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Develop Leadership Skills with a Mentor

August 12, 2020

There are many reasons organizations adopt mentoring programs, aside from the fact that they are now considered a good practice as a formatted and tracked route to progression within the workplace.Mentoring offers an opportunity to develop skills, build relationships and map out a career path that for some, may currently seem beyond reach.

But as far as mentoring has come in recent decades, there is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding its necessity. This stems from companies and organizations not fully grasping the weight or purpose of mentoring programs or understanding the commitment to its longevity. So, it is most important to begin talks of formatting a mentoring program with the purpose. Don’t just take one on board because other companies are, or because it can boost appeal to work for that particular company. Mentoring programs area huge undertaking in terms of time, money and manpower. The purpose should reflect that in order for employees and cohorts to jump on board with full engagement.

Outcomes of Mentoring

So, what are some of the reasons that mentoring programs exist within businesses? As an overall package, they are usually designed to facilitate growth, provide access to parts of the business that aren’t always available, and to build relationships. They also encourage knowledge sharing that will allow cohorts to step into their future career with the support of their mentor and the company.

There are different types of mentoring programs across the board and each company will look at the purpose and desired outcome to decide which works best for them. For example, an Onboarding Program.This type of mentoring program has a purpose designed to integrate new employees with ease and introduce them to the business and their role within it. Usually lasting a few months, this sort of mentorship is mutually beneficial as new employees feel supported through the initial learning period.A ready-made network of people is on hand to discuss problems and solutions with onboarding programs and although learning tends to be at a fast pace, it means no one is thrown into the deep end.

Companies benefit from onboarding programs as they provide the first and most lasting impressions for new employees. For any organization, recognizing that they only get to do this once is critical so that employee retention remains high. Setting the initial tone and continuing with the commitment to this practice could mean the difference between employees feeling satisfied and wanting to progress within the company or looking for other work before they have completed their probatory period. Having an onboarding program is one thing, but executing it well is another. It is great to adopt this type of mentoring initially to gain an understanding of what time and resources are needed and how progress should be tracked.

Upskilling and Reskilling existing employees and managers within a company provides another good purpose for mentoring. It is usually there to facilitate learning when businesses are going through a transitional period or adopting new technologies. Mentors with experience in these fields are helpful to provide the guidance prior to or throughout the transition and use their knowledge to train employees in new practices. This is quite common as we move through the digital age, where older methods of working will soon become obsolete. It makes great use of existing employees with a view that by upskilling people, everyone has the chance to move forward with the business.

Other types of mentoring exist within a lot of organizations that help graduates integrate into their roles, seeing as they will likely have high expectations of their own progress as well as the company standards. These kinds of mentoring programs tend to bespeak and with a goal to give graduates the opportunities they have so far worked toward.

Ultimately, mentoring programs are what keeps businesses going over long periods of time. They allow knowledge to be passed down, the knowledge that has allowed previous success in individuals and companies overall. To ensure longevity it is essential to allow this knowledge to flow down in a controlled environment where values don’t get skewed and visions can be worked toward. This is why an important purpose of mentoring is finding new leaders.

Finding the Next Leaders

Leadership is the art of motivating and directing people toward a common goal. All organizations need strong leaders to innovate and drive the business forward with the buy in of employees. It is one thing to be a manager or a director where skills are dictated through training over the course of a career, but another to develop the skills needed to be a great leader.

Mentoring programs are not just aimed at people looking for a promotion, or graduates looking to further their career, they are great facilitators for improving specific skill sets to get someone ready for a role in leadership. It is not viable in this day and age for any company to sit back and wait for great leaders to come to them. Although there may be a lot of talent out there, recognizing internal talent can be more cost-effective and it says a lot about the business when they invest in their current potential.

Offering mentoring as an option to improve leadership skills to internal candidates can be business-critical, especially as positions tend to open up unexpectedly due to unforeseen factors such as retirement, sickness, maternity or paternity leave. Having a line of talent ready to take on leadership responsibilities with the skills that will help them to succeed makes good business sense.

Identifying talent is the first step to take when considering future leaders. Different factors could help decide who to take forward with mentoring, such as existing skills, drive and willingness to commit. It is important to not discount employees without degrees or qualifications as talent could be hiding in all corners of the company, waiting to be recognized and invested in.

