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A Great Leader is Also a Mentor
No matter where you look, it isn’t hard to find an article, blog post, or social media rant describing how the work environment is changing. The traditional role of a singular authoritative corporate father figure who is a mystery to the masses is radically changing. The role of a leader today is much more hands-on and leaders – great leaders – need to also be great mentors.
As reported in the 2016 Canada Labour Force Survey1, nearly 21% of Canada’s current workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next 10 years and nearly 22% in the next 20. Considering that almost 43% of Canada’s workforce could exit the labour market in 20 years, if there was ever a need for the transferring of knowledge, that need is now.
All successful organizations put in extreme effort to create a culture where the acquisition, development, implementation, and transfer of knowledge and skills are of utmost priority. 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.
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is a teacher, a guide, a knowledgeable person, someone who best represents your company and industry. Mentoring is much more an art than a science. The most influential and most difficult trait of being a mentor is to be authentic.
A mentor is simply someone who helps another individual learn something that could otherwise take years to learn, if at all.
The task of the mentor is defined as the act of helping another to learn and transfer knowledge. To do this, the recipe for a good mentor can be summarized in four basic abilities:
- To give of yourself – like transferring your most prized possession
- To accept – the act of being inclusive
- To give generously - don’t hold back the knowledge and skills you are imparting
- To do more – take the relationship beyond the expected limits. The mentor will do more in favour of development and growing the individual than anything else
The mentee is the first to be in charge of his or her own learning. Mentors are not responsible for the acceptance of these skills directly. They can guide the mentee and make suggestions, but the primary responsibility of the mentor is to manage the relationship through which the learner learns.
What skills do you need to be an effective mentor?
1. Actively Listen
Active listening is the most elementary skill you will ever use in any of your relationships. Active listening not only establishes a personal relationship, but also creates a positive and accepting environment that allows open communication. By actively listening, you can determine the interests and needs of your mentee.
2. Gradually Build Confidence
Trust builds over time and any relationship between mentor and mentee that is not built upon a foundation of mutual trust and respect won’t be productive. You can increase confidence through maintaining a relationship of trust. This is accomplished by treating all conversations and other communications between you and your mentee with respect, making time for and keeping commitments, showing constant interest and support and being honest.
3. Define Goals and Gradually Build Skills
As a role model, you must have your own professional and personal goals and share them, when appropriate, with your mentee. Your mentoring efforts will be better received, and will be more impactful if you are not just a mentor, but a mentee as well. He or she is also likely to ask you questions about how you define and achieve your own goals. Be genuine and show them how you got to where you are. In addition, you can help your mentee identify and achieve their own professional and personal goals through your example.
4. Breath Inspiration
Giving encouragement is the most valued mentoring skill. There are many ways to motivate or encourage your mentee.
Try some of the following:
- Positively reinforce their achievements;
- Express your sincere belief in their abilities and their capacity to grow both personally and professionally and in achieving their goals; and
- Respond to your frustrations and challenges by using words of support, understanding, encouragement, and praise. (The fact of simply knowing that someone else has walked the same path can be of tremendous utility)
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 best if driven from the bottom up. Everyone should be included in some form or fashion. As noted above, all good organizations find a way to effectively transfers skills and knowledge down-line. So create an enterprise-wide framework that makes sure no one falls through the cracks.
Remember, all great leaders are mentors and if a person is worthy of being a part of your organization to begin with, then they are worthy of someone’s attention and efforts as a mentor.
Alex Andrews, CPHR is a member of the HR leadership team for one of Canada’s largest agricultural and construction equipment dealership groups where he oversees the organizational development and training programs. He can be reached at email@example.com.