Individuals in positions of leadership are often held to very high standards – they are expected to be people of high integrity, enduring patience, impeccable morals, great achievement and commitment to excellence. People expect so much of leaders that they often overlook their tendency (read: necessity) to be simply human. Yet, while we must leave margins of error for our leaders, we must also continually set high expectations for those who take the noble pledge of leadership because it is a calling like no other.
However, if leaders must deliver on all the targets set by themselves, their establishments and their followers, they need all the help they can get. Every leader needs a mentor, particular young people starting out in leadership positions very early in their careers. Much too often, young leaders find themselves surrounded with praise singers who are too eager to tell them how awesome they are, but not enough people who are able to lovingly criticize their work and offer valuable feedback to enhance their growth; this inevitably leads to early stagnation or a bloated sense of achievement. That’s where a mentor comes in.
By definition, a mentor is a person with experience, knowledge and/or skills who is willing, able and available to share this information with another individual in order to support their holistic growth. Most people associate mentoring with age or significant achievement, but that is not necessarily a requirement; anyone with experience and knowledge is qualified to be a mentor, as long as there is someone else who lacks that experience and is willing to seek it. To be fair, not everyone with experience will automatically be a great mentor; mentoring is a two-way relationship that must be driven by a need to grow and a willingness to invest in that growth on the part of the mentee. As with everything else in life, people can learn to be good mentors.
Mentoring is a relationship-oriented adventure; a successful mentor provides a safe environment for their mentee to share personal and professional challenges and seek assistance in navigating both seamlessly. This places the responsibility on the mentee to drive the relationship. A young leader might get so immersed in the daily tasks of their projects or organization that they neglect their personal care, suffer from low self-perception or ignore their own learning needs; a good mentor can spot those deficiencies very easily and help a mentee in building a sustainable work-life balance that ensures that personal needs do not get in the way of professional demands.
Furthermore, a good mentor often draws on their own personal leadership journey and willingly shares their previous struggles with their mentee in order to humanize the leadership development process and prove that everyone starts from somewhere and everyone struggles occasionally. Young leaders might often get caught up with the achievements of people whom they admire and thus set unreasonable expectations for themselves, failing to realize the process that others have experienced. It is by working with a mentor that a young leader learns the pitfalls of management and proactively avoids repeating the mistakes that others have made.
Having said these, there are immense benefits for a mentor also; the time and effort invested in another person often yields incredible satisfaction for the mentor. Simply knowing that another person’s growth is tied to one’s efforts triggers a deep sense of responsibility that makes the mentor commit to ensuring higher productivity in their own tasks. It has also been proven that people get better at the things they do once they start teaching others how to do them. Mentoring could be a win-win partnership for all; enabling young leaders to grow in a supportive environment and empowering established leaders to get better at the things they already do.