One of the highest priorities of leaders is to develop the people around them.
Sustaining and growing a business takes more than just strong sales, smooth operations and impressive financials. Developing a team of high-performing emerging leaders is critical. Many skill-building tools and training resources can help.
The most interactive and effective method for leadership development, however, comes from executive coaching or mentoring.
A good mentor is someone, usually from within the company, who has seasoned experience in the roles and responsibilities of others who also want to become leaders and need to improve their leadership skills.
When things are working well, a mentor can help the mentee with job performance, more effective communication and a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction. Mentoring focuses on the needs of the mentee, which builds a stronger connection within the company.
What the best mentors do
- Build trust. Structure your relationship around common interests, shared values, mutual respect, clear communication and collegiality.
- Be open and honest. People make mistakes and learn best from their failures. Through transparency, a mentor shares personal setbacks, and a mentee recognizes mistakes. It deepens their understanding and connection and normalizes the working relationship.
- Humanize the relationship. Move beyond titles. Know the mentee as a whole person, including strengths and weaknesses, aspirations, values, coping skills, interpersonal relationships and how they interact with others. A mentor must also learn what makes the mentee tick, without judging. Place the relationship above the mentorship.
- Focus on character. Beyond cultivating a mastery of job skills, the best mentors also know it’s essential to build character and integrity within the mentee. That includes improving soft skills such as respect for others, empathy and self-awareness.
- Commit to success. The purpose of mentoring is to help the mentee develop, evolve and grow personally and professionally. Both sides must keep their commitments.
- Explain the big picture. A mentee’s ideas, passions and foresight could lead to greater creativity and innovation. A trusting mentor offers support but also helps the mentee understand whether his or her thinking is practical and realistic.
- Ask for proof. Whether you’re discussing a topic or a problem, your mentee must come prepared with facts to support conclusions that address risks, options and alternatives.
- Pass the torch. A mentor typically has a vast reservoir of “tribal knowledge.” Help the mentee with things like managing distractions and understanding office politics.
- Define the ground rules. The best mentoring relationships depend on clear rules that address meeting times, scheduling, structure and flexibility. Together, create an outline of matching expectations, your vision for success, long-term goals, mentee preparation and accountability. Confidentiality is critical.
- Create a focus-forward plan. The mentor and mentee should each define their goals and needs. Identify things like new skills, an expanded network, significant opportunities and challenges, difficult conversations, or any other important issues where mentoring can provide the greatest help.
Experience is everything
The mentor and mentee set goals, address challenges and recognize progress. The mentee must be willing to pinpoint solutions, measure risks, perform under pressure and learn along the way. Mentoring flourishes when the mentor and mentee each gain something powerful.
The relationship should be based on “this is where we started, this is how far we have come, and this is where we are going.”
Genuine curiosity and honest conversations drive novel solutions. Decades of evidence show that positive mentoring relationships build not only leaders but a culture of trust, greater commitment, and higher employee retention.
Where there is great knowledge, there is also great responsibility to share this expertise and wisdom with those who will eventually take charge. To teach is to learn twice.