If you aspire to be a leader you’ll need to begin building leadership skills now. It will be hard to get the promotion or build a team around you if you don’t display the qualities all great leaders have beforehand. If you hope to be recognized as a leader and develop the necessary skills, finding a mentor should be your first goal.
Why do you need a mentor to develop leadership skills? It’s a good question.
Think of famous leaders that are praised for the strategic decisions they made, the risks they took that paid off, and the challenges they persevered through. Do these individuals come to mind:
- Steve Jobs
- Warren Buffett
- Steven Spielberg
- Oprah Winfrey
- Richard Branson
They all had famous mentors that helped them in their personal and professional lives. They weren’t born natural leaders and they didn’t get to where they are without the help of others. And neither will you if you want to become a leader. A great mentor will give you invaluable advice and guidance and challenge you to clarify the goals your pursuing. They’ll also hold you accountable and be a sounding board on your path to building leadership skills.
In this article, we’ll list X different skills leaders need and how mentors are critical to developing them. We’ll also cover the qualities of great leaders and how to build a mentoring relationship with them. Ready to start down the path of building the leadership skills you’ll need for your future career path?
What Are The Qualities Of Great Leaders?
Leadership is more about the characteristics that a person possesses and displays toward their teams 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 course alone.
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. 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.
To summarize, the qualities of great leaders:
- Practice active listening
- Are role models at setting and achieving goals
- Can engage teams with storytelling that drives action
- Can coach teams and build up more leaders
- Have a strong professional network they can leverage
This is where mentoring comes into play. Mentors possess these same skills.
High potential employees who are being prepared to take on leadership roles need mentors that model what great leadership looks like. Through guidance, advice, and 1-on-1 conversations, existing leaders can develop their mentee's soft skills, allow them to experience aspects of a leadership role, work through problems and grow their professional network. 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.
Where To Find Mentors To Build Your Leadership Skills
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.
In addition to finding a mentor on your own, you can advocate for your company to start a workplace mentoring program. In this way, all employees will have access to career development through mentorship.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For a mentor they get to benefit from the relationship because they can:
- Practice active listening
- Connect with younger generations
- Validate their leadership skills by helping others grow
- Uncover future leaders
For a mentee they stand to gain:
- Increased their engagement with their professional goals
- Greater clarity on their career path
- Communication skills
- Faster skill development through their mentor’s guidance
- And much more
It’s clear that there is a myriad of benefits to having a mentor. For this reason, senior leaders are leveraging these relationships to build better organizations. By starting mentoring programs companies are:
- Overcoming diversity issues in the workplace
- Finding future leaders for succession planning
- Improving employee engagement and loyalty
- Reducing high turnover rates for companies
- Onboarding new employees faster
There are many more reasons why workplaces are adopting mentoring programs. It’s an effective way to build better organizations and leverage existing employees.
Going back to building a strong mentoring relationship, here are three tips to keep in mind:
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.
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.
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.
The Different Types Of Leadership Skills Mentors Help Their Mentee's Build
Let’s explore different skills that mentors can help high potential mentees develop and build leadership skills.
Effective Communication Skills
To lead well, communication is key, and this means all aspects of communication, from one-to-one meetings, 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.
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 who is always sorry or promises to do better next time when the priorities lie in current 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.
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 of their network too.
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 problem 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.
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.