Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Developing management and leadership skills in others – 6: teaching leadership skills

Posted in HR and personnel by Timothy Platt on February 1, 2012

This is my sixth installment on mentoring and on developing management and leadership skills in others (see HR and Personnel, postings 81-85 for parts 1-5.) I began this series with a more general discussion of mentoring per se, reviewing the issues pro and con that it brings up when considered. I have also discussed mentoring and corporate culture, and the value in developing a mentoring system as a part of a core corporate culture and value system. After building this foundation I turned to the meat of the issue with Part 5: teaching management skills. And I follow up on that here with a discussion of teaching leadership skills.

I start here by drawing a sharp contract between leadership training and management skills training.

• Effective management skills call for effective communications and interpersonal skills – soft people skills. But the basic management skill set can in many respects be broken down into relatively standard learnable modules and the sharing of specific conceptual and performance-based tools. That is particularly true for basic management skills, and that is why there are so many management courses out there, including self-taught, computer-based automated courses with multiple choice tests to measure learning effectiveness and skills acquisition.
• More senior, advanced management skills are less subject to this type of training approach and teaching them calls for more individualized training approaches. Leadership skills, similarly, are generally best taught by individualized and mentoring approaches too. And this, I add, means learning from both positive and negative role model examples, though mentors are usually selected for their positive role model value.

My goal here is to at least touch upon a number of issues that come up in this type of mentoring.

Let’s start by considering this from the mentee perspective. Leadership training begins with confronting and understanding yourself, and knowing your own blind spots and your own automatic assumptions when you work with and deal with others.

I add that a need for self-knowledge and understanding applies to both mentee and to mentor as training someone else in leadership skills sheds a great deal of light on your own skills and practices too, as you take on mentor responsibilities.

• It is sometimes said that the best way to learn and in depth is to teach, as that forces you to examine and review, and to integrate together all of what you would teach as if with fresh eyes. This definitely applies to the teaching of leadership skills. Teaching forces you to step away from taking things for granted and leaving them only partly thought through.

In Part 4: mentoring versus favoritism and building a mentoring culture I write explicitly of mentoring in corporate cultures as an important approach for teaching more advanced leadership skills in managers who are moving up towards more senior positions. In this, when managers are expected to mentor others in helping them in their careers, the process of mentoring and the effort to help train others also makes them better managers and leaders too. This is a very important point, highlighting the positive synergies that come from having a business-wide culture of mentoring.

What are some of the basic lessons that upcoming and would-be leaders need to learn?

• Leaders need to be able to inspire others and leadership is all about developing trust in others that you will lead them in the right direction.
• A part of that is in learning how to step back from your own emotions and ambitions to look at the issues at hand from the perspective of the people you would lead too. You have to be connected and understand their needs and their concerns too, as you have to be able to do this if you are to enlist the active support of these people in advancing the cause of the mission and vision that you would fulfill with them.
• Some of this is a matter of rote-learnable process. But actually succeeding in this benefits from working with others who have gone through their own learning curves and who can help you manage and shorten your own, and with fewer missteps along the way – or at least with fewer missteps repeated.
• A good leadership mentor can step back and give you an objective, unemotionally involved, new perspective and this becomes very important for resolving issues and challenges where you as a mentee are personally, deeply involved, and perhaps too close to see real alternatives.

As a final thought here, a mentoring system of the type that I write of here can serve as a mechanism for creating and sharing institutional knowledge and wisdom and for disseminating and instilling a shared leadership culture throughout the organization.

I have written of finding a mentoring group – a loose collection of people you can turn to for wisdom, knowledge and insight (see Starting a New Job, Building a New Foundation – part 7 and building a mentoring network) and that basic approach can be followed regardless of your career stage or your length of employment tenure at any given business. And in keeping with that, look beyond your own immediate colleagues and supervisors for mentorship value, as well as within your own more day to day work groups. And look for opportunities to serve as mentor as well as mentee, sharing value with others as well as receiving in either role.

In my next installment in this series I am going to turn to the issues of teaching mentoring skills and for senior management, developing a team of mentors and a mentoring-enriched management and leadership system.

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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