By Jeff Robinson, Kepner-Tregoe 

Creating successful leaders in your organization isn’t just about training, skills and experience (although these things are very important).  Through more than 60 years of working with companies to solve problems and enable multiple generations of leaders to progress through the workplace, the experts at Kepner-Tregoe have observed that highly effective leaders don’t approach the job alone.  They understand that everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to share with others.  The June 2018 issue of Inbound Logistics magazine featured an article that included Kepner-Tregoe leader Michael Curran-Hays describing how mentorship can help provide seasoned professionals the support they need to become the next generation of leaders in their organizations.

Something to teach and something to learn

Mentorship in business is not a new concept, pre-dating many of the formal training programs that we see in companies today.  Humans are social creatures who thrive in a learning environment and in a culture where they feel a sense of connection with those around them. Mentorship and the direct sharing of knowledge, experience and techniques from one generation of employees to another is a highly effective way of both transferring information as well as developing a sense of connection between the employee and the job. 

As humans progress through their life, they are continually learning new things and developing new perspectives through which they view their environment. The most brilliant thinkers and leaders understand that they are not perfect, nor are they the best at every facet of their life/career.  Simply put, “everyone has something to learn” and, every individual has unique ideas and perspectives that could create value for others.  Mentorship facilitates information sharing and in doing so, provides both parties with a sense of fulfillment.

Coaching vs teaching

Leadership isn’t just about facts and figures, strategies and processes.  Leadership is also about people, emotions and relationships.  It’s not surprising that some of the most popular management books ever written like the “7 habits of highly effective people”, “How to win friends and influence people” and “The art of influence” all deal with the softer side of leadership.  How well leaders understand and manage their emotions, how they present themselves to peers, superiors and employees, and the effectiveness of influencing the emotional responses of others are key differentiators between capable managers and those with leadership potential.  Often, mentorship is more akin to coaching than to teaching. The focus is placed on the learner and the feedback process with the goal of developing greater awareness of the cause and effect relationships between events, actions and outcomes.

Teaching soft-skills through formalized training courses can be difficult as there are many situational and emotional dynamics that are hard to simulate in a classroom environment.  The one-on-one environment of a mentorship relationship enables a more thorough evaluation of a scenario, including nuanced interpersonal relationship dynamics, cultural factors, appreciation of things like stress, unintentional bias and personality factors that provide the context for decision making and actions.  Mentors provide both a sounding board for the employee to seek input from someone who has been through a similar situation before and an outside perspective to help distinguish between the facts of a situation and the emotional feeling that the employee is experiencing. 

Seasoned professionals in your organization have the skills and experience to be capable managers, but developing into effective leaders requires the skills to understand situational dynamics and how emotions impact the way different events and actions are perceived.  Mentorship provides employees the opportunity to develop these skills while strengthening the connections with their job role, the organization and their network of peers. An effective leader makes decisions quickly and efficiently and is able to view situations through a strategic lens getting them to a clear and balanced choice. Learn more about how effective leadership can improve the performance of your employees.