Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing management and leadership skills in others – 2: mentors and mentees 1

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on January 12, 2012

This is my second installment in a short series on developing management and leadership skills in others (see Part 1: starting a new series, and a second posting that in a fundamental sense led to this series as a whole: Making Leadership Not Just About You.)

I have in fact written a number of times about both leadership per se and about mentoring in this blog. So the basic topics and issues that I touch upon here should seem familiar ground for anyone who has followed the blog as I have posted to it, and on anything like a regular basis. At the risk of seeming repetitious for those readers I would begin this posting by stressing a point that I see as crucial and to both business leaders and for the businesses they would lead.

• Management per se is all about the here and now and about tasks and responsibilities at hand. Leadership of necessity steps past that, acknowledging its importance but looking at the organization and its context and needs from a wider, longer-term perspective. And leadership, of necessity looks to the people who collectively comprise the business too, and to their longer term job performance and career needs.

Your good-performer employees can with guidance become your best, and your good and best employees can become your business’ senior managers and leaders moving into tomorrow.

I have written about mentoring a number of times, and for purpose of this note cite two of those earlier postings here:

Mentoring as a Source of Positive Value to the Business and to the Mentor, and
The Power of Leadership as Mentorship.

Mentorship is in fact the single most important side to leadership that is usually ignored, and it is often overlooked and ignored for a variety of reasons.

1. People in a position of power and authority have busy schedules and they resist taking from their time in the midst of their already full schedules to train others – others who may simply take the fruits of this effort with them to a new job and even with a competitor.
• The positive value of mentoring and the strength of interpersonal bonds that it creates can be one of your most powerful tools for retaining the people you most want and need to keep with your organization, and are often more powerful incentives to stay than any salary or bonus increases that might be provided.

2. Mentoring some employees but not others can be viewed and challenged as favoritism and that at least potentially can be seen as problematical and as a source of avoidable liability.
• Like the first objection point, as touched upon immediately above, there is always going to be some risk involved when mentoring others. But there is potential for risk in any professional interactions or relationships. In this case, select the people you would specifically mentor or help to mentor according to professional criteria and based on performance and potential shown. Look for those who you see as capable of doing more than they are now and who would thrive when challenged with greater responsibilities. And mentor them with the goal of making that possibility a reality.

I see mentorship as one of the most important tasks that a true leader assumes responsibility for when taking on the role of leader. And one key leadership lesson that should be shared with everyone and as a matter of day to day mentoring, is in leading by example. The best leadership role model I have ever had the privilege of working with led by example – doing what he said and striving to do himself, the best of what he demanded of others in his own day to day actions and decisions and follow-through.

In that, I write of leadership and management, as the example of leadership is most actively expressed and certainly day to day in how management responsibilities are carried out – with a dual focus of one eye on the tasks and priorities at hand, and the other on how this fits into a larger scheme of things. And for both approaches and both visions, a true leader performs with both the organization and its people in mind and as priorities of importance.

• How do you find a mentor?
• If you are in a position of leadership and seek to impart what you know to others in this way, how do you find the right employees and colleagues to train and mentor?

I am going to start addressing those points of discussion in this posting, with some thoughts on finding the right mentor included here. I will continue on that set of issues in my next series installment and also turn tables to look at the issue of finding the right mentees – the right people to be mentor to.

Here, looking at this from the finding a mentor side:

• Look for people who might advise and mentor you who have experience that goes beyond your own, and a richness of perspective and understanding.
• Look for people who like working with others, and who seem to enjoy sharing and even teaching – people who are good communicators who clearly explain things.
• Look for people who can be patient, and even then always be respectful of their schedules and responsibilities so as not to overly-impose.
• And have a focused, specific reason for approaching someone as a potential mentor – something very specific you would seek advice on, and for which they would be good or even best candidates for knowing what you need to learn. This is very important.
• Look for people who can guide and advise you on time-limited, specific issues and problems, and without imposing or seeking to impose upon them with long-term or vaguely understood goals. If you do not know precisely what you need advice and guidance on you cannot get the advice or guidance you need.

Your best mentor in the immediate here and now might not see themselves as mentoring you even as they do so. This might be someone who in general would state they do not mentor others. You might be their first mentee in this, as they help you navigate some specific, focused challenge that you seek to professionally grow through. And this challenge, and certainly in this type of circumstance, is likely to be very task and here-and-now goals oriented. But good lessons learned tend to be transferrable to new contexts and needs too, so that is not necessarily a limitation to value received.

As just noted, the next installment in this series will turn to the issues of finding the right people to mentor, with a few more thoughts on this from the mentee side of these relationships. You can find this series and related postings at HR and Personnel and further related postings at Business Strategy and Operations and its continuation page at Business Strategy and Operations – 2.

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