If your DVD/Blu-Ray collection is anything like mine, it’s so massive that it needs its own classification system. And, if your classification system is anything like mine, it borrows from the time-tested Dewey Decimal Classification system used in libraries that begins with the 100 series of Philosophy & Psychology through the 900 series of Geography & History. My system needs only two categories: The 100 series and the 200 series - it’s quite simple, really. Here’s what it looks like:

Hartigan DVD/Blu-Ray Collection Classification System

            100 Series: Sylvester Stallone Films

            200 Series: Everything Else (mostly Mrs. Hartigan’s stuff)


Similarly, if your thoughts on workplace mentoring are anything like mine, you often wonder why folks spend so much time and money trying to perfect their mentoring skills when all they need to do is pick any Sly Stallone film to learn everything they’ll ever need to know about the topic. It’s pretty much a scientific fact. I know, you are thinking, “Here it comes—another one of his wild connections—like trying your coaching skills with your dog, or building Christmas toys with the wrong tools, or founding fathers texting, or making that dubious link between the Venus Fly Trap and employee retention.” Okay, do you want me to prove it? Fine. I’m going to randomly select one movie from my Stallone Index App on my phone and show you exactly what I’m talking about.


Okay, I have randomly selected the 1987 Stallone tour de force Over the Top. But before we begin our critical analysis of the film, let’s lay the foundation for our discussion about mentoring, starting with how it differs from coaching. While even the fine folks at Merriam-Webster.com list “coach” as a synonym for mentor, there are distinct differences. By definition, MENTORSHIP is a relationship-based, operations-focused development process by which a more experienced person (mentor) helps a high-performing, high-potential team member (protégé) learn the skills needed to systematically identify and solve operational problems. While coaching and mentoring are very similar, there are some important distinctions to note. Through our work in this area, I have discovered many of the differences fit quite succinctly into this table


Differences between Mentoring and Coaching




Focuses On

People and Relationships

Tasks and Activities

Defines Others

By who they are

By what they do

Described as

Relationship Oriented

Mission Driven

Encourages Others to

Understand the situation

Complete assignments

Provides Others

Plausible Alternatives

“The” solution

Prioritizes by

Asking “why?” and “how?”

Asking “what?” and “when?”


Why not take a few minutes to determine your personal leadership style? Click Leadership Style Assessment to launch our online Leadership Flexibility assessment. If you include your name and e-mail on the assessment, we’ll score and return a summary report explaining your results and mapping you on a two-dimensional plot with descriptions of various leadership styles.


In order for a Mentor to be successful, they must demonstrate three (3) essential skills: They must (1) analyze, (2) challenge, and (3) focus. Now, as I proposed earlier, one simply need watch any Sylvester Stallone movie to see an example of any or all of these mentoring skills in action. Let’s take a closer look at Over the Top for proof.



The successful mentor must analyze by listening and observing. This means:


 Stop talking.

 Remain neutral.

 Actively evaluate.


In Over the Top, Stallone’s humble character, Lincoln Hawk, is a highly-skilled truck driver, a world-class arm wrestler, and an estranged father and husband; however, a family illness reunites Hawk with his 12-year-old son, Mike. After Hawk picks Mike up from military school, the two spend a great deal of time together on the open road in an 18-wheeler. Hawk, who hasn’t seen his son in years, takes on the role of mentor immediately after their reintroduction. Mike, however, understandably bears a great deal of hostility towards his father. Yet Hawk, ever-noble, refuses to back down from his mentor role. He takes the opportunity to analyze his son, quietly listening, learning, and evaluating Mike’s strengths and weaknesses during their first few days together.  



The successful mentor must spend the majority of their time questioning and probing. This is where the learning occurs and where the mentor differs from a coach (who directs and tells as opposed to questions and probes). The mentor must ask:


  Why are you doing this?

  What have you learned?

  How will you apply what you’ve learned to a current situation?


Who could ever forget the classic scene in which Hawk finally challenges his protégé Mike to apply what he has learned? After posing a series of questions to him, Hawk determines it is time for Mike to try his hand at operating a big rig. Despite lacking a Class A driver’s license, and regardless of the fact that he will be operating a working 18-wheeler whose payload is a very popular men’s fragrance, Mike takes the challenge. After a shaky start, Mike finally gains control of the vehicle and his confidence skyrockets. From this point, we see a real change, not only in Hawk and Mike’s relationship but in Mike as a person for the rest of the film.



Finally, the mentor provides value to the protégé by distilling and deciding. This involves helping the protégé find the final solution on their own by asking (more questioning as opposed to telling!) questions such as,


  What other options are you considering?

  Which of these should we invest our time in, and why?

  What is your next step?


Later in the story, Hawk finds himself incarcerated after making some poor decisions, including driving his rig into a mansion. After the passing of Mike’s mother, and with Hawk in prison, Mike’s evil grandfather gets custody of him. In one of the most poignant scenes in American cinematic history, Hawk (still in jail) and Mike have an intensely focused conversation. Hawk, who realizes he hasn’t earned Mike’s trust, pushes his protégé to realize that his fate is in his own hands and encourages him to make the decisions that are best for him. Hawk says to his protégé, “Mike, I want you to remember something. The world meets nobody halfway, remember that. You’ve gotta do what’s best for you.” Powerful stuff.


At the end of the day, a mentor analyzes, challenges, and focuses the protégé to teach them faster than they can learn on their own. By probing, listening, and leading the protégé through the discovery process, a mentor shares their understanding of the world, helping the protégé learn before experiencing. Finally, a major difference from coaching is that a mentor provides emotional support and reassurance throughout the process as somebody who has "been there, done that and has the t-shirt."


Mentoring relationships are important. And the best coaches know how to shift their perspective to serve as mentors to their high potential team members. Phil Jackson did it with Michael Jordon. Bill Walsh mentored Joe Montana. And, John Wooden served Bill Walton in that sense as well.


When you are ready to dive into the wonderful world of mentoring, you can’t go wrong by referring to the Stallone Index for a little inspiration. Until next time, remember to take care of your customers, take care of each other, and take care of yourself!

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