For me, mentoring comes naturally. As a leader, I believe it’s my responsibility to help and empower my team to achieve their highest potential. Mentorship comes in many forms. It can often simply be open and honest conversations. It doesn’t have to always be structured or formal. In fact, I would contend the best form of mentorship is the type that’s built on a foundation of vulnerability and mutual understanding. This is because to help improve someone as a person, whether that’s in a business or personal sense, you need to understand why they do the things the way they do. Our habits and methodologies are borne from our personal situations, expectations, and background. To help someone overcome their limiting behaviours, you must recognise the ‘why’ behind them. That requires trust, openness, and respect from both parties.
Mentoring is about being in the metaphorical trench with your team. It’s about altering the narrative from ‘their’ challenge, hardship, or issue to ‘our’ challenge, hardship, or issue. This is an important distinction. You need to lead from the front. The conflicts of your team shouldn’t be something you just leave for them to struggle fixing. It should be a team effort. You need to get your hands dirty as a mentor, so to speak. This not only builds a trusting relationship with your team, but it also better equips you with the tools to understand who they are, how they operate and what their role is. As a leader, it’s your personal responsibility to help your team in whatever way you can.
This willingness to understand my team is at the core of my mentoring style. I try to work from a servant leadership basis. This is what informs my approach, how I lead my team and generally engage with people. At its core, servant leadership is about advocating for your team and putting their needs before your own. As the title suggests, your responsibility as a leader is to understand how you can best serve those who work with you. This strays from traditional leadership models which places the needs of the organisation or an individual first. It may be a confronting leadership style for many leaders, but contrary to what you may think, it doesn’t result in poor business performance and low profitability.
A study published in the Journal of Business Inquiry found that servant leadership resulted in a greater mission and value focus from employees, as well as creativity and innovation, employee loyalty, and a celebration of diversity. By serving your team, you can build authentic relationships while improving overall performance. Business success is built on the capabilities of your team. Servant leadership enables your team, and therefore business, to operate effectively and successfully.
It is important to note that servant leadership can only operate within an environment that promotes trust, respect, and openness. Look at your business holistically. Consider this – does the environment I work within encourage vulnerability? Does it empower teams to improve through data transparency and honesty? Does it prioritise employee wellbeing? If no, it’s important to reconsider the workplace culture that is being fostered. A cultural transformation may be a critical first step before embarking on a servant leadership journey, however, don’t let that stop you from starting. A study published by SAGE found that trust was the cornerstone of servant leadership. If your environment disallows trust from forming, it will be difficult to implement your servant leadership and see results.
The environment you mentor in is also important for ensuring the mentee can improve. If your workplace doesn’t encourage staff development, it doesn’t automatically mean your mentorship will be a failure. However, it is an extra hurdle you must overcome. Consider how your environment and workplace may impede upon the success of your mentee. Do they have the opportunity to build and improve their skills? More importantly, do they have space to fail? Mentoring is as much about success as it is failure. Failing is a core part of succeeding. If your workplace or environment doesn’t have room to make mistakes, it’s time to consider a holistic cultural transformation.
At Pierlite, the team I oversee is extremely diverse in both character and functional roles. This has meant that I have had to adopt different approaches to mentoring as I continue to build relationships with each individual in my team. This is an important part of mentoring. You can’t always help a person the same way. This brings me back to my point about the importance of understanding your team. I am willing to put the effort in every day to understand them. I am willing to be vulnerable, honest, and open with my team. By opening up, it encourages my team to be open with me too. It’s easy to talk about wanting to mentor others through an honest and understanding environment, but if you don’t make the effort to be vulnerable yourself, nobody else will either. Honesty works two ways for it to be an effective mentoring practice. I love how Simon Sinek puts it, ‘the fastest way to earn trust is to give it.’
To mentor effectively and make real long-lasting positive change, you need to provide assistance that is tailored and personalised. Mentoring isn’t a one session activity; it’s built from multiple open and honest conversations. Identify individuals’ methodologies as well as their career and personal goals. Consider what they want and need, rather than what knowledge you want to impart. As a mentor, it’s less about you and more about how you can help your mentee.
Mentoring is the secret to long-term business and team success. To improve as a business, your employees also need to continually improve. They can only do so through consistent efforts by leaders within the workplace to help develop their skills and acquire new ones. A study conducted by researchers Hansford, Tennent and Ehrich found there was ‘a higher incidence of positive outcomes associated with mentoring programs than negative’. While this may seem obvious, it’s important to keep in mind. In a meta-analysis, it was also found that mentoring was significantly related to favourable behavioural, attitudinal, health-related, interpersonal, motivation, and career outcomes.
Mentoring should be a core part of every business’s workplace practices. This doesn’t have to be reflected through a formal or structured mentoring program (but it can be). Instead, it can be as simple as fostering a workplace environment in which employees and leaders are encouraged to be transparent and honest. This style of workplace will enable leaders and employees to help one another and form stronger connections ensuring mentorships can flourish.
