Mentoring as Part of Leadership Academies, Part 2

skyeteam leadership development

In the first installment of the series on Mentoring as Part of Leadership Academies, we defined mentoring, identified the primary objectives of mentoring, the critical role it plays in academy and how often mentors and participants should meet. In this blog article, we discuss the selection of mentors, the character traits of potential mentors, and optional ways to integrate mentoring into your program when there are only a select number of mentors for your academy.

Selecting Mentors

Selecting mentors begins with determining the level of leader you are trying to develop. Through experience, we have found that identifying mentors at least one or two levels above the participants is most successful. It is best if the mentor will not be within the participant’s direct line of reporting.

Focusing on the participant’s development is the key objective of the mentoring relationship. It is critical the participants can ask questions, share challenges, and try new behaviors without the fear of their job performance or their performance appraisal being negatively impacted because of the mentoring relationship. This also allows participants to be exposed to the leadership challenges from a higher level and expand their understanding of the organization from different perspectives.

Traits of Potential Mentors

When looking at who should be a mentor, identify leaders who display a balance of emotional and social intelligence along with a history of strong performance and a style that is in alignment with the organization’s culture. Mentors with the core competency of learning agility – the ability and willingness to learn from experiences – successes, mistakes, feedback and exposures – will enhance the experience of the participant because these leaders know what it means to be challenged, learn from mistakes and tap into support networks. These leaders will often be committed to their own development and value developing other leaders.

Not every person in a leadership role is equipped with the correct skill sets to be mentors. Leaders can be promoted within a company for strong job performances, but lack the desire or ability to support their employees in the mentoring process. Warning signs that someone may not make the best mentor include leaders who:

  • do not value the coaching and development of their employees
  • get results but do not care about the impact of their decisions on others
  • are too busy to make time for the mentoring relationship
  • do not have strong emotional and social intelligence
  • do not behave in a way that is aligned with the culture of the organization

In subsequent academies, you can begin to use graduates as mentors for the next academies. This builds bench strength in your organization and allows graduates to continue to learn and develop their own leadership skills and contribute to the organization’s success.

Options for Mentoring

In some situations your entire executive team is going through the academy or your executives are not available to do this work. Given the importance of the mentoring component, here are some ideas for how to adapt your mentoring program:

Group Mentoring

Do a group mentoring session with 3-4 people. Keep it small, if possible. Group mentoring sessions could be facilitated by a high-level company leader (even if they are in the program), a company trainer/internal coach or a Board Member.

Accountability Partners

Participants are paired with another individual in the academy and meet on an ongoing basis to cover the four main objectives of the mentoring process we discussed in our first blog. To fit the accountability partner relationship, the objectives are modified to:

  • Teaching – participants discuss the main points of the most recent training course and how the content can support them in their role
  • Accountability – participants discuss progress on their development plan and areas where they need additional support and guidance
  • Advising – participants share what they have learned from their application assignments and use their accountability partner to gain additional ideas for implementing the tools and skills
  • Coaching – Discuss day to day issues and enhance learning and development. This includes leading at their organization, industry, etc.

Setting clear expectations on how often they need to meet and what they are to cover in their meetings will be critical to making this type of peer mentoring successful. Building in accountability mechanisms (e.g. having them track their meetings or email the academy coordinator when they meet) helps to reinforce the importance of this component and ensures they are taking advantage of this important relationship.

External Mentors

You could also invite participants to find mentors from outside the organization. There are both pros and cons to this approach. Mentors from outside the organization may focus more around career development and the general challenges the participant faces. They will be a great resource for understanding how different organizations work and getting fresh ideas. What they cannot offer is information specific to the organization, coaching on the organizations politics and internal dynamics, offering fresh perspectives from a different roles and levels within the organization.

Mentoring is an Investment

When identifying mentors for an academy, it is crucial to the success of both parties that the time commitment and role expectations are clearly defined before they are enlisted. If that communication does not happen, we see a negative impact on the relationship in the form of canceled meetings, difficulty getting on a mentor’s calendar, rushing though session, etc.  Ultimately, you want to choose mentors that have the right skills and the desire to donate their time to support in the development of other leaders.