situations as the practice fields and rehearsal halls for learning complex skills. The student has an opportunity to talk with others, develop work scenarios that are effective and productive, and solicit feedback about improving his or her skills and knowledge. Ongoing conversations about the work help the student better appreciate the roles others play in their success. It also helps them strengthen their own judgment and stretch their thinking skills.

In Part One we explored the three stages of the learning process, how shadowing is a powerful instructional method, and how the shadowing process is structured in three stages: the pre-event stage, the event stage and the post-event stage. In Part Two we explored the role variations within the shadowing process and provided examples of the shadowing leadership development technique. In this article we will explore the key elements of the mentoring dialogue and the opportunities to facilitate the shadowing process.

The Mentoring Dialogue

The shadowing process, ties leadership development into a quest for shared meaning and understanding. It is not helpful to merely talk at the person being developed. The success of this process depends upon the abilities of both the mentor and the student to establish a genuine dialogue. This dialogue is dynamic rather than static. It focuses on both the content and the process of the learning experience. This process encourages people at all levels of the organization to engage in this type of developmental activity. The end result will be a much clearer understanding of the business idea of the organization. An aligned leadership point of view will be clarified as a result of how people talk about the work. This is a significant contribution to organizations where the gap between the business idea and the way that the work is performed are vastly different. This offers an opportunity for the average corporate citizen to "get it."

There are no shortcuts to creating high performance organizations if people at every level of the organization take personal ownership for creating successful outcomes. The walk and the talk are aligned by a careful attention to the way that the work is done. Expertise is demystified and shared as a way of creating a more capable organization. Shadowing is a process whereby both the teacher and the student are engaged in an on-going inquiry. Both teacher and student are held accountable for learning. Every mentor is someone else's student and every student can be someone else's mentor. Both the mentor and the student must take responsibility for creating genuine dialogue about the work. There is no room for blame in this continuous improvement process. The student is responsible for his or her personal growth and development. The teacher is responsible for facilitating success in a climate of excellence.

Facilitated Shadowing

An outside set of eyes and ears can add great value by facilitating this process. There are several reasons why this is true. The in-house expert may only have limited expertise. A shared search for the knowledge may be a time consuming luxury that is just too costly for the organization. Because of disruptive innovations and discontinuous change (Christianson et al), this is a growing issue and likely to be of even greater importance in the future. Companies embarked upon vigorous leadership development initiatives need to accurately assess what expertise truly resides inside the organization and what does not.

An outside facilitator can also add value to this process by holding a dispassionate point of view. There may be times when the pressure to produce can overwhelm the learning agendas of the insiders involved in this learning program. This often occurs in traditional mentoring assignments. An outside facilitator can keep the learning agenda from getting lost in the shuffle. He or she can help both the mentor and the student stay within their roles and learn from what happens no matter how business pressures affect the project or event that was chosen.

An outside facilitator can also add value by helping a subject matter expert in a technical element of the business become a better teacher, mentoring the mentor, so to speak. Expertise does not extend into the ability to articulate the subtleties and nuances of their craft. Mentoring is an art and many people, adept in other regards, have not developed this skill to a high level.

An outside facilitator can also add value to this process by bringing an unusual level of expertise to the process. They can bring a level of sophistication about learning, leadership, dialoguing, as well as human or organizational development and contribute it to the mix between mentor and student in a way that creates synergy and adds value for everyone.

An outside facilitator can bring a broader point of view to the process than that brought by people who are all totally immersed in the shared paradigms of their home organization.

While this list is not exhaustive it does highlight the fact that learning in any context is a complicated process. It will require the best efforts of all people involved to maximize the return on the effort expended. Yet, the benefits are immense to the organizations that choose to do it right. We like to think of it as mentoring the organization as it seeks to learn.

Summary and Conclusions:

Companies are looking for better ways to develop talent while simultaneously creating value. There isn't the time anymore to take one's eye off of the ball and engage in isolated activities set up for passive data acquisition. Companies can optimize their social capital through a robust system of thought partnerships. These partnerships have as their goal shared learning and collaborative problem solving in the service of the enterprise. The fundamental premise of a culture dedicated to supporting thought processes is that "nobody is as good as everybody."

One technique for both supporting thought partnerships and developing leaders at every level is shadowing. Shadowing is a technique in which a person wishing to learn a skill (student) accompanies, observes and collaborates with another (mentor), while that person is employing their expertise on a value-producing assignment. As described here, shadowing is a powerful approach to adult learning that meshes ideally with the needs of today's organizations. The process uses the work of the organization as learning laboratories. The whole event, before, during, and after the work, is used to facilitate the learning. The complexity of the experience can be tailored to both the needs of the student and the requirements of the work. In this series of articles we have used novice, experienced and accomplished as three levels of complexity that can determine how the student might participate. However, in real life, the levels of participation can be tailored to fit the unique needs of any student within the context of their company's culture.

The authors have also suggested that the entire process can be further enriched with the involvement of an accomplished coach working with both the mentor and the student. Often, the management team lacks the experience and/or the finesse to make the most out of a home grown shadowing program. The outside coach can then focus upon honing the thought partnering skills of the organization while ensuring the quality of the learning experience itself. We think of it as organizational shadowing, using the work itself to build capabilities.


The Authors

Dan Elash

Daniel D. Elash, Ph.D is the principal of Syntient. Dan's Doctoral Degree is in Psychology from the University of Kansas. Dan's consultant expertise includes enhancing organizational capability through collaboration and facilitating change at the individual, team and organizational levels. Dan is a speaker and teacher who places strong emphasis on developing social innovation in client organizations. His goal is to help client companies realize their untapped potential.  Dan uses communication and community building as fundamental platforms for generating and sustaining personal and organizational capability.

E-mail: and visit .

James R. Long, Ph.D. - Jim Long is a principal and senior consultant with PERSOMA Management, Inc. Jim holds a Doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Pittsburgh. His leadership experience includes roles as military officer, manager, executive coach, consultant, business principal and board member. Jim has always had an interest in viewing organizations as systems. He has first-hand managerial experience leading organizations during various stages of change, in both growth-oriented and downsizing circumstances. He has worked with both small and large profit and non-profit organizations and firms. His clientele includes organizations in healthcare, technology and manufacturing areas. Jim has worked with individual leaders, executive teams and leadership groups of managers. Jim can be reached at or by calling 412-824-5359.

Many more articles in Collaborative Thinking and Creative Leadership in The CEO Refresher Archives
The CEO Refresher

Copyright 2002 by Daniel D. Elash and James R. Long . All rights reserved.

Current Issue - Archives - CEO Links - News - Conferences - Recommended Reading

Refresher Publications