Historically an arbitrary distinction has been made between mentoring and sponsorship, rather than seeing them both as part of a suite of tools leaders use to develop next gen leaders. Equally, any leader committed to developing next gen leaders will not wish to restrict themselves to one or other approach but know when it is appropriate to use these and a range of other interventions.
Quite apart from the range of development opportunities available, the suite of tools for developing others in organisations runs the gamut from teaching to coaching to mentoring and sponsorship and all things in between. By way of definition, teaching has been defined as: the process of attending to people’s needs, experiences and feelings, and intervening so that they learn particular things, and go beyond the given. My favourite definition of coaching comes from Myles Downey who said: coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another. As I wrote in a previous article a mentor gives advice, supports you in your current role, helps you navigate organisational politics and prepares you for your next role. A sponsor advocates on your behalf, recommends you for important assignments and promotions and helps you build relationships with people likely to be important to your career. You can see how all these definitions begin to blend, largely because they share exactly the same focus – developing others. Sadly it is this last skill that is least frequently taught and yet arguably the most significant when it comes to advancing next gen leaders careers.
Yet many organisations have become purist about the approach instead of enabling those in the development conversations to determine which approach is needed at different times. Applying any one of these tools in every situation is unhelpful and more importantly, will have a negative response from those who are the focus of development. Frequently I hear a next gen leader lament that their manager keeps asking them questions when all they really need right now is someone to tell them what they need to do.
Knowing which approach to apply takes both insight and skill. And while it is true that we can’t be all things to all people, we can be more helpful than we probably think, simply by having the skill and wisdom to know which approach to use, with whom, when. Teaching leaders these skill sets e.g. coaching or mentoring in isolation while providing a strong platform, does not equip them with the aptitude needed to know when to use them. Rather what senior leaders require is to explore real-time examples of applying the different approaches and observing the responses they get. Moreover, in sharing the different approaches with next gen leaders, they can let those they are seeking to develop articulate what support they think they need at different times.
It is for this reason that I have called the programme I lead for senior leaders and next generation leaders Way-Paving – as that is what I believe senior leaders do – they pave the way for the next generation of leaders by using any and all (helpful) means necessary, in turn becoming way-pavers.
So … how compartmentalised are the skill sets your organisation teaches senior leaders to enable them to best support the development of next gen leaders?
#diversityandinclusion #mentoring #waypaving