Mentoring can be used to tackle imbalances in diversity and improve an organization’s culture of inclusivity, which is more important now than ever. And it isn’t just the mentee that can benefit from a diverse mentoring relationship. The mentor can find it to be an enlightening experience and offers great collaborative potential. So, with future leaders in mind, supporting talent from under-represented backgrounds can open up the line of potential further with equality across the board.

Leadership Skills and Development

For anyone working within an organization with aspirations of becoming a leader, the path can seem frustrating at times. The skills acquired along the way don’t always reflect the job they want to do accurately. For many employees training comes in the form of online courses and classroom-style learning with endless paperwork, tick boxes and reading. While this kind of training can teach someone how to do the basics to manage a team, or look after systems, it does not teach somebody how to be a great leader.

What does a great leader look like? Leadership is more about the characteristics that a person possesses and displays toward their team or employees than the hard skills they have learned. Of course, expecting a senior position in leadership will require knowledge to do the job well, but the softer skills and characteristics are not something that can be taught from a training pamphlet.

Great leaders practice good listening and communication, they have the drive and dedicated time to see through goals and objectives and are able to draw out the best from their team with engaging storytelling and coaching methods. A good leader understands how having a strong network of people around them can help their career and boost their good standing within the company.

This is where mentoring comes in. With a purpose of bringing out these soft skills, allowing a mentee to experience aspects of a leadership role, working through problems and creating their own network of people. It is a time-dedicated way of exploring what it means to be a leader and how to apply it to their own work life. So, let’s explore some different aspects of leadership that can be benefitted from having a mentor.

Effective Communication Skills – To lead well, communication is key, and this means all aspects of communication, from one to one meeting, talking in front of an audience, emailing and phone calls, and even non-verbal communication. Recognizing the importance of this skill is vital to be able to learn more about it and put it into practice with a mentor.

The mentor/mentee relationship itself is good practice for learning how to tighten up communication skills. It comes with a level of mutual respect and trust that involves planning meetings, breaking down barriers, discussing issues and solutions and asking questions. Without any of this, the relationship cannot succeed, which will later reflect the importance of communication as a leader. Having a great vision is only worthwhile if you can tell people about it and how you intend to get there.

Accountability – Taking ownership and accountability is another quality of a great leader. It doesn’t just mean to own up to mistakes or taking responsibility for own actions, but about motivating the team to get results and avoid a negative and less desired outcome to be accountable for.

It wouldn’t be a good sign of a leader whois always sorry or promises to do better next time when the priorities lie incurrent actions and results. Having a mentor to assist with this aspect of leadership can help to coach motivation and the ability to problem solve in a positive manner. A mentorship in itself relies on accountability, with a mentee having to take control of their own career and push themselves through obstacles to get what they want out of the program.

Networking –Some people find the ability to speak to new people an easy part of their career. Others need this skill to be drawn out of them. Having a mentor to push this aspect can be the best way to meet the right people that are important to a successful career.

There are many departments within organizations that most employees won’t usually have direct communications with, either from being unaware of how their role impacts their own or from fear of speaking to more senior people. There comes an element of confidence that is required to network with other senior employees and managers, but a good leader knows that having these people in their circle of influence could be a gateway toward their desired future promotion.

It goes hand in hand with communication skills and knowing how to approach people, to ask the right questions and be available for them to ask theirs. It could be mutually beneficial to be part oft heir network too.

Listening Skills – This is such an understated aspect in all forms of life, whether personal or professional. It is not necessarily trained to all employees as it is something a lot of people take for granted. A common negative listening trait is to start planning a response before the other person has finished talking, which means we aren’t fully listening to what they are saying.

A mentor relationship revolves around listening in order to make the best out of the program.  Mentors themselves will have been trained and coached in the art of listening in order to be a good mentor. It makes good sense that a one to one meeting between mentor and mentee would be the starting off point to emphasize the importance of listening. This allows problematic areas to be observed and identified early on in the relationship.  

Above are just a few of the main qualities that a great leader should possess. The skills themselves are very much activity based, in that they are taught and learned from doing them. Mentoring can help with putting these skills into practice in a safe and trusted environment with someone who has plenty of knowledge on the subjects. Mentors who have experience in leadership will be fully familiar with the expectations of the role and will have plenty of wisdom to pass down to those who will hopefully be the next leaders of the future.

Download our Full Report on Mentoring

We interviewed and surveyed employees from 50+ leading North American Companies including McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, IBM, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, Capital One, Norton Rose Fulbright, Mackenzie Investments. Get the results below.

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