Mentoring for Leadership Development: Top Tips

March 07, 2014

Mentoring and Leadership Development

With the economy in a slow recovery, it’s becoming more necessary for organizations to prepare for the future in terms of leadership development and succession planning. Mentoring has always been a popular method of knowledge transfer and talent development, but ultimately it’s your objectives and how well your program addresses them that ultimately makes or breaks your program.

Mentoring for leadership development or succession planning are two very smart and relevant objectives right now, and we’re seeing more and more clients request mentoring for these very reasons. However, the way mentoring programs are designed to meet those objectives must necessarily be very different from organization to organization, depending on the culture and situation of each. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to mentoring software or process.

The following best practices for mentoring for leadership development, as presented by Judy Corner, an expert in mentoring training and mentoring program planning, are guidelines to increase the likelihood of a mentoring program’s success in any organization by helping your organization build your mentoring process around the particulars of your situation as well as your objectives.

1. Define your goals and objectives, and align them with leadership.

Your goals must be more specific than “leadership development”. What specific aspects of leadership development do you most need to focus on? Decide whether you want to focus on skill development, strengthening the succession pipeline, or increasing leadership depth. Don’t jump into the program before you’ve decided what the focus will be, at risk of having little success with a directionless program.

2. Qualify your selected mentors, and assess their areas of expertise as well as the skills to be a good mentor.

The success of your mentoring program is highly dependent upon the quality of your mentors. Program administrators often fear low numbers of recruited mentors, and in order to have as many mentors to mentees as possible, will allow all volunteer mentors in the program. This is a common mistake. If your mentors a) don’t have the necessary targeted skills that fit in with your pre-determined program objectives, or b) don’t have the communication skills to get them across to their mentee(s), they won’t be effective, and your program will suffer. Even if you’re afraid your mentor recruitment numbers will be low, remember to maintain quality over quantity.

3. Determine your matching criteria.

Your matching criteria will determine the success of your individual matches – and the success of your entire program. Determine which participant characteristics are most pertinent to your targeted goals. Examples of good matching criteria for a leadership development program can include career level, leadership skills, and location of participants, as well as overall business function that’s most at risk within the organization.

4. Communicate your plan, objectives, and goals to all stakeholders.

Make sure that all stakeholders – that includes mentors, mentees, managers, and administrators – understand that your mentoring program is a business strategy first and foremost.

5. Provide your mentees, mentors, and managers with mentoring training.

“We would never put someone in a job where we didn’t give them any training so that they could be successful, and yet we do that all the time with mentoring programs, and don’t provide mentoring training of any kind,” says Ms. Corner. Successful mentors, mentees, and managers must understand what is expected from them, what they can expect, and how they fit into the overall leadership development initiative.

6. Focus initially on a specific pool of high-potential candidates.

In the initial phase, think about what your organization needs immediately, and target a highly qualified pool of mentors and mentees to accomplish it. When qualifying, consider your determined goals and objectives, the selected mentors’ and mentees’ availability, and the skill and career levels necessary to affect the initial change.

Interested in combining your leadership development efforts with your succession planning initiative? Read our article “Mentoring Solutions for Succession Planning Problems”.

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