One of the best things we can do as leaders is create more leaders, but to be effective, the effort must be deliberate.
It’s a rare organization that succeeds without a solid succession plan identifying who will take over when the leader steps aside. A great way to ensure the smooth continuity in a company is to adopt a mentoring process.
Early in my career, I was selected to participate in a two-year executive mentoring program that changed the course of my career. As part of the program, I was assigned to the Pentagon to work among many of the brightest minds in the Department of Defense. There, I was immersed in all facets of the U.S. government, by attending congressional hearings and participating in national-level strategy discussions.
It was a tremendous experience that taught me how to think strategically and I gained a better understanding of the challenges of leadership. Two decades later, I still find myself drawing on that experience almost daily. I was fortunate to have been mentored by leaders who cared about my future and sought opportunities to expose me to bigger ideas.
Mentoring really is about communication. It’s about sharing knowledge with others. It’s about growing the next generation of leaders to perform better than you.
A good mentoring process should contain several elements.
- Professional assessment. Use the mentoring process to understand where your employees are on their professional growth chart. I recommend using Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains as a baseline tool for understanding where a mentee is and where you’d like for them to be.
- Enhanced professional development. When we’re exposed to higher level thinking, we tend to seek more of it. When a mentor is responsible for the professional development of others, they will typically spend more time in their own learning, so they’ll be better prepared to share that information. This is similar to a teacher having a lesson plan for each day in the classroom.
- Lasting effects. A good mentoring process will have positive residual effects for years. The experiences and knowledge gained by the passing of knowledge will propel mentees ahead of their peers and keep them there.
- Age is not important. Don’t limit mentoring to junior professionals. Even CEOs and principals can benefit from being mentored by those with comparable but different experiences. I have several friends I consider to be my mentors, and vice versa. I learn from them and they from me.
Mentoring should not be about cloning oneself. It’s not about helping others solely because they have the same background, attended the same college, or are a member of the same country club. It’s also not about picking favorites and only mentoring your high-potential employees. A good mentoring process is about developing the next generation of your company.
A good mentoring program will also have attractive benefits for your company.
- Increased talent retention. The best firms in the industry invest in their people through professional development. When employees feel they are valued by the company, they want to remain with the company, and that will keep your attrition costs down.
- Improved professional competency. By introducing your employees to advanced concepts and processes, you’re creating a deep pool from which to support your clients. In military parlance, we call that a force-multiplier. Lots of people with lots of great ideas will usually win over a small group of people with fewer ideas.
- Gap identifier. Through the mentoring process, a company can identify gaps it might have in its technical skills, training, or on-boarding process.
Mentoring does not have to be a company-endorsed program. Anyone can mentor anyone anytime. The easiest way to begin is by seeking out someone who you respect and start asking questions. If you’re interested in mentoring others, offer to meet with a small group over lunch to talk through some of the more difficult issues you’re facing.
Invest in your people by helping them grow professionally. A simple but continuous mentoring process will pay dividends for your company through increased professional competence and higher employee career satisfaction.
Bill Murphey is Zweig Group’s director of education. Contact him at email@example.com.