Throughout my career I have been lucy to have some amazing mentors. These are people who typically have nothing to gain by serving in this capacity and because of that, are able to be totally authentic with me. They have provided feedback, advise, and sometimes warnings to be throughout my career and have helped me develop in ways that I would not have considered without them.
Mentoring relationships are valuable to both the mentor and the mentee in developing strong leaders within organizations. Let’s explore what mentoring is—and isn’t—and how you can use it to benefit your own development and that of your team.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is when a more experienced individual acts as a role model of sorts for someone else. Unlike a trainer or manager, a mentor is usually not teaching or supervising in an official capacity, but instead provides the kind of informal feedback and advice one might get from a friend who is experienced in a particular area.
While mentors are often older that their mentees, that is not always the case. Mentoring can also go the other way around, with the younger individual providing the older individual with the benefit of their experience, feedback, and advice. The mentor-mentee relationship should be based off of experience, not age.
While it is possible for a direct supervisor to act in a mentorship capacity, it’s important to have mentors outside of one’s direct chain of command to facilitate open communication and broader exposure across the organization. This helps remove any influence of politics, personal agendas, and fear of retribution
Why mentoring is important for leaders
Although mentorship programs are usually seen as primarily benefiting the mentee with a chance to learn from someone more experienced than them, the fact is that mentors can also realize significant advantages from serving as a mentor.
Leaders can benefit from being mentors in a variety of ways:
- Building your team. Find, nurture, and develop high-potential individuals within the organization into the highly capable leaders you can count on as you advanced in your own career.
- Cross-generational understanding. Gain exposure to the experience, mindset, and network of someone in a younger generation.
- Exposure to new trends. Learn about current technology trends, social trends, and technical knowledge from people who may be closer to the trends themselves.
- Diversity. Learn from the perspective of someone from a different background.
- Fresh ideas. Discuss ideas and possibilities with someone with a fresh mindset unencumbered by years of experience with “how it’s always been done.”
- Personal development. Learn and practice coaching skills, have opportunities for greater self-awareness, and get input and feedback on your own ideas from someone who isn’t under you in the hierarchy.
- Giving back and leaving a legacy. Mentors can pass on their knowledge, wisdom, and skills to the next generation of leaders, shaping the future of the organization through the people they influence.
How mentoring helps develop new leaders
For up-and-coming individuals within an organization, formal or informal mentoring can help them perform better in the short term and make them more likely to stay with the company in the long term, if they feel they’re getting the support they need to thrive within the organization.
The benefits of mentoring include:
- Role model. Someone to look up to for guidance on communication skills, professional behavior, ethics, and job proficiency.
- Expert advice. Tips and advice for becoming better at their job, faster. Help with understanding from someone who has already “been there.”
- Constructive feedback. Get helpful and honest feedback on how to improve one’s performance and presentation skills in the short term, long before performance reviews come around.
- Career advice and support. Guidance on career moves and sponsorship for advancing in the organization.
- Access to network. Get introductions to people in the mentor’s network.
- Improved soft skills. Receive advice and feedback that improves self-awareness, communication, and interpersonal skills.
- Challenger. Encouragement to continually learn, grow, and improve.
- Diversity. Working with someone at a different level of the organization and with different life experiences increases empathy, compassion, and open-mindedness.
- Confidant. Having a friend and advocate to go to with questions that may be difficult to talk to a supervisor about (especially if the issue is with the supervisor, or of a personal nature).
- Connection and fulfilment. The feeling that someone is on their side and rooting for their success.
Many organizations have formal mentoring programs set up to pair less experiences team members with those who have been in the organization for a while. While these are good programs that can be extremely beneficial to organizational culture, don’t overlook the value of finding mentors outside the organization that can offer non-biased feedback and advice.
Additionally, if you have the opportunity to be a mentor for someone, consider giving of your time freely. They will appreciate it and you will also gain valuable experience as well.