Reason #2. Skill is assumed
In addition to many leaders’ thinking, they are already better at developing future leaders than they are, proficiency is assumed. Historically we assumed that leaders should just pick up “soft skills” through trial and error. Similarly, with coaching skills. While organisations now realise these skills need to be taught, this is not yet the case for the suite of skills required to develop future leaders: mentoring and sponsorship.
The word ‘mentor’ in English comes from a reference to the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey (ironically Mentor was also impersonated by a woman). It has come to mean someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague. The word sponsor means to favour or support. In organisations skill in mentorship and sponsorship are assumed because we figure it can’t be that hard to share one’s knowledge or support or advocate on behalf of another.
But as anyone who has had the privilege of an accomplished mentor or strategic sponsor knows, true skill in these roles garners completely different outcomes from those who are not. A skilled mentor helps you see yourself and what you are capable of and draws forth the confidence and resolve to act. They don’t simply unload on you about themselves and their career.
A skilled sponsor will be thoughtful about whom they talk to on your behalf and the opportunities they go into bat for you about. What’s more, their influence will determine that the kind of experiences and roles you get are in line with your aspirations, not just their assumptions about what’s good for you or opportune. They can only do this when they take the time to understand where it is you want to go and how and where you will add the greatest value to the organisation.
Skilled development of others requires a suite of tools from listening and insight, to challenging and guiding, to contextualising and offering development feedback, to structuring developmental experiences and advocating appropriately in line with future leaders’ aspirations.
If we are serious about developing the next generation of leaders, then we have to get over the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ conundrum and assuming that mentoring and sponsorship skills are picked up by osmosis and that our senior leaders have them by default. We need to start talking openly in our organisations about what it means to effectively mentor and sponsor upcoming talent, to articulate what good and great look like, and what senior leaders need to learn in order to deliver on this expectation.
So … how openly do these conversations happen in your organisation?
#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving