Leadership Mentoring: Why and How to Start

Sam Cook


Leadership Mentoring: Why and How to Start

One of the most important characteristics of successful leaders is having influence in the organization. They do this by creating an environment that maximizes efforts and encourages everyone to reach their goals. This is what a leadership mentoring program that nurtures high potentials is essential. In fact, creating a strong leadership pipeline is a key differentiator between companies that succeed and those that strugle. It’s no wonder 92% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs; the evidence and value in mentoring continues to speak for itself.

But that begs a few important questions:

  • What is leadership mentoring?
  • How does leadership mentoring work?
  • When do I need a leadership mentoring program?
  • How do I create a mentoring program that builds a strong base of leaders?

This post will answer all of these questions about leadership mentoring (and more). You’ll even find some helpful resources for getting started if you plan to develop a mentoring program for leaders and high potentials.

Introduction to Leadership Mentoring

Regardless of the industry, part of the responsibility of the executives and company’s senior managers is to create a strong line of capable future leaders to take over their roles when the time comes. To ensure this, organizations must also keep an eye on people development needs, such as identifying and training high potential workers who would make great leaders.

Image showing pawns in leadership development positions.

This is what leadership mentoring is all about:

  • Providing opportunity for high-potential team members
  • Discovering hidden talents
  • Encouraging future and current leaders to expand on their abilities
  • Helping high potentials and current leaders close skills gaps
  • Providing a space to acquire knowledge related to effective leadership

In short, mentorship builds leadership skills.

Promoting from within is critical for effective leadership mentoring

Promoting employees internally, and especially promoting them to leadership positions, has a lot of benefits for the company. Retention is just one of them, but it’s a big one.

A 2020 report by LinkedIn shows employees are 41 percent more likely to stay with their employers if the organization gives an opportunity for internal advancement.  

There’s also a performance issue to consider. A somewhat older but still highly relevant Wharton School of Business study found that external hires are paid more, but perform worse than internal hires.

That leaves us with two takeaways here:

  • Hiring externally for leadership positions is risky and could lead to turnover
  • Hiring externally for leadership positions is more expensive
Diverse leadership team with mentors and mentees.

Did you know: Companies with diverse leadership teams are more profitable, according a McKinsey study, (among others)? Check out our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion eBook where we discuss how to use mentoring to create a more successful DEI strategy at your organization.

Nevertheless, sometimes hiring leaders from the outside is necessary. But when you do, you shouldn’t assume they’re coming in with all of the requisite skills needed to be an effective leaders especially at a company where they aren’t already familiar with the culture and processes.

There’s no better way to prepare internal employees for bigger responsibilities, or to make sure external leadership hires are effective, than with a leadership mentoring program. Leadership mentoring addresses the skills deficiencies that result in poor management practices.

And as multiple studies, surveys, and research has shown, poor management practices are one of the primary reasons people quit. Especially in the the age of quiet quitting, it really is about bad managers.

But what exactly constitutes a a good leadership mentoring program? More importantly, how do you do it? Here is everything you need to know about leadership mentoring.

What Is Leadership Mentoring?

Leadership mentoring programs are a form of workplace mentoring programs that are specifically designed to prepare employees for their future leadership roles.

Basically, they’re mentor-mentee relationship programs where the former (the mentor) has been in the profession or organization for a long enough time to have acquired valued skills and insight, while the latter (mentee) leverages that experience for personal and professional growth purposes.

Leadership mentoring can be done by anyone in a position of experience. It all depends on what you need your leaders to know and improve upon.

For example: In a reverse mentoring program, junior-level employees typically take on the role of the mentor to serve as an informational guide for their senior-level mentee. In this case, where the leadership needs to acquire skills or knowledge that younger generations of workers excel, flipping the script on the typical format works extremely well.

Data on DEI and mentoring programs showing 81% of people would quit for a better DEI experience.
Source: GoodHire

Commonly, reverse mentoring programs operate as leadership development strategies intended to improve a company’s efforts in diversity, equity, and inclusion. This area is important, as some studies have shown that 81% or more of workers are willing to quit if their company doesn’t effectively support DEI efforts.

Format aside, mentors nurture their mentees, by helping them learn, grow, and upskill. This empowers employees to become more efficient and proficient in their roles and helps them progress in their careers.

Mentoring motivates employees to learn and grow by exposing them to various circumstances, challenges, and opportunities, all while providing support for development and growth. This is so much better than prompting people to new roles with bigger responsibilities and expecting them to develop the knowledge and skill set needed to be effective for the roles.

Why Leadership Mentoring Is Essential to Good Leadership?

When you mentor leadership, you benefit both the mentor and the mentee. Both can learn from each other in different ways, and both can bring out the best in each other. Mentorship cultivates confidence, inspires trust, and ultimately fast-tracks the development of the individual or the team.

For leadership teams, especially, the value add for mentoring is seen in:

  • Happier junior-level workers
  • Greater worker productivity
  • Better and more cohesive team culture
  • Significantly less turnover (both for the leader mentees and the teams they oversee)

One of the most important aspects of leadership development is determining the kind of leaders you want to create at your organization.

Leadership styles presented in leader problem solving.

Consider some of the following leadership styles:

  • Authoritative (visionary)
  • Democratic
  • Strategic
  • Coach-style
  • Bureaucratic
  • Transformational
  • Hands-off (lassaiz-faire)
  • Situational
  • Pacesetting

The list is far from exhaustive, but of these, transformational leadership style is the most desired by employees for two reasons:

1. It inspires through effective communication.

2. It creates the perfect environment for intellectual stimulation

Mentor leadership, however, is more aligned with the managerial style. It seeks to inspire by establishing a stronger connection between the mentor and the mentee and the organization as a whole for investing in the employees’ skill development and future.

How Leadership Mentoring Makes Future Leaders

While people like to think of their journey in life and careers as unique (though there are indeed plenty of unique elements, including you), there are more similarities and shared experiences between you and the people leading your organization. In most cases, many challenges and obstacles in leadership that leaders may face in the future have already been faced and solved by present leaders.

Leadership mentoring program provides an avenue for prospective leaders to follow in the footsteps of their present leaders.

They learn by seeing

When you mentor leadership, your leader mentees see what effective leadership looks like. As mentors lead their mentees with soft leadership skills (effective communication), they move their development forward, while holding them accountable.

Learning by seeing is one of the best ways to teach future leaders about effective people management; it helps them realize how to treat other members of their team, how they like to be treated by their superiors, and what type of interaction spurs encouragement to help people become the best version of themselves.

They learn by doing

An effective mentoring program isn’t only about chatting and giving verbal advice over coffee (although that’s a great mentoring activity). It also includes the use of development activities, materials, and various tools to help one transition to become a better leader.

Mentors need to take their mentees out of their comfort zone and place them into environments and real-life scenarios where they will learn practical lessons in a real-life context.

When you mentor leadership at your organization, you’ll need commitment from the mentees. Mentees will also have to be proactive in their leadership development, which means they need to participate in activities, events, and tasks that will prepare them to become great leaders for the company.

Expand network and gain sponsorships

Aside from the knowledge and wisdom they can impart to their mentees, mentors also have connections to some of the most important people in the industry. Thus, they have the power to push high-performing mentees to other learning opportunities by introducing them to people that can help advance their development and growth.

Important to consider here: Everyone, regardless of their tenure or level, benefits from expanding their networks. Mentoring helps expand those networks, especially when the leadership mentoring involves an open and on-demand mentoring component.

Moreover, great leaders with power and influence in their organization can sponsor mentees into leadership roles, should it be appropriate for the company.

Obviously, mentees should not enter a mentoring relationship with the sole intention of asking their mentor for networking or sponsorship favors. Both will and should come naturally, should the situation call for it.

How Companies Can Benefit from Leadership Mentoring Programs

Historically, mentorship was seen as a pretty one-sided relationship. However, this notion has since shifted, as both the mentors and the companies are seeing the benefits of their mentorship programs.

Mentoring helps internal and proprietary knowledge pass down to future leaders

Employees gain knowledge and skills from experience. The longer they stay with an organization, the more they face and solve challenges specific to the industry and their company. This critical know-how is incredibly important for any organization, and it must be passed down to the next generation of leaders.

Leadership mentoring is a “mirrored” approach

The old adage “the best way to learn something is to teach it” couldn’t be more applicable in leadership mentoring. If you advocate a certain style of leadership, and you want the next generation to use that, then you have to teach that style to them.

Time for that is short. Millennials are already the largest part of the workforce. And with the average manager age at 44 years old, the next several years should see an absolute explosion of Millennials moving into management position as they take over from Gen X workers.

Do you want your mentees to learn how to honestly assess their own performance? You have to show them how to do that with yourself first.

