The Lessons I Picked Up From The Leaders In My Career
By AMANDA CHUA
Steven and Juanita are two very different people. Juanita, one of the Senior Directors of Development Centre based in the UK mentors Steven, a Delivery Centre Manager based in the local office here in Asia Pacific.
Juanita has spent 20 years in this multinational company while Steven just passed the nine year mark. Despite their differences, the two have forged a strong mentor-mentee relationship based on a common goal that they share, an ardent desire to learn from one another and become the best at what they do.
Steven had the opportunity to learn from Juanita as she imparted her wealth of knowledge, with her years of experience, working in the company. In exchange, Steven also shares his work experience and context of the environment that he is working in, in which Juanita is very interested due to her current focus expanding the business in the Asia Pacific Region.
This is an example of reverse mentoring taking place.
This symbiotic relationship is one of the many mentoring connections formed as a result of Mentoring Programme Leaderonomics conducted that continued on even after the programme ended.
This one-on-one dynamic of bridging differences, cross-fertilisation of skills and knowledge sharing, challenging one another and fostering cross-cultural understanding proves to benefit both parties, and is considered to be one of the company’s key initiatives for developing talent internally and creating a pipeline of future potential leaders.
The ‘leaders teaching leaders’ approach through mentoring gives leaders the opportunity to work together across different departments, cultures, backgrounds and generations within the company.
Additionally, mentoring addresses employee’s support needs to grow and develop in line with Gallup’s Sixth element of Great Managing (Q6: Someone at work encourages my development) which promotes the right environment for employees to thrive towards a successful career.
Sustainable Leadership through Mentoring
A chief executive officer (CEO) boosts his company’s reputation by attracting the best and brightest talents to the organisation but, within a number of years, sees the company’s performance plunge after he leaves.
A company puts a heroic leader to turn around an underperforming department, then sees all his efforts undone within months of his next promotion.
More often than not, employees see CEOs and leaders come and go, with a change every couple of years and different agendas for the future.
The reputation and performance of the company only resides within the leader, while employees conclude that they can easily wait until the next CEO or leader for change to happen again.
The above scenarios of being leader-dependent are examples of unsustainable leadership which would cost the company, whereas leadership sustainability and succession are necessary in order to influence change and continuity for the long term.
There are leaders who are the exceptions. I know of managers who, from the first day of their appointment, are deliberate in identifying and grooming their successor. They are not focused on success in the short term at the expense of the long-term vision.
One HR director I know was intentional not to poach talent from competitor companies as a short-term solution, but was instead focused on the real issues entrenched within the company, which were developing talent and improving overall learning.
The company believed that, by addressing this, results would follow; rather than being obsessed with the delivering results which does not only miss addressing the issue, it impedes results.
More than just implementing transformation and managing meaningful change, these leaders displayed sustainable leadership.
Authors and educational leaders, Andy Hargreaves and Dean Fink define sustainable leadership as improvements that are concerned with “matters that endure, spread and make things last, not at the expense of damaging the environment and excessively depleting our existing resources, but by building an environment of organisational diversity that promotes cross-fertilisation of good ideas and successful practices in communities of shared learning and development.”
As such, three of the seven principles of sustainable leadership emerged from their study points towards the value of mentoring in sustainable leadership:
1) Sustainable leadership creates and preserves sustained learning where the primary responsibility of any manager or organisational leader is to ensure learning within the company or team is sustained for greater employee output.
2) Sustainable leadership sustains the leadership of others where leaving a lasting legacy is not just grooming the successor for your role but also distributing leadership within the organisation by developing and sharing your legacy.
3) Sustainable leadership develops rather than depletes human and material resources which finds the best way to identify, attract, retain and develop the cream of the crop leaders with the
opportunity for them to network, learn from and support each other through coaching and mentoring.
Why Leadership Mentoring?
Behind every successful leader, there lies a mentor – Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Richard Branson and Sir Freddie Laker, Michael Bloomberg and William R. Salomon, Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou.
Relationships define who we are and what we become, and being surrounded by people from whom you can learn and share knowledge, the benefits you reap are vast.
It could be for a specified duration or it could be an ongoing journey that both of you decide to undertake for the long term.
Having an experienced mentor can bring immense value to your personal development and career as they provide different perspective which could be a blind spot, while mentoring boosts your career success to the next level through empowerment.
The 70:20:10 model approach by Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) recognises that 20% of effective leadership development is learnt from developmental relationships via feedback and working with, and observing, role models.
Mentoring relationships do not need to happen as a result of a formal company-wide mentoring programme. Not many have had the privilege of having someone invest in and facilitate their career development.
More often than not, most professionals experience informal, intermittent mentoring experiences at different points in their careers.
Informal mentoring relationship developed organically with someone outside the organisation can be more successful where your leadership chemistry, individual differences and needs have been taken into account.
Having admired someone in a leadership position and emulating their behavioural characteristics and leadership styles could also be one way.
It is fulfilling, if not more rewarding, when you become a mentor and do the same for others yourself.
Many mentors are inspired by their personal positive experiences with mentors and they pay it forward by intentionally becoming one themselves.
They identify a few high potentials and greatly invest their time and effort to their growth and development whereby they see their mentee’s success as their own which, in turn, raises the next generation of leaders.
As a personal beneficiary of this, I have had individuals who invested in my life in my adolescent years and career mentors at work like my manager and COO who made me the person that I am today and to whom I attribute much of my success.
The impact they have made on my life is profound, from instilling the right values to form my character and worldview in life and at work, to gaining insightful views on how to navigate my career in the organisation.
My previous manager was a natural developer and mentor who showed genuine care and interest for my career development and well-being, which was the key contributor of towards the
success of my promotion within a year.
My mentoring relationship with my COO, who is also a successful woman in her own right, offered me insights in seeing the organisation in a bigger picture from a bird’s eye view which helped me to better align towards my organisation’s vision and mission. I was also able to glean insights from a woman’s perspective on how to be successful.
Mentoring as a Demand of Leadership
Mentoring is not limited to middle managers and team leaders, it is one of the key skills needed to thrive as a C-suite.
Many successful leaders are mentors, and many are still being mentored. Harvard Business Review cited Leadership Skills as well as Team- and Relationship-Building Skills as one of the executive skills most valued by companies today and considered indispensable for C-level, not just CEOs.
An executive’s job is to lead and develop the company from the top leadership to the down liners.
The characteristics of world class leader involves “developing an exceptionally strong leadership team” and “being less self-oriented but more interested and skilled in developing his/ her team.”
One of the leadership examples in high demand are, “leadership in a non-authoritarian manner that works with today’s executive talent, balanced with authenticity, respect for others, and trust building,” where the need to employ coaching and mentoring approach proves to be more effective.
Great executive leaders are not simply focused on driving their own success. They understand the importance of personal relationships and success is not a one-person show.
Therein lies a trend in successful leaders who have close relationships with their manager or a respected senior leader, who is also their trusted advisor to provide them valuable perspective and wise counsel.
They have people who are not afraid to tell the raw, honest truth and provide the guidance they need at work and personal life.
Developing Leaders through Mentoring
Mentoring is essential in leadership development as the supportive coach-protégé/ mentor-mentee relationship is source of learning for leaders. Mentoring is a powerful growth experience for both mentor and mentee which should be part of lifelong learning as wisdom is cultivated from the more experienced. To build sustainable leadership, it is important to ask these questions as an organisation:
- Is value attached to mentoring within and outside of the organisation?
- Are leaders expected to accelerate highly talented individuals through the organisation to their optimum levels of performance?
One of the ways to address this is for leaders act as coach and mentor for their teams which could lead to more initiatives that builds a stronger company.
Like the story of Steven, his relationship with Juanita not only led to a few key cost-saving initiatives through cross-departmental collaboration, facilitated by the mentoring relationship which allowed him to take a bigger picture and different view to improve the company further.
It is no surprise that Steven got promoted the next year and passed on this mentoring legacy within his team, all thanks to the benefits of mentoring.