Candice Carpenter, Cofounder and CEO of iVillage, wears her tenacity on her sleeve. Success, she believes, comes from commitment, discipline, and sacrifice. “You don’t bail out at the first sign of trouble,” she says. “You stick with a situation.”
One source of Carpenter’s beliefs are “radical mentors” – senior executives who’ve cared enough to push her, even when it hurt. Radical mentors “move people along faster than they want to go,” she says. “It’s not natural for people to grow as fast as you need them to. People don’t grow if you’re soft with them. You catapult people forward by being extremely blunt.”
Sound tough? It is. Carpenter suggests that senior leaders ask themselves this question: Who are 10 young leaders that I can grow quickly, and what’s a crash course that’s right for them? “Then you form a contract with those people: ‘I would like to help you move along faster. Are you willing to buckle your seat belt and go?’ ” Mentors have to manage their commitments as well. “I can do this with only a few people at a time,” says Carpenter. “It takes a lot of energy.”
The key to radical mentoring, Carpenter says, is real-time feedback – direct, honest, public. For example, when she was training to be an Outward Bound instructor, she violated one of the basic rules of crossing a river safely – she buckled the belt on her backpack – and nearly drowned as a result. “My instructor pulled me out of the river,” she says. “And then humbled me in front of every student in that course. I have never forgotten that. It shed me of my pride, and I’m grateful for that lesson. Pride is a heavy burden.”
Most business decisions don’t involve such life-and-death consequences. But the principles of radical mentoring are the same: Personal growth hurts; people won’t benefit unless they consciously sign up for it; the process requires as much commitment from the mentor as from the mentee.
Carpenter is convinced that this kind of intellectual honesty is what young people need – especially in fast-moving industries. “People have much greater capacity for growth than they get credit for,” she says. “Once you get your first taste of being really challenged, you want to be challenged more.”