It attracts and retains the best talent

Great leaders and mentors with highly developed dynamics and views of direction for the company, which they can impart to their mentees. With that said, mentoring helps companies and organizations attract and keep the best people for the job and employees with the best potential to be future leaders by improving commitment among employees to seek career and developmental opportunities. Not to mention their improved productivity from a more skilled workforce with improved morale and a healthier work environment.

Screen Shot 2022 10 28 at 12.11.26 PM

Speaking of retention: Do you know why retention is so hard right now? Check out our retention-focused ebook, 3 Reasons Employees Leave and How to Keep Them, to learn more about why people are quitting and how persuade them to stay.

Companies that invest in the career and professional development of their employees attract the best candidates, including those with the best leadership potential.

Mentors benefit as well

A mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial. While mentees learn the ins and outs of the industry, the company, and their role as a leader in both aspects, mentors also get to see different and new perspectives through their mentees, and even learn new things.

Moreover, mentors become more satisfied with their jobs and roles in the company if they know they are leaving a lasting legacy by training future leaders. That’s backed by data. We’ve found that 95% of mentors that use MentorcliQs mentoring software find the relationship useful. Retention rates for mentors are also equivalent to that of mentees, indicating mentoring leadership tends to impact everyone involved in a positive way.

Essential Leadership Skills Taught in Leadership Training Programs

Effective leadership requires a perfect balance of soft skills and hard skills. The former relates to personal traits, such as:

  • Effective communication
  • Time management
  • Multitasking,
  • Leadership skills

The latter, on the other hand, refers to the specific knowledge and training specific to the company and the industry. While most of these skills require time to develop, and often on-the-job training, some can be learned through leadership mentoring programs. 

Some of the most important skills mentors can learn from mentoring programs include the following.

Effective communication

This allows mentors to effectively pass information or messages to their mentees. Leadership development programs include training for mastering the art of communication, from one-on-one conversations, presentations, phone or video calls, etc.

Effective communication skills also require active listening to others. This means understanding other people’s concerns, opinions, frustrations, and reservations. Mentoring programs teach people to listen and comprehend effectively.

Hold themselves and others accountable

Effective leadership requires accountability, and when it comes to mentorship, the program will only work if both parties are held accountable and understand the limits and responsibilities of their roles.

Accountability requires mentors to effectively encourage their team and motivate them to work and learn better for their success, which ultimately results in the success of the company.

MentorcliQ mentoring app for program accountability and connection.

Still, accountabiltiy is difficult to achieve in a mentoring program without having tools in place that automate communication, meetings, and reporting. That’s part of why companies turn to MentorcliQ’s mentoring software. A suite of connection and reporting tools reduce how much time and effort mentors, mentees, and administrators have to spend on managing the relationship, making it far more likely relationships and programs will lead to success.

Grow networks

Mentors can help open doors of opportunities for their mentees to expand their networks. As mentees gain confidence and valuable skills and experience from their mentors, they also develop the confidence to reach out to others.

Solve problems tactically

Leadership mentoring teaches people to think on their feet and find the best workable solutions. Employees can learn from their leaders’ guidance, insights, and encouragement, aside from their technical know-how.

Become better teachers

The best boxers don’t always make the best trainers.

The best basketball players aren’t always the best coaches.

The same goes with leadership in an organization. Highly effective employees and executives aren’t always the best mentors. Possessing industry or topical knowledge is great. Knowing how to effectively impart that knowledge to others is a completely different skill.

This is what leadership mentoring emphasizes: Teaching people how to pass those important knowledge, skills, experience, and wisdom to their future leaders, and guide them on their journey.

Improve Leadership Styles

The most effective way to develop and teach leadership skills is through active 1-on-1 conversations and a promoting mentorship program with other staff and senior executives who share a similar experience and career goals.

These relationships are critical for transitioning employees from individual contributor to management-level talent. As noted above, mentoring programs should not replace in-person interactions with your colleagues, however they can be an excellent supplement.

Actions Speak Louder

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Developing current and emerging leaders at your organization has clear benefits. It’s also not something you should promise without adequate follow-through.

Now that you know that leadership mentoring is important, take the next step. Develop a leadership mentoring program that work works. And by “works”, we mean:

  • Your program is launched quickly (there’s no time to waste!)
  • HRIS data is deeply integrated into the program structure
  • Mentors and mentees matches are created intelligently and without bias
  • Mentors have critical access to training on how to be successful
  • Program managers can collect, analyze, and report ROI data with ease

Does that sound like what you need to get started on your mentoring program for leaders? Book a demo to see how MentorcliQ can help.

Sam Cook

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