The role of a leader in today’s workplace is multi-faceted and critical to an organization’s success, particularly when implementing new practices and approaches. Mentoring can be a valuable tool in strengthening the management abilities of the leader while helping to develop the abilities of the mentee. It allows employees to acquire the skills and business acumen for positive experiences, stronger outcomes and increased self-confidence. Yet, so many organizations still do not have robust mentorship programs in place nor do they include mentoring as part of the culture or internal processes despite its proven success in sports, academia, and coaching.
Mentoring helps develop both the leader and the organization by helping the leader identify what needs to be taught. It comes in many flavors, however benefits are numerous. They include providing a confidant for a newcomer to understand what is sometimes not obvious, explaining the prevailing culture and often unspoken rules, fostering improvement, increasing leadership abilities, confidence and strengthening of interpersonal relationships. Lastly, it shows that the company has empathy and is concerned with encouraging the growth of its employees, creating a positive workplace, enhancing retention and fostering loyalty through the bond it creates and the “goodness” it imprints. It is an invisible process, one that is ego-less, and designed strictly to help someone else grow.
In my experience as a mentor, I recently had the opportunity to work on a highly visible complex system-wide corporate project with multiple stakeholders in an organization unfamiliar with the service design methodologies we were going to use. The team was slightly uncomfortable with the process, as were the project leaders despite their excitement about trying something new. Thus, a great deal of “change management” efforts needed to be in place as well as alignment and planning time. We were also working on a tight deadline for the kick-off that had already been scheduled with a group that was used to working a certain way. Mentoring was one of the most critical components to the success of the project. My mentee and I had a baseline chemistry and great rapport. I let my mentee inside my head and shared my strategic dilemmas and concerns and gave him the task of leading the project, including these tasks:
· Develop a detailed timeline and share it with existing leaders for buy-in prior to project start date. Communicate every potential barrier and opportunity with the leadership team
· Schedule regular planning time with leadership team without the working team
· Make sure the right people are at the work sessions, including the ones that would implement the solutions to gain their buy-in
· Build relationships and partnerships with the project owners/leadership team
· Identify the team’s learning styles and accommodate them while also helping them to prepare for the process
· Prepare for all team sessions so you feel confident
· Know that you have the expertise to do the job despite any messages and hesitation expressed from the leadership team
· Utilize best practices from area of expertise (service design and design research)
· Bring the working team along. Mentor them and provide guidance until they are comfortable and can see their success using a new mindset
And while my mentee is doing this, I will be teaching, coaching, cheerleading and always making sure the project is moving to a successful conclusion.