John D. Kelly IV, MD, is a professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania. He focuses his blog on helping surgeons reduce stress while achieving balance in their practices and families.

BLOG: Are you a mentor leader?

One of the most effective ways to create meaning in our lives is to serve as a mentor to others. Advising, counseling and showing the way to a younger colleague helps us to get out of ourselves and focus outwardly on the wellbeing of another.

As orthopedic surgeons, we have an inherent responsibility to lead – the OR, the clinic and the entire musculoskeletal health care team. However, when one assumes the role of a mentor leader — leading responsibly while grooming others — one’s ability to effect positive change is incalculable. The satisfaction and fulfillment one may derive from serving as a mentor leader will keep the demon of burnout at bay because we become engaged in a cause greater than us.

In his treatise, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently, storied NFL football coach Tony Dungy relates the effect mentor leaders have had on his life and his success. Dungy has dedicated his life to continuing the leadership legacy of coaches, such as Chuck Noll, and has positively shaped the character and performance of countless men and women. In addition, Dungy relates that he has a deep sense of peace and content in knowing that he has positively influenced many lives. Indeed, Dungy maintains that his true success is measured in positively influencing others, and that character and spiritual values rather than money, fame or status, lead to contentment. 

Dungy delineates several key aspects of a true mentor leader which we can all cultivate:

‘It’s not about me’

True mentor leaders put the team first in all that they do and aspire. It is all about serving others, according to the coach. True mentor leaders are in essence “servant leaders” who are not focused on getting credit. This credo is incredibly liberating as it frees the leader to expend energy solely for the good of the team, rather than promoting self-gain.

Look Within

Effective mentor leaders take an honest look at themselves and discern what motivates them, what are their strengths, weaknesses and past mistakes. We must own what is not good in our lives, so we do not transmit these traits to others. Mentor leaders forgive others so that they can be more “present” to those they advise.  In addition, once we become self-aware, we can build on our strengths and work on our shortcomings so that we can become more effective mentors.


Dungy relates that character is the basis on which leadership is founded. No trust means no following. In times of crisis, people are attracted to those with the highest character. Dungy was able to lead his players to a Super Bowl victory because they believed in him.


Mentor leaders assume responsibility for the outcome of their endeavors. They ‘”take the heat” when things go wrong. This conveys loyalty and integrity and is the ultimate morale booster. Knowing that a leader “has your back” is an absolute essential in getting a team to buy in to a mission.


Veritable mentor leaders project approachability. They make it clear that no problem is too trivial for them to embrace and that they will make the time to address a team member’s concerns. To lead well, one must display concern and personal investment.

Legendary Silicon Valley coach, former CEO of Intuit Software and Apple Board member William Campbell would start every board meeting by asking attendees about their weekend — what trips did they take with their loved ones and what they experienced. This conveys care and concern and builds a beautiful work culture.

The seven ‘E’s

Dungy concludes his treatise by delineating the seven steps needed to enhance potential in the lives of others and create a winning culture.

Engage – One cannot mentor from a distance. Walk alongside those you lead and keep an open-door policy to your mentees.

Educate – This word is derived from the Latin educere, which means to “lead out.” Mentor leaders teach whatever they can to bring out the best in others. Dungy would selflessly groom potential coaching successors without threat or jealousy. That was simply his job.

Equip – Furnish mentees with what is needed for success, including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual support.

Encourage – Lift up others not only during tough times but also during times of success. Dungy relates that is it is more noble to overuse encouragement than underutilize it.

Empower – Prepare mentees followed up by appropriate freedom. Well-coached mentees trust in the process and are eager to fly solo.

Energize – Inspire your mentees and teams to believe in themselves. You will create a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Elevate – Help those you coach reach their highest potential, even if it means leaving your organization. This is the ultimate act of selflessness.

Dungy’s principles not only propelled him to a Super Bowl win but more importantly, to a cadre of mentees who enjoyed considerable coaching success in the NFL. William Campbell left football coaching and “coached” executives at Google, Apple and Microsoft to realize meteoritic success. In Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell , author Eric Schmidt portrays Campbell as a man remarkably similar to Dungy — impeccable character, humble and dedicated first and foremost to the success of the common good. Both men derived their greatest satisfaction form seeing others succeed.

Purpose-filled life

Both Dungy and Campbell personify what Jim Collins, in his leadership handbook Good to Great, a ‘Level 5 Leader’ – the highest level of effectiveness. According to Collins, super leaders embody a mix of humility and strong will coupled with intrinsic commitment to the benefit of the organization (not self-interest).

When we commit to a higher purpose, not based on self-gain, energy will spring forth as each day has real meaning.

Commit to being a mentor leader and watch your days become enriched with fulfillment and purpose. In the end, it is not about you.



Collins J. Good to Great— Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't. 2009: 102-105.

Dungy T. The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People and Teams That Win Consistently. Tyndale House Publishers Inc. 2010.

Schmidt E, et al. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Handbook of Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell. Hachette U.K. 2019.