Successful small-business owners know they can’t grow their companies alone. Thriving businesses consist of strong leaders who know how to mentor employees.
Mentorship offers a wide variety of benefits to a company, including succession planning and knowledge transfer, and decreased workloads through delegation. Mentoring also greatly benefits promising employees, leading to increased job satisfaction, higher productivity, and less turnover.
Leaders who know how to mentor emerging leaders to help ensure long-term business success employ the following strategies.
1. Recognize talent and invest in retention.
With the ever-rising cost of living and impact of inflation, pay is a top concern for many employees. For small businesses to retain top talent, they must focus on providing above-average wages to their employees.
“Cut costs in other areas but make investing in the retention of future leaders a priority,” advises transitional life strategist Randi Levin. “Recognizing, hiring, rewarding, and retaining good people is at the heart of small-business leadership success.”
The benefits of giving employees a thriving wage include:
- Increased productivity
- Improved morale
- Better company culture
- Talent retention
- Enhanced company image
- Ability to attract top talent
- Helping to close the gender pay gap
2. Provide both positive feedback and constructive criticism.
Feedback is at the core of mentoring. By seeing both sides of a situation, true progress is achieved and confidence is built. By knowing what is working and what isn’t, mentees are able to truly learn from their experiences and use that knowledge to better their careers and benefit your company. There needs to be a balance of positive feedback that focuses on strengths and contributions and constructive criticism that gives actionable insight regarding improvements.
“Embracing productive conflict allows for personal and professional development,” says Mimi Oliver, CEO of WaterWalk, a company that specializes in extended stay flexible lodging. “Rather than pushing difficult conversations away, I encourage emerging leaders to view them as opportunities to grow. I strive to cultivate a culture of self-awareness and openness, where feedback is always welcome. This empowers our future leaders to learn from their experiences and reach their full potential.”
3. Teach time management.
Most employees only have 40 hours a week to complete their work. Ideally, at least 10% of that time should be dedicated to leadership and organizational training. While some workers may be okay with putting in extra hours, too much work can cause burnout and lead to poor work-life balance. Your best bet is to teach time management early on.
“Time management becomes more important as you continue to move up the corporate ladder, so prioritizing the skill early for emerging leaders ensures they have the tools to make the leap from great do-er to leader,” says John Philbin, founder and managing partner of Spectacular at Work, a management consulting, executive coaching, and leadership development organization.
4. Invest in training and development.
Give future leaders regular training and they can feel equipped to tackle any challenge. In fact, today’s employees expect you to invest in their careers and may leave for a competitor if you don’t.
According to the 2022 Workplace Learning & Development Trends Research Report conducted in February 2022 that sampled 1,001 U.S. workers who received employer training and 356 U.S.-based HR managers, “More than 8 in 10 HR managers believe training is beneficial to attract (83%) and retain (86%) talent, and many employees (48%) agree that training opportunities were a factor in choosing their current company. More than three-quarters of employees (76%) say they are more likely to stay with a company that offers continuous training.”
The opportunities you can offer your employees for upskilling are many, including holding in-office seminars and customized corporate trainings, paying for certificate programs and online courses, and providing regular whitepapers and newsletters.
5. Create an Employee Volunteer Program (EVP).
A good way to promote leadership skills among developing leaders is to create an employee volunteer program (EVP). Setting up a companywide day of volunteering that includes PTO allows every employee to give back to the community while fostering teamwork. Even better, put mentees in charge of the event so they can hone their leadership skills.
At Vem Tooling, a plastic manufacturing and tooling company, they have a partnership with a local nonprofit that focuses on promoting children's mental health. “Our employees have positively impacted the lives of more than 500 individuals in need,” says the company’s CFA (chartered financial analyst) Melissa Terry. “We’ve found that having an employee volunteer program fosters leadership skills, teamwork, and community engagement.”
6. Encourage mentees to make decisions.
Great leaders make informed decisions that benefit the company. Those leaders who know how to mentor employees realize the only way to teach this skill is to guide them toward making their own decisions. As you develop leaders, it might be tempting for you to make decisions for them, but it’s your job as a mentor to help your employees learn their roles, not complete the work for them.
Guiding mentees to make their own decisions by weighing the pros and cons and looking at long-term implications encourages an increased sense of accountability and problem solving.
“A good leader makes good decisions and understands that every choice gets you closer or further from a goal,” says Levin. She has clients keep a decision journal so they get comfortable with tracking the results of their decisions. “This process teaches trust and intuition in their decision-making skills and allows even the smallest decisions to have impact,” she says.
7. Make mental health a priority.
When future leaders have mental health challenges exacerbated or even caused by work-related stress, this negatively impacts the employee and the company. Job seekers are increasingly looking for workplaces that prioritize mental health.
Those companies that take mental health seriously attract the best and brightest. According to APA’s 2022 Work and Well-Being Survey, which surveyed 2,016 employed U.S. adults from April-May, 2022, “81% of individuals said they will be looking for workplaces that support mental health when they seek future job opportunities.”
At the communications firm Red Shoes, Inc., they put great emphasis on mental health. This includes ensuring employees have access to health insurance that includes mental health coverage, providing a $300 wellness stipend to use toward anything they feel will improve their overall well-being, a generous PTO package, and an understanding personal-time policy.
“By dedicating this time to mental health, we set the expectation that deadlines are always met, but so are the needs of our employees,” says Red Shoes, Inc. vice president Maria Nelson. “Our policies demonstrate our commitment to this balance. Leaders also take advantage of these benefits, demonstrating that we mean it when we say self-care improves job performance.”
8. Recognize good employees.
Motivated developing leaders want to be an integral part of a company. It’s therefore important that you reward them for their efforts and show you value them and their contributions. Good ways of doing this include profit sharing plans, bonuses, and financial rewards for jobs well done.
Rewarding employees creates a culture of ownership and that encourages them to do their utmost to increase profitability. Investing in employees includes ensuring that computers and technology are up to date so that they can work easily and efficiently.
9. Embrace flexible, hybrid, and work-from-home policies.
Today’s employees have become accustomed to flexible work options, including WFH, hybrid, and flexwork. To stay competitive, employers have embraced these modes of work. Doing so has its benefits for future leaders. These include improving mental health and work-life balance, higher job satisfaction, and increased productivity.
“Hybrid and flexible work-from-home schedules are here to stay and offer employees autonomy in getting their jobs done,” says Levin. “When developing leaders, it’s important for mentors to allow mentees the latitude to lead and manage themselves, and a hybrid schedule does that. This autonomy drives better decision-making and personal and professional fulfillment, which is what you want for your emerging leaders.”
10. Be a positive role model.
Perhaps your most important task as a mentor is to lead by example. As a mentor, you must model the values and behaviors you expect from your mentees.
The leadership skills you want to see in those you are mentoring should be the same ones they see in you every day. Be professional, be decisive, be ethical, model a strong work ethic, and be supportive, and you should see the same behavior from your future leaders.
A version of this article was originally published on November 09, 2012.
Photo: Getty Images