Today’s leaders and managers face increased demands, including numerous and more complex challenges and less stability. As demands and challenges increase, mentoring relationships can help managers and leaders adapt, learn and grow into meeting the new pressures and demands head on. A mentoring program can ensure your leaders perform consistently well.
At first glance, a mentoring program may appear like something else to do, a new requirement or an energy sink. A deeper look reveals a hidden strategy that can give your organization a competitive edge.
For starters, effective mentors sharpen their leadership in the mentoring process. As they assist mentees, they have the opportunity to reflect and get clarity on their own leadership. Mentoring gives mentors the space and freedom to identify patterns and articulate how they apply their expertise and experience to create momentum and drive results.
Mentoring also helps leaders view the organization in a new holistic light around functions, politics and culture. In addition, the best mentors get personal satisfaction and fulfillment from the mentoring relationship. If your leaders are feeling unfulfilled, worn or jaded, becoming a mentor can give the a personal boost.
What does it take to be a mentor? Here are six key tips from the best mentors.
1. Put the relationship first.
It is self-evident that the best results come from the foundation of a good relationship. Mentees need to feel safe to bring up sensitive issues that can only be asked behind closed doors. They have to feel like it is in their best interest to open up in service of their growth and development.
The mentor/mentee relationship should go beyond the formal employee and boss roles. Build it as a relationship between two people who have a common interest in growth and development and a solid commitment to the success of the relationship.
2. Focus on character.
Skill and competence are not enough for today’s leaders. Leave skill development to training. Mentoring is your chance to help mentees develop more deeply in new areas such as cultural agility and to develop the social awareness to understand the impact of their behavior on others. Help mentees develop the self-management to pause in the face of strong emotions and the self-awareness to recognize and manage their own emotions.
In the long run, building a strong character and value-based qualities matters more than skill. As challenges grow in number and complexity, aspiring managers and leaders need to be prepared for anything, because anything can happen, and it usually does.
3. Manage yourself.
Mentees may come to you with some harebrained ideas or ambitions. Your response will determine whether they keep bringing questions even if they are off the wall. Use a measured response and avoid the scrunched frown that says, “What?” Don’t roll your eyes or sigh loudly. Although perhaps subtle and maybe even meaningless to you, these nonverbal responses are loud and obvious to your mentee, and they create dissonance in the relationship. (Refer to the first tip.)
4. Be Strategic.
Every organization has problems, dysfunctions and long-standing, complex issues. Be deliberate and intentional with what you project. Demonstrate how to minimize issues and work in a proactive way, always in the name of moving the needle toward what is possible, productivity and daily wins. Don’t give any energy to backbiting, negativity or gossip. When you model this way, your mentee will learn how to do the same. They will project what they see you project.
The new normal of uncertainty, volatility and the fast pace of change dictates the need for managers and leaders who are broadly competent, adaptable, open-minded and responsive. Emphasize learning agility – learning from experience and applying that learning to current and future challenges.
Advocate and even push your mentees to accept new assignments, temporary detail opportunities and different roles. You will be ensuring deeper and broader development through varied experiences within and across departments. Your mentees will learn adaptability in a hands-on fashion. You will be encouraging them not to hide away or burrow in one department. They will instinctively become adaptable, open-minded and responsive.
When you enthusiastically and legitimately praise a job well done, you teach the language of inspiration. Commending good work one on one happens so infrequently that most managers and leaders don’t know how to do it. They don’t have the vocabulary for it, and they feel awkward and out of place giving praise. Show your mentees how to inspire others and give valid and authentic praise. This is an under-emphasized capability that, when done well and often, can take employee/manager relations to a new level.
The competitive advantage of your mentoring program is that, under your guidance, mentees improve in day–to-day critical thinking. They also develop longer-view enterprise thinking and a holistic organizational perspective. They understand where the organization is going, and they know their role. They know how to use their strengths to contribute where it is needed most.
By following these tips, you can ensure that mentoring is not time spent but rather time that is invested strategically.