Recently I’ve been reflecting on the leader’s role as a mentor in fostering others development. I think there are two fundamental approaches. The first is the straightforward approach. This approach pushes the mentee to identify their development goals up front and then supports them to implement a plan to get there. Nice and tidy, box ticked, time to move on.
The second approach is the thoughtful approach. This approach recognises the person may not yet be clear about where they want to go (even if they initially appear so). More importantly it appreciates in that determining their development goals the mentee is also exploring who they wish to become – as a leader and as a person.
This second approach is considerably more challenging for the mentor. Especially for those of us that are wired to help and/or solve problems. It requires us to stand back, carefully choose what advice or suggestions we offer, time the use of support and encouragement, and know when to be quiet so those we are mentoring ultimately figure stuff out for themselves.
I’m currently leading a mentoring programme for mid-career women where I am witnessing their development journeys unfold. All of the participants came in with some notion of what they thought they wanted to achieve. A couple have stuck with this initial idea but firmed up on what it means in practice. Others have now developed goals far beyond what they would have envisaged for themselves at the outset.
As a mentor it’s easy to beat ourselves up for not pushing harder and holding others to account, but in doing so we are usually putting our need to feel we are being effective ahead of the wisdom of those we work with. The question becomes do we have the commitment and the courage to let them lead themselves?
Until next time,