Mentors in the workplace

Breaking the Glass Wall between Learners and Leaders: Workplace Mentorship

Think of your workforce as a living organism that needs nurturing. Nurture means “to care for and encourage the development of,” an idea that suggests an interdependence between people and relationships that may take a different shape from the established hierarchies at work. Having a caring mentor, or serving as one, is gaining appeal among managers and employees and creating learning relationships beyond formal training.

In 2019, Forbes reported that 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies had mentoring programs. Why? Because investing in people and their leadership capability pays off in performance, productivity, and innovation.

We often mirror what we see. Studies show that 89 percent of those mentored become mentors themselves. Mentoring cultivates a culture of learning. Actively developing the next generation of good mentors can ensure that your organization thrives today and tomorrow.

Mentor Leadership in the Workplace: What It Is and How to Get There

You don’t have to be intimidated if mentor leadership is new to you. It consists of principles and skills accessible to anyone, based on encouraging development for others. It’s a repeatable practice that takes practice. Mentorship begins with creating good habits, starting with the pattern of thought. To set the foundation for a mentoring culture, think of mentoring as “paying it forward.”

The Center for Creative Leadership defines mentor leadership as an intentional, developmental relationship. A mentor-mentee relationship is personalized, off the record, and friendly, while a trainer-trainee relationship is a less personal, teacher-student relationship.

Mentoring does not necessarily require a hierarchical difference between mentors and mentees; it only needs the mentor to be a few steps ahead of the mentee to pass along valuable insight. Often bonds can be formed through shared experiences and empathy. Like personal coaching, mentorship is holistic and addresses the development and growth of an extensive range of qualities within the mentee. Conversations can extend into both personal and professional issues.

Give Value Before Looking for It

What’s remarkable about mentor leadership is its foundation. It springs forth from a place of genuine care for a mentee’s development and success. Mentor leadership is about giving value. Mentors often express the feeling of personal fulfillment and intrinsic reward—they have a personal stake in their mentee’s success.

Personal interest creates commitment, loyalty, and accountability, all vital elements of any successful workforce management strategy. The relationships that result from mentoring enrich the feeling of connectivity and support within teams and groups. The friendships built can extend beyond the office walls and last a lifetime.

What Defines a Great Mentor-Leader?

Mentor leadership focuses on developing the strengths of other people. The best mentor leaders have a keen ability to see potential in others, an uncanny ability to lead by example, and a dedication and commitment to seeing people grow and develop. However, great mentors aren’t necessarily born that way.

Anyone can develop mentoring skills. With a little practice, those skills can even become an easy habit. The best mentors share a foundation of core values that drive their lives. As you seek to identify potential mentors, look for people who demonstrate their values in their life outside of work.

Mentor Leadership at Work

Are you wondering how mentorship could impact your organization? It can bring new energy to collaboration and greater effectiveness to decision-making. It can fuel innovation and enhance workplace inclusion. Consider the following ways to apply mentor leadership in your workplace.

Collaborative Interactions

Are you wondering why it can be so challenging to get things done, despite many meetings and email exchanges? Do you wish interaction would be more collaborative?

An effective mentorship program can remove walls and flatten hierarchies when mentees can go beyond their direct supervisors for feedback and suggestions. For instance, mentors can coach mentees on how to have difficult conversations. They can provide insight that facilitates problem-solving and negotiations. They often bring a fresh perspective that can help the mentee bounce back from negative experiences and move forward more quickly.

Mentors are also vital in passing on wisdom from lessons learned on the job. By talking about their failures and struggles, mentors create a “safe space” and open the doors for collaborative problem solving and learning from mistakes. Organizational improvement is then accelerated.

There are three significant facets of collaborative interactions: decision-making, creative solutions and coordination, and information sharing. Mentoring can bolster confidence in decision-making. It might not mean making the right decision every time. Instead, owning poor decisions and debriefing with a mentor can help distill lessons learned and move forward from past decisions that didn’t get the desired results. Mentors also provide emotional support by providing the right mix of comfort and tough love. Some say that experience is the best teacher; sharing allows individuals to learn from the experiences of others. Both successes and failures are valuable when seen as learning experiences.

Growth with Support

Who likes to be micro-managed? Micro-managing can prevent individuals from focusing on strategic priorities, become a barrier to the big picture, and sabotage morale. However, empowering others doesn’t necessarily mean throwing them into the deep end either. The best mentors walk the line of support without assuming responsibility. They demonstrate the power of accountability by encouraging their mentees to take risks. When mistakes happen, the mentor empowers the mentee to fix it. The right balance between freedom and support makes a workplace great.

Impact on Peer Recognition in the Workplace

Mentor leadership is relationship-building. Morale blooms when people feel they are seen, heard, and have somewhere to turn for guidance. As people get to know and appreciate each other, the relationship becomes a safe space for sharing views and problem solving.

Annie McKee, the author of How to Be Happy at Work, says appreciation is a human need. We all want recognition for good work. When our colleagues don’t notice, it can make you feel like you don’t belong.

Mentorship can be a means for people from diverse backgrounds to be supported in reaching their career goals. When mentors recognize and celebrate their mentees’ milestones, it bolsters a culture of peer recognition. It helps create a sense of pride and belonging.

Mentoring Makes a Difference

The words “break glass walls” remind us that we need great leaders, mentors, and champions at work. What better way to improve our organizations than by investing in people and propelling sustainable growth?

In an in-depth case study of Sun Microsystems, the application of mentor leadership at work led to retention rate improvement. Retention rates for employees who participated in mentorship programs saw a 72 percent (mentees) and 68 percent (mentors) increase compared to employees who did not participate.

Mentoring helps the mentor and mentee feel part of something bigger and stay connected to the business mission and vision. It builds a foundation of continuous learning and improvement, and most say it improves the quality of their workday. Mentor leadership is an approach that appears to be a win for the mentor and mentee and ultimately a win for company culture.


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