How to Develop Top Leaders Through Mentorship
Nicola Cronin
5 minutes
August 21, 2020

Every organisation wants to ensure they have a strong pool of leaders. Good leadership is essential for growth, efficiency, and overall high performance. But developing and cultivating leaders can be a huge challenge for businesses, not to mention holding on to them.

This article will explain how leadership mentoring is the best way to develop existing and future leaders, and generally level up leadership qualities across the business.

But firstly, a quick insight into why leadership training – the first port of call for many organisations – is not always an effective way of developing leaders…‍

Why leadership training often fails

Organisations invest a serious amount of money into formal leadership training, with $14 billion being spent annually in the US alone. Yet many of these programmes and initiatives never see return on investment, and the general consensus among employees is that they don’t work too well.

As HBR writes: ‘Decades’ worth of studies show why it isn’t working, but, sadly, that understanding has not made its way into most companies.’

The main issue with training is that while it can be informative and inspirational as it’s taking place, it’s rarely effective at genuinely creating new habits. Most managers find themselves regressing to the way they operated prior to the training very quickly, as the context in which they were trained was completely different to their actual day to day work environment.

Training also puts a lot of emphasis and pressure on the individual. Expecting them to learn new leadership skills in a very short space of time – sometimes just one ‘away day’ – and then rapidly apply them, despite the nuances and politics of existing team structures.

That’s not to say of course, that training never works. But if you can develop a culture where leadership skills are developed in day to day work, and add training where needed, you’ll likely see far better results.

The most effective way to develop that culture, is through mentoring.

Why is mentorship effective for leadership training?

Mentoring has always been a powerful way of developing skills, building confidence and learning from others. So it’s naturally highly effective when it comes to developing leaders.

Many organisations find success in running specific leadership mentoring programmes, providing high potential employees with senior leaders who can guide, support and inspire them. This supports succession planning, as well as nurtures impressive future leaders, which positively impacts retention.

Not only does leadership mentoring give high potentials the opportunity to be advised by people who have been there and done it, but also gives existing leaders the chance to hone their skills and become better leaders in the process. It’s a win win.

📖 Find out how to set up and run a mentoring programme with our step by step guide 📖

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What leadership skills does mentoring develop?

Mentoring has many benefits for personal development, the majority of which are highly desired leadership skills, including:

  • Self-confidence
  • Better communication
  • Asking good questions
  • Good listening
  • Self-awareness
  • Being perceptive
  • Delivering / accepting feedback
  • Building trust

And it’s not only the mentee that benefits from this – mentors also report increases in these types of skills through mentoring others.

📖 Read more: Why all leaders need coaching and mentoring 📖

How can we us mentoring to develop future leaders?

As mentioned, leadership mentoring programmes are most commonly used to develop future leaders within the organisation. Here are some key things that make leadership mentoring so effective:

  • Learning from past experience

A core part of mentoring is the sharing of personal experiences and lessons, unlike other development practices like coaching. It’s this element that makes mentoring so perfect for leadership development, as senior leaders can share their journey to leadership and the challenges and learnings they faced along the way. While not all journeys to leadership are the same, there will be many common themes and transferable lessons that a training day simply doesn’t cover.

  • Learning through role modelling

Mentoring is all about building a human relationship. As the mentor and mentee get to know each other and build trust, the mentee will begin to look up to the mentor, and learn a lot through their behaviour and communication style. The mentor will pass on much of their natural leadership flair, simply through the time spent in their sessions.

  • Being challenged

Mentors on a leadership mentoring programme should be encouraged to challenge their mentee, and to push them out of their comfort zone. This dynamic will allow the mentee to grow in confidence and experience, and begin to show leadership qualities.

  • Growing a network

Mentoring is a great way for younger employees to build relationships and network with senior leaders within the organisation. The mentors may introduce them to other connections who can help them improve on specific skills.

📖 Read more: Why Mentoring is Important  📖

How to use mentoring to develop current leaders

Investing in your current leaders will not only help them to perform better in their role, but has knock on effects for retention as people stay longer in companies that invest in their learning and development.

The mentor will also benefit hugely from a leadership mentoring programme. There is always more to learn, and the best leaders are always be looking for new ways to improve. Given that, leaders will take on different roles, from being a champion to a mentor – it’s important for any leader to develop this skill.

A big part of leadership development is determining what sort of a leader you are, and mentoring others provides the perfect platform to do that. Particularly if a mentor has multiple mentees of differing personalities, as it’s an incredible opportunity to hone their communication and people skills.

As well as this, by teaching someone else about leadership qualities and reflecting on personal experience, the mentors will naturally become more self aware. The sessions are likely to encourage introspection into their own leadership style, and remind them to listen to their own advice. They should encourage feedback from their mentee to continually learn and improve even further.

A woman speaks into a laptop on a video call

How leadership mentoring improves diversity and inclusion

Level the playing field for your future and current leaders through mentoring. We know that a lack of representation in leadership can become self-fulfilling. When we can’t see people like us in leadership roles, it’s harder to aspire to reach them. And when leaders aren’t actively working on creating diverse and inclusive workplaces, barriers can be placed that prevent progression for a range of underrepresented groups.

Mentoring has long been a proven way of supporting D&I initiatives. From improving cultural competency to opening doors for people to promotion and opportunities, there are so many ways to use mentoring for D&I.

By starting a leadership mentoring programme for underrepresented groups, you can actively break down barriers to progression in your organisation. For example, by pairing high potential women in your organisation with senior leaders (of any gender) you can develop their skills, confidence and networks.

📖 Find out more about the power of mentoring for breaking the glass ceiling for women in our white paper 📖

Leadership mentoring is a low-cost but high-impact way to nurture high potentials, increase employee engagement and reduce talent churn. As well as running specific programmes for leadership, having a culture of mentoring throughout an organisation that is accessible and inclusive will increase leadership skills across the board.

Interested in starting a leadership mentoring programme? Book a demo with Guider today.

What's next?

Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways Guider can help you supercharge your L&D with mentoring:

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Build your own mentoring programme

If you're looking to build and launch a mentoring programme in your organisation, then our guide is the best place to start.

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The Complete Mentoring Toolkit
Everything you need to create and scale an effective workplace mentoring programme. Includes: setup checklist, matching guide, expert advice, proving ROI and much more.

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