May 3, 2023

Leaders need mentors too: Why and how to start a leadership mentoring program

A common misconception about mentoring is that it can only benefit junior employees who are just starting their career. However, the truth is that any level of seniority can benefit from it, and this includes leaders. What is a leadership mentoring program? Why is mentoring important for leaders? How to develop leadership skills in employees through mentoring and run a successful program? In this blog post, we dive into what you need to know about leadership mentoring.

What is leadership mentoring

A leadership mentoring program is a scheme designed to improve the leadership skills of a company’s employees. Being a good leader is not an easy feat, and many first–time managers who have just been promoted to a leadership role struggle with acquiring leadership skills as they go along. If their employer decides to support them with a leadership mentoring program, each employee has a chance to develop skills such as team management, self-confidence, decision making, or giving feedback by working with a leadership mentor and learning from their experience.

So what role does a mentor play in leadership development? In this case, a mentor should be an experienced leader who was once also in a similar position. In the mentoring sessions, the mentor will share their valuable experience and their personal takeaways with the mentee. The role of the mentor is to support the mentee, answer their questions about leadership, and help them reach the leadership development goals they set for themselves.

How to support women in leadership

It’s estimated that 23% of executives around the world are women, and 8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female. While these numbers may be an improvement on the past, there’s still a long way to go to make female leaders the norm rather than the exception. In their career paths, women often deal with additional factors such as unconscious bias, balancing motherhood and career or the glass cliff phenomenon which their male counterparts rarely encounter. Having another leader mentor them gives women in leadership the opportunity to tackle their challenges individually, one-on-one, with someone who was once in the same position. Another added bonus is that when women leaders meet each other through a mentoring program, they have a chance to build a support network.

Why is mentoring important in leadership

First let’s pinpoint the reason why a company should invest in a workplace mentoring program for leaders. The reason is quite simple - to put it briefly, better leaders mean better results, happier teams, a better company culture, and more effective teamwork. Providing managers with role models and cheerleaders sets them up for success. Though it’s often associated with supporting first-time managers, mentoring can be beneficial for leaders of various seniority levels.

What are the benefits of mentorship for leaders

Now let’s take a look at how the leaders themselves can benefit from mentoring. To give three examples of some of the most beneficial aspects of leadership mentoring, we’ll look at finding your own leadership style, developing skills, and being a more inclusive leader.

Finding your own leadership style

Something that any first-time managers struggle with is finding the leadership style which suits them best. Some may be cut out for a motivational, coaching-style way of leading, some may be wondering if they should be more hands-on or more laissez-faire. The style depends largely on the individual characteristics of the leader, and a good leadership mentor can help explore different styles, share what worked or didn’t work for them, and help point the newly appointed manager in the right direction.

Growing your leadership skills

Leadership mentors have a number of years of experience behind their belt, and by sharing this experience, they can help their mentee develop skills such as:

  • Feedback skills
  • Motivating others
  • Making decisions
  • Leading (difficult) conversations
  • Managing a crisis or conflict
  • Self-confidence
  • Time management
  • Communication skills
  • Delegating work
  • Active listening
  • Strategic thinking

… and many more.

Being an inclusive leader

A modern workplace cannot thrive without inclusion. To managers, this means leading their teams in a way where everyone feels accepted and valued as their true authentic selves. An inclusive team is one where nobody is afraid to share their ideas and different viewpoints, and where everyone is represented at the decision making table. For someone without prior experience or the right role models, being an inclusive leader can be challenging. A mentor who is experienced in inclusive leadership will explain all the ins and outs, share about their own mistakes and what they learned from them, or recommend further resources on inclusion.

How to create a leadership mentoring program

When creating any kind of mentoring program, a company has two options to choose from - internal or external mentoring. Let’s take a look at how each is different and what they can look like when specifically focused on leadership.

Creating an internal leadership mentoring program

The first option is an internal mentoring program. In this case, the company designs the program itself, taking responsibility for its administration and smooth running. The mentors in an internal leadership mentoring program are managers from inside the company. This can be a great choice if it works well with the purpose of the program. For example, if the main aim is to pass on company-specific know-how from more senior managers to more junior ones, internal mentoring is probably the right choice. While an internal program can be a great opportunity for first time managers, it may not work so well for the more experienced ones who are looking to broaden their horizons and gain new perspectives rather than learn specific skills.

When building an internal leadership mentoring program, there are a few things which the program manager should definitely keep in mind.

  • Defining the goals of the program - the program should have some kind of overarching goal or purpose. The company must define what it wants to gain from the program. This could be for example building a more inclusive workplace, helping members of underrepresented groups grow as leaders, or supporting first-time managers in their growth.

  • Selecting relevant leaders - first thing’s first, all mentees must be willing and actively interested in participating in the program. Next, mentees must be selected in a way that’s relevant to the goal of the program. For example, if the aim is to support underrepresented groups in leadership, you could select an all-female group of mentees.

  • Assign the right mentors - each mentee should be matched with a leader whose experience is relevant to their own goals. For example if the mentee wants to improve in giving feedback, a great mentor would be a leader who is known to take feedback in their team seriously and has successfully managed to establish a feedback culture.

  • Collect feedback and improve - the secret to any good mentoring program is continuously collecting feedback from mentees and mentors and using it to improve the program. Have conversations, send out feedback forms, and reflect on what you learn.

The benefits of external leadership mentoring

In the case of an external program, most of the previously mentioned points are off your hands. Since mentors in this situation will be sourced externally, the matching with mentees is the responsibility of the provider of the program, who will typically also take care of collecting regular feedback.

Besides saving time and energy, another large benefit of external leadership mentoring is that mentors from outside the company can provide your leaders with a new point of view or let them get a taste of a different culture and environment. This works well not only for junior leaders, but also for the more senior ones who may feel that gaining new perspectives would be more relevant to them than learning within a company where they already have a lot of experience.

An external leadership mentoring program doesn’t have to provide just 1:1 mentoring. For example, the Femme Palette Leadership program for companies offers a combination of a 1:1 mentoring approach with group sessions on selected topics. Depending on the needs of the mentees, the company can select leadership workshops on topics such as Team management & culture, Confidence, Leading with empathy, Challenging unconscious bias, and more. 

Leadership mentoring is a great way to approach talent development in a personalized way, transfer knowledge, increase productivity, establish a feedback culture, and even build a positive brand image for the employer. Whether you choose to run an internal or an external program, you’re making a brilliant investment and creating a unique opportunity for leaders to thrive.

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