Mentor Leadership: Leading the Way for the Future

Mentor Leadership

I will be the first to admit. It may seem daunting, considering the many projects and plans already on our plates on a daily basis, to even consider extending our leadership responsibilities to include active mentorship. After all, who has the time and the energy to devote to actively mentoring one’s teams?

The day-to-day pace of business is enough to give even the most diligent and time management savvy leader fits and starts. But, if we are to make good on our promise and potential as leaders of today, then we have to better embrace our roles in sowing and nurturing the seeds of tomorrow.

We can only achieve this by becoming proactive (and active) mentor leaders. Why? Think back to your leadership journey to where you are. Who were your sources of inspiration? Who were the men and women from whom you took example and encouragement in your journey to becoming a leader? How instrumental were their words and actions in shaping the leader you are today?

It can be argued that drawing examples from a leader or their stories isn’t the same as mentor leadership. And on some level that is true. However, it is an undeniable fact that, either through word or action, whether through actually knowing the source of inspiration or even following them on social media, becoming a leader is not a process that occurs in a vacuum.

Leaders must draw inspiration from a variety of sources. There are always influences pulling and tugging and moulding our individual and collective leadership stories…our leaders. Some of the influences are positive; others, not so much. With the next generation of leaders eagerly looking on and out for inspiration and example, we, as leaders of today, have a responsibility to encourage our people to look to us. We have a responsibility, in fulfilling our roles as leaders, to serve as that positive source that can make all the difference in shaping a great leader of tomorrow. But we have to meet them halfway by taking the steps to become effective mentor leaders in our own right.

What Kind of Mentor Leader Will You Be

Perhaps the most subjective of points we will be looking at, so let’s begin there. It is difficult to define who or what a mentor leader is because we are all different leaders, with various abilities, styles, strengths, and even weaknesses. However, mentor leaders are the same in their passion to meaningfully engage and bring the best out in their teams. An effective mentor leader does not lead from up on high, in some ivory tower, cut off from their teams, handing out dictates and is only seen or heard from when scolding team members when and where they fall short.

While it may not be pragmatic or practical to engage with each employee on a daily basis, there must be that fundamental genuine interest in our people. There must be that effort to reach out to our people, to make ourselves both available and approachable, and to connect with them on a human level. Because they are not just people. They are OUR people. And we have to treat them with respect and compassion if we are to give them the best of what we have to offer.

Just as we want our teams to look past our titles and experience, and take a genuine interest in us in order to benefit from our expertise, and if we want them to respect us, so too must we, as effective mentor leaders, take the time to get to know team members on a deeper level and build stronger relationships with them.

Active mentor leadership facilitates this (and more) and defining your role as a mentor leader begins with understanding what the role truly means, embracing the responsibilities that come with, and acknowledging how prepared (or unprepared) we are to fulfil it.

Next, comes the effort.

Know Your People; Understand Their Needs

For mentor leadership to be effective, leaders must be in tune with the very people they are mentoring. I’m not referring to knowing our people inside out (although, if you can, it certainly helps the cause). I’m speaking more to understanding what matters most to those various demographics, particularly those of the most recent generation, and making the necessary adjustments in order to foster the mentor/mentee relationship.

While issues like job security, salary competitiveness, and job satisfaction tend to rank higher for older generations, among millennials, diversity, inclusion, equality, and environmental impact are just a few of the major issues that weigh heavily on their minds. Regardless of the mix or demographic breakdown, the question is how prepared are we, as leaders, to take the time to understand these issues and do what we can to work with our people to move them forward. Mentor leadership brings leaders closer to their people. It facilitates open discussion and close active listening to what our people are saying. It also provides the framework whereby leaders can directly discuss these issues, not just in a spirit of honesty and openness, but also integrity, meaningfulness, and empathy.

It is more about working side by side with our people to empower their leadership growth to make their own good decisions, rather than simply providing answers to questions. Mentor leadership isn’t solely focused on achieving set targets or making good on deliverables. It is a long-term strategy that is founded on our people’s sustainable development.

