Leadership Development through Mentoring

The global economic downturn that has adversely impacted businesses in the United States during the past few years has raised concern over the many new challenges facing leaders. As businesses expand globally and compete internationally, leadership quality and depth are essential to achieving success in a globalized world. As the need for leadership competency increases, developing the human and social capital in all types of organizations today becomes a high priority. Most executives agree that it is good policy to develop promising leadership talent from the rank and file employees in their organization.

In the past, many organizations established grandiose leadership development programs. Some established leadership academies while others footed the bill for collegiate-level executive development programs. Still others invested team-building exercises, trust-building scenarios, 360-degree feedback programs and extensive simulation training. At the same time, many of these employers held managers accountable for leadership development. Today, however, the lack of effective talent development within organizations has been slowed down by cost-cutting measures and the threat of the investment being lost as well-groomed leaders relocate to competitor firms.

Developing a Leadership Pipeline

Among the different leadership development techniques that are affordable, “action learning” is an approach widely used for combining in-house formal leadership training together with on-the-job assignments. Bestselling author Stephen R. Covey, in his book The 8th Habit: from Effectiveness to Greatness, suggests that leadership development programs can often provide one with a temporary inspiration, but without the opportunity to apply, the learning can breed cynicism throughout the work culture.

Coaching and Mentoring 

Coaching and mentoring are other, rather inexpensive, developmental programs utilized by organizations interested in nurturing and retaining talent and avoiding the alternative of recruiting talent from the outside. The coaching approach is effective in teaching specific skills or techniques that can be mastered and measured but is more labor intensive than mentoring. Mentors certainly act like coaches but differ in several ways as well. A mentor is a trusted advisor to a mentee that has potential for rapid advancement in the organization.

Until recently, most mentoring relationships have been of the unplanned variety. Even today in our networked society, the importance of becoming proficient at using social networking tools can assist such individuals in acquiring job opportunities and in their pursuit of career aspirations. Mentorship programs can be formal or informal, but many companies today are establishing formal programs in a step-by-step process. First, top management support is obtained and then mentors and their protégés are carefully chosen. Then an orientation and get acquainted session is sponsored before the formal program, which typically lasts a year or less, gets underway. If the proper rapport is established the mentor-protégé relationships can lead to the emergence of new and capable leadership for the organization.

What You Can Do as a Mentor

A majority of firms today probably have some kind of mentoring program. The general guidelines for these programs are for the two parties to meet monthly over a year time-span and maintain their discussions in a confidential manner. In addition to mutual friendship, there are a number of specific benefits that mentors can provide to those they assist, to include the following:

  • Enhanced career development through sponsorship, challenging assignments, and protection from career destroying mistakes.
  • The protégé receives such benefits as career skills development, self-confidence, rapid advancement opportunities, and improved networking opportunities.
  • The close interpersonal relationship sets the stage for mentors to provide protégés with ways to “learn the ropes” and the way things are actually accomplished in the work organization.
  • In addition to more focused learning and role modeling, the protégé normally receives higher reward and recognition feedback from senior-level and experienced mentors.
  • Mentors can assist in showcasing the protégé’s talents to top executives as well as providing the challenges needed for becoming a more formidable leader.

Formal mentoring has now become an accepted mechanism for leadership development. Mentors view leader development as a part of their job. One of the primary outcomes, if handled appropriately, is the empowerment of an individual worker to become a future leader of the firm. This means payback to the individual and to the organization. But in most such relationships, the mentor is also on the receiving end of rich dividends from his or her participation in mentoring.

John Patton, DBA is on the faculty at the Nathan M. Bisk College of Business at Florida Institute of Technology.