How Mentoring Can Help You Improve Your Leadership Skills

Could mentoring others be an overlooked tool for improving leadership skills? See what you can learn from being a mentor.
March 01, 2017

A mentoring relationship may be a powerful way to accelerate learning and boost leadership skills for any entrepreneur, business owner or leader.

The potential benefits of having a mentor are many. Mentors may help you focus and gain clarity on issues. They may inspire you and provide encouragement and moral support when needed. They may also facilitate access to people in their network that might be a resource for you.

A mentor may also provide candid feedback that others may not. For example, a good mentor may hold up a mirror to you that might help you see how your beliefs or perspectives may hold you back from making the bold moves you might want to make. In a nutshell, a good mentor may help you discover your hidden strengths. It's akin to having a trusted friend. 

Mentoring Programs to Consider

Traditionally, mentoring has been a face-to-face relationship between an experienced senior professional and an emerging younger professional. But today, leaders and their teams may need more than one mentor. For example, they may need mentors that specialize in widely different areas and industries in order to accelerate their learning.

To supplement a conventional mentoring program you may be using in your company, consider these three avenues:

1. Team Mentoring

Today's leaders may look for guidance from a network of peers within their professions. To fill that need, consider establishing team mentoring relationships across different functions of the company. (An example of such a program could be a peer mentoring group consisting of senior women within the organization.)

Mentoring, on a regular basis, may help you train yourself to focus your full attention on others when they're speaking to you.

Peer mentoring relationships can help members see behind the curtain and may help people grow in their roles. Another benefit of cross-functional peer mentoring is that it might encourage a cross-pollination of ideas.

You may want to also consider establishing a peer mentoring program with a group of say six or seven peers from outside the organization. This group can meet periodically to share advice, knowledge and experience.

2. Virtual Mentoring

Our digital culture can make it easy to tap into multiple mentors through a host of social networks where communities share their practices and resources with followers. One example of this type of network is a Q & A site such as Quora. There are also online mentoring sites such as SCORE, which is composed of a network of volunteer business mentors providing free answers to business questions.

3. Mentoring Through Heroes

Heroes are those people out there that we look up to. They model the way, they inspire us and can show us what is possible. These heroes may come from many different areas, such as entrepreneurs, leaders, professionals, other successful business owners, musicians or artists, you name it. There's a treasure trove of people to follow and learn from.

Who are your heroes out there? Consider making a point of following whoever they are, and actively learning from them. When you're facing an issue, consider asking yourself, "How might my hero deal with this?" These people can be vicarious mentors.

Mentoring to Sharpen Your Leadership Skills

An effective way of helping you grow your leadership skills may be becoming a mentor yourself. We don't often talk about the skills we can strengthen from being a mentor. Here are three key leadership skills to consider:

1. Becoming a more effective listener.

For many leaders suffering from information overload, listening intently may be a challenge. Even with the best will, it may be difficult to give everyone your undivided attention.

Mentoring, on a regular basis, may help you train yourself to focus your full attention on others when they're speaking to you. This is one practice that could pay dividends in your leadership development.

2. Broadening your perspective.

Mentoring may help you see things with new eyes. Consider mentoring people who are different from you. This may include people in different industries, millenials, baby boomers, the opposite gender, people with disabilities or personnel with a military background to name a few.

This diversity in mentoring opportunities may help you see multiple perspectives, which in turn could broaden and enrich your thinking. Learning to appreciate multiple perspectives may also enhance your problem-solving skills by helping you generate multiple solutions to a problem. It's all about helping you develop leadership agility.

3. Sharpening your storytelling abilities.

Mentoring is not about telling people to do this or that. Rather it's about showing them the possibilities. One of the most memorable ways of doing this is through storytelling. Stories are the Velcro that can help make the message stick. There are likely many stories from your own experience that can help those you mentor.

Storytelling can also be useful in your own role as a leader. Yet many business people may be reluctant to use storytelling because they may feel that they don't have the required skills. That's where practicing storytelling within a mentoring relationship may help. Such relationships usually provide a safe environment because they're generally based on mutual trust. Storytelling in this arena becomes a win-win for both parties.

Read more articles on leadership skills.

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