Guest Blog by Chip R. Bell

Are You “Purpleing” Your Protégés?

Chip R. Bell is the author of several best-selling books.  His newest book (with Marshall Goldsmith) is the revised edition of Managers as Mentors:  Building Partnerships for Learning.  The book is available at
If you spend time with young granddaughters you quickly learn the importance of purple.  We all know “pink” is a girl color.  But, purple is a princess (or prince) color—a hue of nobility.  A quick look at the history of purple will teach you the reason for its early association with royalty. Purple was very expensive in antiquity since the dye was made from a secretion produced by a rare species of snail.  According to the 4th century BC historian Theopompus, “Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver in Asia Minor.”

MAM 3 Final CoverThe word “purple” is a noun…”Have you read the book, The Color Purple?”  Purple is also an adjective…”She is wearing a purple hat.”  For granddaughters with an undying desire to be a princess, it is also a verb…”I will purple you with my wand.”  Think of it as the six year-old version of knighting someone.  After you are “purpled” you are to be always treated as a prince or princess.  It is somewhat like rockers Elton John, Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney forever dropping the title “Mister” in front of their names after Queen Elizabeth did her version of purpleing.

You can purple your protégés by always treating them with obvious dignity, noticeable respect, and extra regal-ness.  Purpleing protégés means creating mentoring processes that ensure red carpet ease not a thorn-filled path of excess effort, unexpected dissonance, and policies written in the language of distrust.  Purpleing includes caring about protégés as special people not simply novices there to absorb your wisdom.  It is all about generosity—eager to give, not ready to hoard; enthusiastic to share, not engrossed on “hide the ball” advice.

Purpling is an act of grace, a feature found in most grandmothers.  “Grace” is the word we use to characterize athletes who perform effortlessly, manners that reveal refinement, and people who exude class. However, the most profound definition of grace is “undeserved love.”  It means pure affection—that is, affinity without reason or expectation.  Mentors eager to purple are mentors with grace.  Some religions use the word “agape” to capture this charitable attitude. Agape is adoration and affection given even when unmerited.

Think of the purpler’s approach as “grandmother-style mentoring.” Grandmothers spoil you just because they get a kick out of it—remembering your favorite everything, always giving you a little bit extra and cheering you up when others chastise.  Grandmothers believe you are still terrific even after your parents ground you. Purplers are the equivalent of mentor-grandmas.