The Art of Mentorship: 3 Steps for Building Business Leaders

Establishing a mentorship program can help businesses grow, employees succeed and executives lead more effectively
The Art of Mentorship: 3 Steps for Building Business Leaders
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A significant majority of women -- 63 percent -- have never had a formal mentor in their career. It goes (almost) without saying that everyone in the global-business community can contribute to decreasing that number.

I was lucky enough to enter a mentorship program early in my professional life. I sought a mentor because I needed someone to help me figure out the best way to make my voice heard. As a woman working in the technology industry, I needed guidance on how to best contribute at a strategic level.

Related: Looking for a Mentor? The 7 Best Places to Start.

Mentorship is critical because it brings an inherent ability to drive growth and success in colleagues and leaders alike. Mentoring frequently improves employee performance. Meanwhile, mentors are rewarded by the fulfilling experience of seeing their mentees succeed.

According to data from mentorship consultancy MicroMentor, 83 percent of small businesses with mentor programs survive longer than five years. MicroMentor also found that small- and medium-sized businesses with mentor programs experienced an 83 percent growth in revenue (compared to a 16 percent increase among companies without mentor programs). There is clear business value in mentorship.

Related: The Leadership Gap That You and the World's Most Prominent CEOs Have in Common

I recently reflected on my own mentorship experience with a panel of entrepreneurs at Sage Summit U.S. in Atlanta. We discussed ways business owners could not only survive, but thrive. And we noted that the process often reveals fresh perspectives on the trajectory of mentors' own career paths and futures.

That conversation inspired me to share three steps leaders can take to support and mentor entrepreneurial colleagues in a meaningful way.

Step 1: Set the course.

Your approach to mentorship is crucial in the outcome of the budding relationship. Mentoring without intention or thoughtfulness can lead to a wasted opportunity. To be an effective mentor, you must have an understanding that the person looking to you for guidance sees you as an extension of who they want to become. It's important for mentors to establish what mentees want from the interaction early and then build a mentorship program from the ground up.

Mentors should clarify with their mentees any expectations around objectives and outcomes. During the earliest stages of the mentorship program, both parties involved need to agree on ground rules and pinpoint their limitations. This exercise creates a safe learning environment for risk-taking empowered by trust and honesty.

Related: 6 Things Great Mentors Do Differently

Step 2: Create a productive, open and challenging experience.

Mentors should make it a point to facilitate their mentees’ growth by sharing their own resources and networks. They should look for opportunities to challenge a mentee to move beyond his or her comfort zone. In a successful program, each mentor should focus on his or her mentee’s total development. Along the way, pairs should make time at various points to assess their progress and provide candid, respectful feedback. 

Step 3: Maximize the opportunity.

Mentors also need to respect their mentees’ time. Aspiring and seasoned mentors must be organized and consistent with their programming. To ensure mentees get the most out of the experience, mentors always should plan ahead and take charge of follow-up items.

Mentors should also open themselves up to learning from their mentees. The vantage point gained from working with someone in the mentorship context can change your personal approach to leadership. In my case, mentoring reinforced the importance of viewing things through a different lens. It helped me apply new perspective to how I managed people. I learned quickly that mentorship helps all parties involved.

Related: What Male and Female Leaders Can Learn From One Another

Mentorship programs are such powerful tools for small businesses. One of our own studies at Sage Group revealed that while 28 percent of small businesses have mentorship programs in place, 93 percent understand that mentorship programs improve overall company performance. In practice, mentors provide expertise for those who want to develop effective business skills and maximize profit as well as productivity. Mentorship also can play a role in helping people consistently deliver good work despite distractions.

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