Coaching & Mentoring: How senior leaders can develop and support future leaders!

The old adage that great leaders are born, not made is a myth that has long been debunked.

While it’s true that some people may have a natural aptitude for leadership, the skills and qualities that make a truly exceptional leader are developed over time through a process of learning, growth, and self-reflection. Finding good leaders to run an organization may not be an easy task. Mostly, organizational success lies in shaping the growth journey of existing employees and helping them grow and become leaders themselves. Even for organizations that already have strong leadership, it is vital to find ways to create a pipeline of strong leaders who are equipped to guide their organizations to success in the future.

Gone are the days when being an effective leader meant simply delegating tasks, managing performance, and resolving conflicts. In today's dynamic and ever-changing world, leaders must evolve to keep pace with the times. Two essential skills that have become increasingly important are coaching and mentoring. By embracing these approaches, senior leaders can develop the next generation of leaders, cultivate a culture of growth and learning, and set their organizations up for success both now and in the future.

Coaching and mentoring are often confused, as both approaches share similar goals. At their core, coaching, and mentoring are designed to help individuals grow, learn, and achieve their full potential. Whether in a personal or professional context, both coaching and mentoring aim to provide guidance, support, and feedback to help individuals overcome obstacles, build new skills, and achieve their goals. But it is also important to understand how they are both distinct and can be applied together or independently.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a relationship in which an experienced individual provides guidance, support, and advice to help another individual develop their skills and achieve their goals. In an organizational context, the mentor is typically a senior leader who has a wealth of knowledge, skills, and experience that they can pass on to the mentee. The mentor provides guidance, advice, and support to help the mentee develop their skills and knowledge, build their confidence, and prepare them for leadership roles in the future. This may involve sharing insights into the industry or sector, providing feedback on the mentee's performance, and helping them identify areas for growth and development. The mentor may also help the mentee navigate organizational politics, build their network, and develop their leadership style. Ultimately, the goal of mentoring is to help the mentee successfully navigate through challenging situations and emerge as a confident leader.

Mentoring is typically used in situations where an individual wants to develop their skills and knowledge in a particular area and seeks guidance and advice from someone with more experience and expertise. Mentoring can be particularly useful in the following situations:

  • Career development: When an employee wants to advance their career, the mentor can provide guidance and advice on how to navigate the organizational landscape and develop the skills and experience needed to progress.
  • Skill development: When an individual wants to develop a specific skill or area of expertise, such as public speaking, project management, or marketing, they may seek a mentor who can provide guidance and advice based on their own experience and expertise.
  • Leadership development: When one wants to develop their leadership skills, they may seek a mentor who can provide guidance on how to lead effectively, build strong teams, and navigate complex organizational challenges.
  • Personal development: If one is looking to achieve personal development goals, such as building confidence, improving communication skills, or managing stress, they may seek a mentor who can provide guidance and support to help them achieve their goals.

To be a good mentor, a senior leader should be approachable, open-minded, and willing to listen to the mentee's concerns and challenges, showing commitment to the growth and development of the mentee. The mentor should help the mentee set realistic goals and develop a plan to achieve them, providing feedback and encouragement along the way. The mentor should also share their own insights into the industry or sector, and help the mentee navigate organizational politics and build their network.

What is Coaching and how is it different?

Coaching is a process in which a coach works with an individual or team to help them achieve specific goals and improve their performance through guidance, feedback, and support. It is a more structured and goal-oriented approach to helping individuals achieve their objectives. A senior leader can be called a coach when she/he creates a safe and supportive environment where employees can explore their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and develop their own solutions to challenges they are facing. The coach acts as a catalyst, helping employees identify their strengths and potential. Importantly, coaching is a non-directive approach, meaning that the coach does not provide personal advice or recommendations, but rather helps clients access the resources and knowledge they already possess to find their own solutions.

Research conducted by Google has shown that coaching is one of the top five managerial skills that are essential for effective leadership. According to Google's internal study, called "Project Oxygen," coaching was ranked as the second most important skill for managers, after being a good communicator. The findings suggest that managers who are skilled at coaching can improve employee performance, foster innovation and creativity, and help team members develop their skills and capabilities over time, without limiting or restricting their freedom.

To be an effective coach, leaders must first understand human behavior and the triggers that motivate people. Unfortunately, many managers focus solely on management principles and forget to lead people. To be a good coach, a leader must pick up the following qualities and make them part of their daily practice.

  • Do not focus on fixing the problem: Instead, enable the coachee to come up with their own solutions or frameworks to fix the problem.
  • Active listening: It involves listening, absorbing, and understanding the coachee's perspective.
  • Providing validation: Recognizing strengths and refining positives instead of just fixing flaws.
  • Power of asking questions: It is an effective way to teach and educate coachees about how to access their inner resources.
  • Making work enjoyable: Providing constructive feedback and showing empathy can also help to make work enjoyable for the employee to grow.
  • Empowering employees: Providing guidance to employees to develop their support framework and helping them change behaviors can also make a big difference. Observing changing characters, identifying damaging behavior, and putting it into perspective can be powerful tools for managers.
  • Aligning with team members' goals: Organizational mission and vision are essential for success, but following up with employees by asking for their personal goals and aligning them with that of the organization can make them feel more motivated and encouraged. This way when the company wins, the team will also feel victorious.
  • Language: Top leaders must shift from enforcing their opinions on their team to asking for opinions. Instead of saying, "Here is the answer," ask, "What do you think could be the answer?" The right language can define the type of leader you are to whom employees will look up. An effective coach understands the power of language and how it can influence the behavior and productivity of their team.
  • Resolving conflict: Unresolved conflict can be damaging to both people and organizations. A good coach knows the importance of resolving conflicts and can help their coachees address them effectively.

Coaching & mentoring are skills that are vital for leadership. It is crucial for senior leaders to continuously engage in conversations about personal and professional growth and work towards building a growth mindset in the organization. A growth mindset can help individuals and teams to be more receptive to coaching, as they view challenges and setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than as roadblocks.