(Think of mentor leadership as the proverbial “teaching someone to fish as opposed to simply giving them a fish” adage.)

Additionally, in better knowing our people, an effective mentor leader must also take the time to invest in them. It’s all well and good that we can communicate effectively, and we have developed a real understanding of what our people want and what makes them tick, but where those drop off, actions must step in.

Being an effective mentor leader means developing your teams, investing wholeheartedly in their continued growth and progression. It means finding out what is missing in their growth and working with them to fill those gaps. Not only will this reinforce the team’s strengths, as we draw closer to our people, they will come to feel a closer connection to us as their leaders, and the organisation as a whole, for substantively investing in their skills and future.

Not surprisingly, active mentor leadership is one of the most effective ways of cultivating gratitude and fierce loyalty within our people. We can’t just simply wish the best for our people. We have to work alongside them to help them achieve it.

Mentor Leadership At Work

If you haven’t gleaned by now, it should be obvious that stronger teams make for stronger organisations. Therefore, the most straightforward case for mentor leadership is that it simply makes teams and organisations stronger and better suited to weather the storms of tomorrow.

Regardless of your particular leadership style, mentor leadership is about building meaningful relationships through communication, and encouraging our people to learn, develop, and upskill, all the while, giving them the benefit of our experience and expertise along the way. Making mentor leadership a part of your daily leadership style unlocks a wide range of benefits including (re) building morale, creating feelings of personal fulfilment, developing greater self-awareness, and building cohesion within our teams.

In this way, mentor leadership is about inspiring confidence and trust within our teams through our words and deeds, and becomes a critically powerful tool in empowering and emboldening our people to not only to perform better in their roles but to take even greater urgency in furthering in their careers – whether that be inside or outside of the organisation.

If approached holistically, mentor leadership is quite simply one of the best ways to develop our people to become effective leaders of tomorrow and an excellent way of creating and maintaining the kind of fertile organisational culture that can produce them. Results that often manifest in the bottom line. As we reach out to our people, with an open mind and heart and the best intentions, the effective mentor leader is better able to lead by example and motivate through action.

In the end, both the organisation and the team stand to benefit tremendously.

Mistakes will be Made

This should go without saying but I will still say it here anyway. The journey to becoming a more effective mentor leader is going to be fraught with pitfalls.

Depending on our respective organisations, we may find that there are team members who just aren’t interested in being a part of any mentorship training. We may have team members who, jaded by past experiences, hold very little hope or esteem for any mentor leadership. Many leaders will actively reach out, only to be seemingly rejected by their teams. That’s ok. Make the effort all the same.

Mentor leadership is not a competition or a project per se, with set deliverables and deadlines. It is the ultimate work in progress for today’s leaders and employees. It’s going to take time and attention to detail to get it working the way we want (Think journey not destination). Along the way, we have to be able to be honest and open about the mistakes we make and the shortcomings we face. We have to be willing and able to forgive ourselves when we drop the proverbial ball in becoming more effective mentor leaders. Most of all, we have to be willing to accept the fact that there are team members who just don’t want any part of it.

You can’t mentor everyone. But if we are practical in our approach, realistic in our expectations, and more accepting of our limitations, it becomes much easier. In embracing our own vulnerability and shortcomings as mentor leaders, we actually appear more human, more approachable, and better leaders.

One day at a Time; One Mentee at a Time

In today’s business environment, everyone has more work to perform, more responsibilities to deal with, and more stress to manage. Given this, today’s leader is fair in asking themselves, "Why would I ever want to become a mentor?" The simple answer, as I hope we would have seen, is that mentor leadership produces stronger leaders, organisations, and teams. Through the mentoring relationship, there is so much that we can discover about our teams and ourselves. Mentor leadership may just be that missing link between our organisations remaining stagnant over time or whether they becomes the forces for good that we and our teams work so hard for it to be.

Like any worthwhile endeavour, it will take time and it will take effort. In the end, the benefits make it all worthwhile in giving hope, inspiration, and a viable blueprint for the future generation of leaders to follow.

And it must begin today. What are some of the ways you actively apply mentor leadership in your organisations? Let us know.

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