The most successful leaders see themselves as mentors and coaches.
They realize that their job is not to always be the smartest person in the room but to nurture their team to come up with their own solutions and innovative ideas.
They understand that their responsibility is not solely to meet the company’s goals but to help co-workers and direct reports reach their full potential because when they do, everyone benefits.
Emotional Intelligence models define “coaching and mentoring” in leadership as taking an active interest in others’ development needs and bolstering their abilities.
It is a role that requires practicing other skills I discussed in previous posts, such as knowing how to really listen, how to lead with empathy, and how to handle hard conversations.
STEPS TO BECOME A BETTER LEADER-MENTOR
Even if you haven’t mastered those talents yet, here are simple steps you can take to become a better mentor and coach to the people you lead:
- Recognize other people’s strengths (even when they are different from yours) and acknowledge them for it. It can their boost confidence.
- Show interest in others’ ideas instead of dismissing them.
- Offer support instead of just giving orders.
- Ask questions to help people think through things instead of feeding them the answers.
- Give assignments that can help them develop their talents.
- Provide constructive feedback: this doesn’t mean staying away from the bad; it means not forgetting to highlight the good (here is where knowing how to straight talk really helps).
These skills all build on each other but I suggest focusing on one at a time and then integrating them together. The more you do it, the easier it gets and the more your impact will increase.
ASSIGNING LEADERSHIP TIME TO BEING A MENTOR
To embrace the role of leader as mentor and coach, you must dedicate a good chunk of your work week to the tasks above, which implies making yourself available for your team. This is the most important but often overlooked step, and it can be challenging for leaders who are used to focusing mostly on delivering the work.
Danny is a senior marketing executive I coached at a large insurance company. As part of the coaching engagement, we did what is called an online 360 feedback survey measuring his Emotional Intelligence abilities. Danny was shocked to learn his direct reports rated him exceedingly low as mentor and coach. He had thought of himself as a good boss and a nice guy on the job.
When we dug into the feedback, he shared that he found it annoying when his direct reports would come in to ask him questions. It felt like they kept him from getting his work done. It had not occurred to him that this time supporting his team was part of his job as a leader. So, he created “office hours” and told his team he was open every morning to answer their questions and work with them.
It was a simple act that made a huge difference in the team’s results and morale.
JUGGLING THE DIFFERENT LEADERSHIP TASKS
While making yourself available is crucial, be sure to do it in a way that works for you…not against you. Here’s another example.
I am currently working with a partner in an accounting firm who has an “I am always open for your questions” approach to her team. Her 360 feedback shows she is seen as a great mentor and coach. However, she is very process oriented (using the Kolbe Assessment’s terms, she is an Initiating Follow Thru). This means that each question that pops in randomly and interrupts her drains her mental energy. Her “open door” value and her innate patterns of working are in conflict with each other and causing her fatigue.
Now that she understands this, she is going to experiment with defined office hours and ask her direct reports to save up their questions for one conversation if they are not urgent. This will allow her to continue being available to mentor her team but in a way that’s ultimately more productive.
ON TO YOU
Are you a leader looking to become a stronger mentor and coach to your team?
Are you struggling to make time for these responsibilities?
Contact me if you’d like to grow into this role in the way that works best for you and your strengths.
Wow, what an insightful article! The importance of mentorship in leadership cannot be overstated. It’s refreshing to see a focus on developing others, not just achieving personal success. I look forward to implementing these strategies in my own leadership role.
Thanks for the feedback, Coach John!