There are several ways to tell how great a leader is. One true measure is how dedicated that person is to mentoring other leaders.
A favorite quote on my website is “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.”
Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That’s because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.
A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process.
The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities.
After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.
The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better, because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people.
It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach with forced meetings and burdensome paperwork.
The protégé benefits in a mentor relationship in numerous ways.
Here is a list of some advantages you get from having a mentor:
1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster if you are new to the area.
2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.
3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles from yours.
4. A mentor cleans up after you when you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.
5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you to encourage further progress.
6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past, so you can avoid them.
I contend that in any good mentor relationship both the mentor and the protégé benefit from the relationship.
How does the mentor gain from it?
1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.
2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.
3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.
4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.
5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.
6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.
Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.
A good mentoring effort improves trust in both directions.
I believe there is a shortage of excellent leaders, but I also believe with the proper mentoring and support, a majority of professional people have the innate capabilities to become good, if not great, leaders. So what is missing?
The real shortage is a lack of mentors for future leaders. Reason: most highly effective leaders are consumed with trying to optimize things in their current environment, and they neglect the activities that would develop other leaders.
If you are not happy with the number of excellent leaders in your organization, ask why there are not more leadership mentors.
Get some help to train all leaders not only to be better at their function, but to step up to the challenge of growing other leaders for the future.
Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.