By Declan Noone
I recently attended an event where I met many former colleagues from my time as a military officer. Over the course of conversing and reconnecting with them I began to realise the impact some of them had on my professional development as a leader. These individuals had in fact been mentors to me, at various stages, during my military career. Their patience, guidance and selflessness had been invaluable to me in navigating the professional and on occasion personal challenges that comes with service in the Armed Forces.
Reflecting on their impact, I wondered if the role of mentor is something implicitly expected within the Officer Corps of the Armed Services, or whether this is an individual decision and action taken by each on their own. I believe it to be both. There is an inherent expectation that experienced leaders will aid the next generation, yet not everyone does so. Those that do become mentors selflessly set time aside to guide the next generation through the trials and tribulations of leading in an organisation. However, I also realise that I was open and receptive to being mentored and that too was an important component.
WHY IS MENTORING IMPORTANT?
From an organisational perspective:
Culture & Knowledge sharing: New leaders coming into an organisation will be expected to ‘hit the ground running’ once they arrive. They bring with them not only their professional knowledge gained elsewhere but also experiences and behaviours. Every organisation relies on leaders throughout the organisation to reflect the culture and values it espouses. Mentoring enables experienced leaders to guide and highlight how the culture impacts the ‘day to day’ operation of the organisation, and in turn how it resonates with employees. Without understanding and appreciating the value placed on culture, a new leader can with their enthusiasm seem like a ‘bull in a china shop’. Their desire to have an immediate impact, if not directed appropriately, can have an undesired consequence and run contrary to the culture, values, and practices of their new workplace. This in turn can create increased tension and confusion in teams where relationships with the new leader have not yet had the opportunity to develop and mature.
Furthermore, mentoring affords experienced leaders the opportunity to impart their knowledge to other less experienced leaders in a way that encourages a constant improvement and evolution in the way an organisation goes about its business. The time, energy, and resources invested by an organisation in developing a leader during their professional life cycle can then be retained and disseminated to the next generation. It encourages continuity and continued evolution. Consequently, from an organisational stand point, mentoring is also a clear demonstration of the value an organisation places on leadership development. It is an acknowledgement of the challenges faced by leaders across the whole organisation and a desire to provide guidance to them through the use of a trusted advisor.
While traditional mentoring relationships is an opportunity for a junior leader to pause and reflect on their analysis, actions, consequences, as well as developing an appreciation of the bigger picture, reverse mentoring affords senior leaders the opportunity to enhance their knowledge of future trends such as technological advances, while also demonstrating a continued curiosity and a commitment to lifelong learning.
From a mentors’ perspective:
Creating added value: Being a mentor affords a leader the opportunity to have an impact and add value beyond their normal day to day responsibilities. It enables a mentor to build a positive and trusted relationship with the next generation of leaders. For mentors, it can help provide useful insights into their own leadership style while also affording them the opportunity to share the wealth of knowledge they have accrued during their careers. The added value is created through:
- developing a junior leader and guiding them through the highs and lows of leading in the organisation and a sense of ‘giving back’ to the next generation of leaders,
- enhancing your own situational awareness of the real challenges faced by leaders further down the organisational hierarchy,
From a mentees’ perspective:
A trusted relationship: The series of challenges a young leader faces in their daily work context can be overwhelming so building a trusted relationship with a Mentor is invaluable. It is important to realise that some of the issues you face have been faced before, and that having someone who can help you navigate them, is welcome support.
Leadership development: Mentors can provide mature and experienced insights into how you can grow as a leader both from a technical skills and a soft skills perspective. Their understanding of the big picture affords you the opportunity to map your own skills development not just to meet the demands of today but the challenges of tomorrow.
Career development: Identifying your ‘next step’ is a consideration for all leaders whether that is within your current organisation or outside of it. A mentor is an informed sounding board for you. Through drawing on their own experiences they can help provide perspective and identify opportunities for growth and development.
Builds a sense of belonging: Through your mentor you develop a greater sense of the culture, values, and purpose of an organisation. Insights shared can broaden your perspective and appreciation of the organisation and its people.
MENTORING AND REVERSE-MENTORING IN POSITIVE ORGANISATIONS
Positive organisations understand that investing in the continued development of their leaders across all levels is more than just offering opportunities for further executive education. They appreciate that leaders need tending to and require connections with other leaders to help them evolve. Both mentoring and reverse mentoring are cost effective ways, that a positive organisation can invest in its leaders of both today and tomorrow.
Positive and mindful leaders in turn appreciate that it is important to not only give back and share their knowledge and experiences with other leaders, but also to receive new knowledge as part of their continued evolution through their embracing of reverse mentorship opportunities. This helps develop the resilience of the organisation to changes in personnel, as well as the resilience of individuals to cope with the increasing challenges through a trusted relationship. There is an understanding, as a positive and mindful leader, that these relationships are also mutually beneficial and does not constitute a new power over dynamic. What you gain from the relationship can be as beneficial, if not more, than what you add to the relationship.