Why Mentorship

​​Leadership mentoring programs: [Examples of skills and discussion topics]

How do you improve leadership skills in the workplace? Mentorship. Leaders learn through direct experience and the advice of others. While leadership coaches are helpful with tactical advice, mentors provide role models and guidance that future leaders can aspire to be like. Mentorship, in short, builds leadership skills.

Matthew Reeves

CEO of Together

Published on 

August 1, 2021

Updated on 

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Promoting employees internally to leadership positions has a number of benefits, including better retention rates. According to a recent LinkedIn report, employees who work at an organization with an opportunity for internal advancement are 41 percent more likely to stay with their employer longer. 

One way to prepare employees for more responsibility is through a leadership mentoring program.

Mentorship is the most effective way to build leadership skills

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. 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.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is effective at building leadership skills because the mentor is a role model and a teacher. Through active 1-on-1 conversations, mentees uncover areas where they need to improve their leadership skills. With the help of their mentor, they can identify was to grow these skills and follow in their footsteps.

What is a leadership mentoring program?

A leadership mentoring program is designed to help prepare employees to take on leadership positions. So, rather than prompting them into a new role and expecting them to develop their skills, employers can provide a mentor for a more structured way to train employees. Through a workplace mentoring program, employees will cultivate the necessary skills to be successful leaders. 

The fact is that many issues and challenges that future leaders will need to be prepared for are similar to those that today’s leaders have already overcome. 

Related: Download the New Manager Mentoring Program Handbook

Why should companies have leadership development programs?

There are many benefits that organizations can gain from having a leadership mentoring program, such as: 

It’s critical to retain key knowledge

The longer an employee is with your organization, the more knowledge they gain. This comes from solving challenges and problems they face during their career. And that knowledge has significant value. It’s know-how you don’t want to lose when they leave. 

With a leadership mentoring program, that key knowledge can be passed down to future leaders. So, whether your employees decide to retire or move, you’ll be able to retain that vital information.  

Promoting internal mobility increases retention

When there is an opportunity for growth within a company, employees are less likely to leave. Allowing employees the opportunity to move up within the organization can increase your retention rate, improve productivity, and create a strong, skilled workforce. 

Research has found that 63 percent of employees want to be considered for promotion in their organizations. Leadership mentoring programs that prepare your employees to take on higher positions are essential to promoting internal mobility. 

A bonus of encouraging internal mobility is that you’ll be able to attract higher-quality candidates. And those candidates could have leadership potential. 

Investing in employees’ learning is non-negotiable

If you want to have skilled and productive employees, you’ll need to invest in their learning. One study found that 94 percent of employees would stay at a company longer if their employer invested in learning opportunities. Industries change, and technology changes. Training employees to adapt to these changes is vital for your organization to have a strong future. 

Leadership styles

There are a number of different types of leadership styles but most employees will use several different ones, depending on the situation they face. These are some of the most common types of leadership styles:

  1. Autocratic. Those using this style of leadership will often take control of the decision-making process regardless of how others feel about the issue. Although this style is less likely to be used in today’s workplaces, it may still have its advantages. In particular, if a decision needs to be made quickly you may want to use the autocratic style of leadership. 
  2. Authoritative or visionary. Authoritative leaders are more open than autocrats. These leaders will often explain the reasons behind their decisions. You can recognize an authoritative leader by their confident manner and clear direction. They are good to have in the workplace because they help others get on board with the organization’s plans and vision. 
  3. Democratic. With this leadership style, everyone feels like they are a part of the decision-making process. A democratic leader asks others for their input on a situation before they take any action. This style is good for promoting team spirit and cooperation among employees. 
  4. Coach. A coach-style leader is another way to enhance a team atmosphere among your employees. Leaders who employ the coaching style focus on helping others develop their full potential. 

What are some leadership skills that can be taught in leadership training programs?

Being a leader in an organization requires a mix of know-how or hard skills and soft skills, like emotional intelligence. While some of these skills take time and require on-the-job experience, others can be taught in leadership training programs. 

Boston Consulting Group's Roselinde Torres studies what makes great leaders tick and how to teach others those skills. In her TedTalk, she shares “three simple questions would-be company chiefs need to ask to thrive in the future.”

Skills mentors can learn from high-quality mentors include:

  • How to communicate effectively. A LinkedIn Learning report found that communication was one of the most important leadership skills for employees to learn. Seventy-four percent of talent developers thought it was a vital skill to learn. Mastering the art of communication means excelling at different ways of sharing a message with others, including presentations, phone calls, cold emails and one-on-one conversations. A leadership mentoring program presents an ideal space for employees to practice these skills. 
  • How to hold others accountable. While being responsible for individual performance is one aspect of accountability, it also means being accountable for the team. Leaders need to know how to encourage a team and motivate them towards success. Having a mentor allows employees to gain more wisdom about problem-solving. It also helps them be accountable for their role in the mentorship. 
  • How to grow your network. Not everyone is a born networker. Some need more guidance than others, and a mentor can help in this respect. Mentors can open the door to other connections for mentees. Additionally, mentees gain confidence through mentorship as they see their own skills and abilities develop. This confidence can help them reach out to others and get to know people, expanding their network. 
  • How to actively listen to others. Hearing and understanding what others are saying is a crucial skill for leaders. Successful mentorships require good listening skills so that mentees can fully benefit from the experience and the advice offered. 
  • How to strategically solve problems. Finding workable solutions is a trait of an effective leader. Employees can learn how to find answers through the guidance, encouragement and advice of mentors. 
  • How to guide others. Good mentors have a lot of things to teach, but they can only impart their knowledge if they know how to guide others effectively. Mentorship is not so much about telling a mentee what actions to take, but rather guiding them on their journey to make the best possible choices. 

