By Andrea Bankier

One of the more interesting findings from the latest Sheffield Leadership Survey of South Island leaders was that of preparing people for leadership roles.

The findings highlighted that the most effective method was through “coaching and mentoring”. As a consultant, I hear this often, from young leaders stepping into their first leadership roles, to the somewhat seasoned director who is looking for their next challenge – they all want a mentor – they want to learn from others!

But here’s the conundrum. When asked what the number one leadership development initiative they’ve undertaken was, it was NOT coaching and mentoring, it was attending a course or workshop. 

So, we are still not using mentoring, despite it being talked about for years AND leaders stating it is an effective way to develop leaderships skills. It’s hard to say why this is. Maybe it’s easier to send people on a course than to find a mentor for them. Perhaps there’s not a pool of coaches and mentors to tap into, or people simply don’t know how to start the conversation or there is no process to guide mentoring.

Regardless, Mentoring is less popular here in New Zealand, compared to our overseas counterparts and certainly does not appear to be used much. 

A recent Harvard Business Review article reviewed a large firm that required their board members to become mentors for leaders in the organisation – leadership improved as a result, but also the Board members themselves ended up becoming better performing and more effective board members.

We’ve seen this in action ourselves, working with a number of clients who have developed successful mentoring programs. The feedback from both sets of participants (mentors and mentees) is always overwhelmingly positive (strong relationships, collaborating opportunities, cross-organisation connections, a sounding board etc). Furthermore, many of the leaders (who acted as mentors) remembered what it was like for them when they were starting out in their career. They could recall what it was like coming through as a leader and were excited about being able to offer support and experience to others. This is an excellent way to help retain good leaders - giving them an opportunity to share their experiences with the next wave of leaders coming through.

It’s important to realise that mentoring rarely happens if it is left to chance – it needs structure or a framework.

So, to come back to the Sheffield Leadership Survey for a moment, the leaders we spoke to told us that they want more mentoring – a notion we at Sheffield heartily stand behind. So, what does the evidence say? Is mentoring really as effective as people make it out to be?

According to DDI’s latest Global Leadership Forecast where DDI interviewed 25,000 leaders from 2,500 organisations from across the world, they identified the following benefits:

  • 23% more critical roles can be filled immediately
  • 46% had a higher quality of leader in their organisation
  • The turnover was reduced by up to 20% due to improved engagement
  • Organisations were 1.7 times more capable of capturing organisational knowledge before it was lost.

So – mentoring IS effective – we need to use it more and develop structure to integrate mentoring as a key development strategy.

Furthermore, from this DDI study they found that:

Very few early leaders have access to mentors. The majority (60 percent) of first-level leaders have not had a formal mentor. This represents a wasted opportunity, given the proven payoff.

More Millennials have had mentors. Even though they’ve had shorter careers than their longer-tenured counterparts, Millennials have enjoyed the most mentoring opportunities.

Not all senior leaders are mentoring. Although nearly half (47 percent) of senior leaders have had mentors, a large portion are not passing on their experience or knowledge to junior members in their organizations. One-third of senior leaders reported they have not formally mentored anyone.

But perhaps the most important point is that:

More financially successful organizations offer mentoring. Fifty-four percent of organizations in the top third for financial performance have formalized mentoring, compared to only 33 percent of organizations in the bottom third.

So how do you start?

Where do we begin when it comes to mentoring? We think it comes down to these three points:

  1. Recognise the value of mentoring. 
  2. Have a framework – don’t just leave it to chance. It needs to be championed from the top. And the framework should outline rules for engagement; why we’re doing it; how to get the most from it and so forth. The key here is not to assume that potential mentors and mentees understand the benefits outright - you’ll need to warm them up to bring them on board.
  3. Make mentoring a key part of development. Add it into your development strategy in a very conscious and deliberate way.

Try framing mentoring as … This is something that we expect all leaders at this level of our organisation to have - You play at this level; you need a mentor. Or a coach. Or you need to be a mentor”. This needs to be an articulated organisational expectation.

Remember that apart from all the benefits, this is fundamentally what developing leaders want and value!

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