While mentoring is often spoken about in the framework of the benefits for the mentee, I contend that the mentor learns and gains as much, if not more, from the experience. In fact, research by SAP found that mentors report better job satisfaction, greater career success, and increased work-related fulfilment. Connecting with others and helping them achieve their goals can provide you with a purpose outside of your singular role at work.
When I mentor, coach, lead, engage or be vulnerable, I learn and improve my communication, teaching, and listening skills. Teaching is a rapid way in which you can identify flaws in your own communication skills. Mentoring affords me the opportunity to better expand my communication skills through forcing me to reconsider how I explain a topic, idea, or technical concept. This reconsideration improves my adaptability, an important ability in business and personal life. Learning new ways to approach teaching and sharing can only be a strength.
At the end of the day, everybody learns differently and it’s up to you as a leader to adapt to this instantaneously. This will help you create better relationships in and out of work, while improving the success of your team. The better you can teach others, the quicker your team can improve. High-quality, adaptable communication skills will ensure your business continues to develop positively and without stagnation.
Mentoring and advocating for your team go hand in hand. You can’t be seen as a trustworthy leader or mentor if you are not advocating for your team on a regular basis. Advocating for your team can take many forms. One way I advocate for my team is by shining a light on their achievements, whenever possible. You have to give credit where credit’s due. It’s as simple as that. Lift your team up and recognise their effort every step of the way. For some leaders this can be somewhat hard. It can be difficult to remove your ego and pride. But it’s important you do so.
A recent 2021 survey discovered that 37% of employees found personal recognition encouraged them to produce better work more often. This was the most common response within the survey and highlights the power of recognition to improve workplace performance. It’s an easy approach to adopt. If somebody is doing good work, then voice it to them and anybody else it may concern.
A couple of years ago, I learned a word and concept from one of my life mentors. I believe it is an African phrase (part of the Zulu language). This word ‘ubuntu’ really impacted me and my thinking in regards to leadership, teams, and family. It translates to the phrase ‘I am because we are’. This is the approach needed when it comes to advocating for your team. If you are getting praise or recognition for the efforts of your team, you should highlight this. You were successful because of the efforts of every member of your team; no team is successful because of the role of one person. Always recognise your team’s efforts.
To be a better mentor I believe you must find mentors in your own life. This doesn’t have to be in a professional sense. Instead, I have found mentors in a number of areas in my life. A key example is I have developed meaningful relationships and mentors within my men’s group at church. This is an environment in which we can talk about topics we have traditionally been conditioned to not speak or share about. It’s a powerful environment that is founded on vulnerability, respect, and support. Here, we can share, seek guidance, and offer our own input and perspective to others. No one has a perfect life and the mistakes you have made can provide wisdom to others when they encounter similar situations. Building open and honest relationships with others enables a mentoring environment without you even realising it. Outside of this group, I have also found mentors within counselling services, friendships, and within the work environment.
We are the sum of who we surround ourselves with. Every person you meet can act as a mentor figure. I’m not saying every friendship and connection you have automatically makes them a mentor. However, what I am suggesting is that if you surround yourself with inspiring people that you can learn from, you will always meet somebody that can be a mentor figure. I’ve had multiple people like that throughout my life and to this day. I actively look to connect with wise people. You have a choice to find good people and associate with them. If you take a look around you and you are left uninspired and unmotivated, it may be time to make new connections.
If you’re looking to find a mentor, the same goes for you. Surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, that are wise and encourage you to chase after your goals, can all be mentor figures. You don’t have to be in a program to find a mentor. Finding someone you connect with and in turn connects with you, is the most important part of having a mentor. It’s critical you get along, otherwise it will be useless. Put yourself out there. Whether that’s by making a post on LinkedIn or inviting someone at work to coffee. Be intentional about who you connect with and simply ask others for their ideas or perspectives. This is how you will learn and grow within your role at work and in life in general. People are willing to help others. People are willing to be mentors.
Being a mentor is an important job. It’s also part and parcel of being a leader. It should be something you take seriously and ensure is fostered within the workplace. Investing your time into helping others is important for business success. You can’t expect your business to grow and expand if you don’t actively help your employees do the same. This is why I adopt a servant leadership approach. While you don’t have to adopt this strategy, it is important to always consider how you can better serve your employees. Help them when they need it, work as a team, and see how much you can achieve.
While mentoring doesn’t have to be a part of a structured and formal program (even though it can be), it should be encouraged. Ensuring your work environment is a place for open and honest communication is critical. You need to build authentic connections with your team to ensure you can effectively mentor. Have the hard conversations, speak honestly, voice your vulnerability, and be transparent. Only good and rewarding things can come from being open.
So, ask your team – how can I help you?