Discussion topics for leadership programs

Leadership training programs should cover the following issues: 

  • Transitioning to a leadership role. Moving into a position with more responsibilities can be intimidating. Leadership mentoring programs can help employees learn tips and tools on how to transition into a leadership role.  
  • The mindset of leaders. Employees who are being prepared for leadership roles need to adjust their mindset. This means becoming more accountable for a team’s success. It also involves thinking about how to develop more effective methods of work. Leadership programs need to help future leaders understand how to think for success. 
  • How to motivate others. Leaders need to know how to motivate others to accomplish tasks. Learning how to encourage and reward others is essential for successful leadership. 
  • Conflict resolution. No matter what size of workplace you have, conflicts between employees are inevitable. Knowing how to resolve these situations and reinstate a cooperative atmosphere is vital. 
  • Active listening. Listening and understanding others and letting them know you hear them can help leaders avoid conflicts with their teams. It can also promote loyalty among employees who feel more respected when they can share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns with leadership. 
  • Delegating tasks. Leaders need to master the art of delegating. Employees being trained for leadership positions should discuss how to assess the skills and capabilities of their staff so they know when and to whom they can delegate tasks.
  • Optimizing their team's tech stack. As a leader, it is possible that your team is not maximizing their efficiency due to the lack of software. Teams have unique workflows that require specific tools to help optimize their productivity, and a mentor could advise their mentee on tools to optimize their team's workflows. For example, a mentor could recommend trying an anonymous feedback tool, or one-on-one software.

Where to find leadership mentors on your own

Here’s how you can spot potential mentors to help you build you leadership skills. You can find mentors by exploring your personal network, sparking conversations around growth and development with potential mentors, and building a relationship with them. We’ll explore each of these in more detail below. 

Exploring your personal network

The best place to start when looking for a mentor is your personal network. It’ll be easier to organize an introduction when you have a loose connection with them rather than a cold outreach. You may already have someone in mind to ask to be your mentor. If this is the case, skip to the next section. For those who are in the process of identifying a mentor here’s what you can do. 

Start with LinkedIn: 

  • Look at the people in your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd order connections that have positions or lifestyles that you want. 
  • Shortlist these people.
  • Explore the individuals who you’re both connected with. They may come in handy when trying to make an introduction. 

After you build a list of 3-5 individuals you’d like to have a mentor then you can plan how to spark an introduction with them.

How to spark a mentoring conversations

If you have a mutual connection with your potential mentor reach out to them and ask them to make an introduction. How you do this is up to you, but common ways to break the ice are to mention a project or piece of work they’re known for or are knowledgable on. Put your best foot forward by asking about something they’ll be passionate about. Who wouldn’t take some satisfaction from sharing what they’re an expert on?

If you don’t have a mutual connection to bridge you can still reach out to them in the ways mentioned above. Consider their interests and what you hope to learn from them and use that as a reason for reaching out.

Tips on building a relationship

Building a successful mentoring relationship requires both you, the mentee, and the mentor to ask thoughtful questions, actively listen, and frame your conversations around specific goals. These relationships can be transformational for both the mentee and mentor. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with questions to ask your potential mentor check out this article of 29 questions to ask your mentor

1. Be committed

One of the most important elements for a successful mentorship is a commitment on part of both the mentor and mentee.  Mentoring takes time and energy from both participants. Both of you should be dedicated to playing your part to build a strong relationship. 

2. Have an agenda

These conversations should go deeper than superficial things. You and your mentor should agree on an agenda before your meeting. This will help you get your questions answered and keep you both focused. It also prevents either of you from feeling like you’ve wasted your meeting time. 

3. Set boundaries

To help create a positive connection, mentors and mentees should set boundaries. This can include when and how often to meet, the best ways to contact each other and what each of you expects from the mentorship. Developing and sticking to these boundaries creates an atmosphere of mutual respect, which is an essential ingredient in good relationships.   

Keep these tips in mind as you begin to meet with your mentor consistently. Doing so will build a strong foundation to grow from.

Start a mentorship program for future leaders

Training future leaders for your company is one of the best ways to get the most out of your biggest asset: Your employees. 

When each of your departments has a mentorship network that enables employees to connect and learn, you’ll be able to identify potential leaders in your ranks. 

Learning from mentors and peers is one of the best ways to enhance your teams’ collaboration.

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