3 Ways to Use Mentoring when Developing Leaders

Sam Cook


3 Ways to Use Mentoring when Developing Leaders

The success of any organization relies heavily on hiring, training, and retaining skilled talent. However, the entirety of human history has taught us that the larger an organization grows, the more important it is that you develop leaders effectively. Your organization probably (hopefully) isn’t on the brink of anarchy, but developing leaders is critical to pretty much every aspect of your business, including attracting and retaining talent, employee satisfaction, and sustainable growth. 

How you develop existing and potential leaders will impact just how effective they are for your organization. As with most people strategies, the approach you take could have both long and short-term benefits when done right — or consequences when done wrong. 

Why Is Developing Future Leaders Critical for Your Organization?

The concept of splitting tasks (“many hands make light work,” as the saying goes) is why organizational structures work so well. When people can focus on producing good work with fewer tasks, they can perform those tasks well. As Slack notes in a 2019 blog post, this is the difference between having leaders who focus on “efficiency” versus those who focus on “productivity” — with the productivity approach being the ideal for better results. 

Developing leaders

This also applies to the leadership structure within your organization. When leaders can spend more time focused on the duties inherent in that leadership role, they’re significantly more effective at it. And good leadership is directly connected to lower turnover. ValuePenguin reports that 82% of workers would quit because of a bad manager. That data coincide with many other reports, including a 2020 SHRM survey which revealed that 84% of workers say poorly trained managers “create unnecessary work and stress.” 

That’s just the thing with poorly developed leaders; they often confuse efficiency and productivity. 

  • Efficiency heavily focuses on getting tasks done as quickly as possible to enable churning out more work in less time.
  • Productivity emphasizes completing all tasks in a set time frame. Although productivity still has an element of completing tasks within a set amount of time,, the focus is on a higher quality of work. Productive workers may produce less work in the same time frame as efficient ones, but the quality of the end product will be greater.

Tunnel vision on the KPIs by managers and leaders can lead to a negative work culture as the heart of the business (people) gets forgotten. And lest we forget, high turnover results in those workers who are left behind taking on a larger burden of the workload. That situation feeds resentment and can lead to what’s known as a turnover cascade or turnover contagion.

Developing successful leaders requires more than just selecting someone with a high level of technical knowledge. Whether they’re technically skilled or possess those coveted “natural leaders” personality traits, all leaders must be trained on the philosophies and practices associated with effective leadership.

3 Ways to Develop Leaders Effectively

develop leaders

There are multiple routes you can take to develop leaders effectively. Here are three that we recommend you consider that we’ve seen used successfully:

  • Find and train high-potential talent internally before promotion using an assessment tool such as the 9 Box Grid
  • Create leadership training programs to develop or refine leadership skills among existing senior-level team members
  • Improve onboarding programs to help newly hired senior-level staff become successful leaders who understand the inner workings of your organization

Let’s explore each of these in more detail.

1. Find and Train High Potential Employees Internally

Developing great leaders

There is no greater boon to your organization than promoting a future leader from within. In fact, multiple studies show that when you focus on promoting team members internally to leadership roles rather than bringing in your leaders from the outside, you boost the morale of your existing employees. That’s not even mentioning data that shows external hires tend to cost more and perform worse than internal hires. 

Your best option for leadership positions is to find your high potentials. These are employees who are not in leadership positions but have proven that they may perform exceptionally well if promoted to a leadership position (with a little guidance, of course). 

Solution: Create a High Potential Mentoring Program. These programs are typically invite-only and allow you to identify high potentials, connect them with existing leaders, and help mentor them and guide them toward effective leadership. While you identify and train high potentials as far in advance as possible, it’s a good idea to enter your high potentials into this type of mentoring program for leadership positions that you either have open or will have open by the time participants finish out the program cycle. 

2. Create Training Programs for Existing Leaders

Your organization likely has existing leaders of varying years of experience in management. Whether it’s their second year being a manager or their twentieth, there’s a good chance there’s still something for them to learn. The key questions for existing leaders, however, are:

  • What new skills or practices do they need to learn?
  • Who is going to be qualified to teach them?

The former is a bit less challenging a question to answer. New leaders are often highly skilled from a technical standpoint in the practices of their function but may lack the soft skills that are essential for good leadership. Meanwhile, more tenured leaders may need some updating on the technical aspects of their roles or may need to update their knowledge and understanding of younger workers. 

Leadership roles

There are two approaches here: Reverse Mentoring (for senior leaders) and a traditional Leadership Development Program (for younger or newly-hired leaders). 

Reverse Mentoring is an interesting approach for developing leaders. This type of program structure puts senior leaders into the role of the mentee, while junior-level employees serve as mentors. From there, the relationships work the same as any other mentoring relationship, with senior leaders taking personal agency toward their own learning goals with the assistance of their mentee.

Quite often, reverse mentoring programs focus on helping senior leaders develop new technical skills or understand and acclimate to cultural differences between older and younger generations within the organization. 

As for traditional Leadership Development, these types of programs can either be broad (organization-wide) or specific to the function. Your primary goal is to ensure that leaders who enter this program do so knowing where their gaps in understanding exist and what they’ll learn as a program participant. Tenured senior leaders tend to make excellent mentors in these types of programs. 

3. Improve Onboarding Programs for Newly Hired Leaders

Although hiring leaders externally carries some risks and is the less-ideal route to take in most cases, hiring leaders externally for some roles is necessary for most organizations. Presumably, you’ll hire someone with previous leadership experience. More likely than not, however, that individual will need to be properly acclimated to your organization’s culture, habits, structures, and more. 

Leadership development

Don’t shirk on providing onboarding as a way to develop leaders you’ve recently hired externally. Around 40% of employee turnover occurs within the first 12 months. All employees, including leaders you’ve hired externally, need that dedicated time to become familiar with their role and your organization. Throwing them into the deep end too soon and with minimal support is usually a recipe for disaster. 

They may be experienced in their career, but you’ll increase the risk of turnover if they aren’t properly onboarded. The manager onboarding process may need to look different than for new hires within other positions, but even managers need that time and space to become associated with your organization. 

Setting up an Onboarding Mentoring Program is a great way to accomplish this task. You may even want to consider a Reverse Mentoring format for onboarding external leaders, as it gives the tenured but lower-level team member the opportunity to take on a leadership role. 

Successful Leadership Development Programs Requires the Right Tools

It’s not enough to know what type of leadership development works. You’ll also need to establish employee development program structures that work. Much of that will start with how you manage your programs. The vast majority of successful companies, including 84% of Fortune 500 companies, use mentoring programs. And a large percentage of them use mentoring software to match program participants, track mentoring relationships, and receive feedback in the form of participant engagement and ROI.

Before you develop leaders at your organization and help them uplift their management skills, plan what tools you’ll need to make your leadership development programs work. Book a demo to learn more about how mentoring software can improve the outcome of your leadership development strategies and reduce turnover, both for your leaders and your entire organization. 

Sam Cook

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