Mentoring is a communication-based workplace relationship, established between a person with a high level of expertise or experience (the mentor), and a person with a lower level of expertise or experience (the protégé). Usually, the mentor will provide knowledge and support, on an informal basis, to aid the protégé’s development.
Being a mentor can significantly help a less experienced or knowledgeable person to grow, both professionally and personally. However, it is a two way partnership and, in addition to being of benefit to the protégé, mentoring can also be a rewarding and enriching experience for the mentor, allowing them to improve key leadership skills.
For this reason, mentoring can be a useful component of a company’s leadership training programme, helping to prepare a potential leader for the challenges and responsibilities that will await them.
One of the biggest ways in which mentoring can improve a person’s leadership abilities is through enhancing communication skills. Being a mentor requires both verbal and non-verbal communication to be strong, as it may involve giving instructions, passing on knowledge, asking questions and offering encouragement.
Moreover, it can help a mentor to build confidence and become more assertive. This requires the ability to calmly convey wishes, views and feelings, all in a balanced way, without being either passive or aggressive. It is essentially an exercise in self-control and also requires the ability to listen to others and respond appropriately.
Negotiation and Compromise
At various points throughout a mentorship agreement, differences of opinion and conflicts of interest will occur. This is beneficial when it comes to team leadership training, as it provides mentors with the chance to gain invaluable experience in defusing a situation and reaching a compromise.
Each time a mentor and protégé find themselves disagreeing, a solution must be found. For the mentor, this requires a combination of problem solving, decision making, negotiation and persuasion. Mentors need to be assertive, but also have humility and know when to back down in order to resolve problems in a mutually satisfying way.
Responsibility and Trust
Upon becoming a mentor, a person must voluntarily adopt a certain amount of responsibility when it comes to the development of their protégé. This means taking on additional work commitments, putting aside the time to fulfil those commitments and accepting a degree of accountability for the success or failure of the partnership.
However, at the same time, mentoring differs from coaching in that it is less structured and formal. Indeed, it largely focuses on the protégé’s personal goals and, as a result, it requires the mentor to extend a certain amount of trust.
Both of these skills are essential in leadership, when a person will be required to delegate work appropriately, but also take responsibility for the outcome.
New Ideas and Perspectives
Finally, many people who take on the role of mentor find that, in spite of the way the partnership is designed, they actually learn a lot from the person they are mentoring. For example, they may learn a new planning technique, a different way to approach a task, or just to see things from a different point of view.
Gaining new ideas and perspectives can help enormously when it comes to leadership. After all, understanding and working in conjunction with people from different backgrounds, cultures and ability levels – all with their own ideas and methods – is a huge part of the job.