Leadership and mentoring go hand-in-hand. In fact, this is so much the case that I don’t believe a person qualifies as a leader unless they are a mentor. If you accept this premise as correct, then why is it that so many in positions of leadership fall woefully short in successfully transferring the benefits of their wisdom and experience to others? To the chagrin of many reading this post, I believe there is regrettably all too often a difference between someone who holds a leadership position, and that of a mature, effective leader. In the text that follows, I’ll share a few thoughts on not only the benefits of mentoring, but how to do it effectively.
If you have been a reader of this blog for any length of time, you know that I believe many of those in positions of leadership need to get over themselves. Leadership is not about the leader, but rather about those being led. As a leader your success can only be found in one measure: whether or not those you lead are better off as a result of being led by you. I have long held that the great privilege of leadership carries with it an even greater responsibility; the obligation of service. Once a person assumes a leadership role, they automatically inherit the responsibility for the care, well-being, and overall stewardship of those they lead. While some refer to the aforementioned demands as the burdens of leadership, I like to think of them as the primary benefits of leadership.
Let me cut right to the chase and be clear; mentoring is part of a leader’s job description. I’ll take this one step further by also being very blunt; Your obligation as a leader is to develop people to the best of your ability which hopefully leads to people reaching their full potential. Put simply, if you can’t or won’t become a good mentor, then you have no business being a leader.
All successful organizations create a culture where the acquisition, development, implementation, and transfer of skills and knowledge are highly valued. This type of culture simply cannot exist where the practice of mentoring is not a top down initiative. Leaders must not only embrace mentoring, they must become its champion. Following is a list of five simple rules that all leaders can turn to help improve their mentoring efforts:
Any relationship between mentor and mentee that is not built upon a foundation of mutual trust and respect won’t be productive, and won’t last. Being a mentor has nothing to do with being arrogant, condescending, or patronizing in an attempt to demonstrate your knowledge, and the mentee’s lack thereof. In fact, I can think of no circumstance where the old axiom “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” applies than as it relates to the role of a mentor.
2. Mentoring Requires a Mutual Commitment
Your mentee will only be as committed to the process as you are. If you’re not totally committed to the success of your mentee, they will only pay you the same lip service in return for that which you’re giving them. Likewise, a healthy and productive mentoring relationship cannot be built upon on a one-way street from the mentor to the mentee. While a mentor can be committed and provide excellent advice, the harsh reality is that you cannot mentor someone who doesn’t want to be a mentee. Those who seek shelter in the wisdom of sound counsel must also be willing to take refuge there. Those unwilling to do the latter really don’t value the former. Bottom line…Don’t waste the time of your mentee if you’re not committed to the process, and do not waste your time on someone who doesn’t value your advice.
3. Walk the Talk
Who is your mentor? Don’t have one? Hmmm… Learning is a life-long endeavor, and you don’t simply reach a magical place in life where you become the all knowing mentor who no longer has anything to learn. Your mentoring efforts will be better received, and will be more productive if you are not just a mentor, but a mentee as well. Make it a point to communicate how much you believe in the process of being mentored by telling your mentee how you’ve benefited from mentors past and present.
4. Choosing Your Mentees
There is simply not enough time in the day for you to become everyone’s mentor. You cannot do it, so don’t even bother trying. This begs the question of who you should personally mentor, and why? Aside from other essential aspects of mentoring that have already been mentioned, mentors must keep in mind their overarching obligation to the organization…the business purpose if you will. Leaders need to evaluate coaching and mentoring decisions based upon the potential ROI vs. the potential risk. Only invest your time where the biggest returns or the largest risks can be impacted. As a leader your first responsibility is to the greater good of the organization, and if your mentoring time is invested in non productive efforts then you’re not catalyzing progress, you are gating it. One of the toughest things for a leader to come to grips with is that not everyone can be saved. If time squandered with an individual is adversely impacting the greater organization, then you cannot continue to invest time there. If someone will not gladly submit themselves to being mentored, then I submit that you gladly replace them with someone who will. A person that won’t invest themselves into their own development not only limits their own future, but they in turn become the proverbial weak link in the chain.
Don’t view mentoring as just another development initiative and pass the buck to HR. Effective mentoring programs while led from the top down, are decentralized and driven down to lowest possible levels of the organization. Everyone should be included in some form or fashion. As noted above, you cannot do it all yourself, but you can create an enterprise wide framework that makes sure that nobody falls through the cracks. As noted above, not everyone may be a good choice for you to personally mentor, but if a person in worthy of being a part of your organization to begin with, then they are worthy of someone’s attention and efforts as a mentor.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and comments.