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Leadership-Mentoring to Shape Careers

Leadership-Mentoring to Shape Careers
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Most people, at one time or another in their lives, will take on the role of a leader—whether formally or informally, at work, at home—whether as a parent or a boss or a team leader.

We often mirror what we see. Coaches will model the behaviour of successful coaches they know or observe, sometimes with detrimental results. Similarly, business leaders model other business leaders—or when necessary, try to do the opposite, whatever that might be.

Mentor leaders seek to have a direct, intentional, and positive impact on those they lead. At its core, mentoring is about building character into the lives of others, modelling and teaching attitudes and behaviours, and creating a constructive legacy to be passed along to future generations.

THE MINDSET OF A MENTOR LEADER: “IT’S NOT ABOUT ME”

The single most important factor that differentiates mentor leaders from other leaders in any setting is their outward focus on others. Because mentor leaders are committed to building value into the lives of other people, it seems natural that they would want to cast their influence as widely as possible by creating a culture of mentoring. Unfortunately, too many leaders operate from a paradigm that asks, “How will this better me or better my organization?” “How will this improve the bottom line?” “How will this improve my chances of a bonus, a raise, or a promotion?” It’s not necessarily their fault that they think this way; the paradigm of self-advancement is one that most people in our society are familiar with, and it’s the foundation on which most leadership instruction is built.

The mentor leader, by contrast, looks at how he or she can benefit others—which ultimately benefits the individual and the organization. Think about it. Even if you’re the most fantastic leader in history, you can’t do everything in your organization yourself. How much better would things be if you were building leaders who were building leaders who were building leaders? This principle of leader multiplication will reap great rewards.

The focus of a mentor leader

As we’ve seen, what differentiates the mentor leader from other types of leaders is focus. Mentor leaders realize that leadership is not about them. Instead, they look beyond themselves, focusing on the people they lead and where they should be going together. Over time, the result is that the people they lead are better able to handle all situations, even stressful ones, and the organization—team, business, church, or family—is better as well.

Too many people, when placed in positions of leadership, stay so focused on themselves that they are never able to step back and think about the people who are following them—the very people it is their responsibility to lead. Some, sadly, don’t seem to care about those they lead.

Maturity of a mentor leader

In order to become an effective mentor leader, in whatever setting, it is important to take a look inside yourself. Identify what drives and motivates you, the areas in which you’re naturally gifted, and the areas that are more challenging and thus will take more self-application to conquer. The ability to take an honest look at yourself and examine who you are—what makes you tick, what makes you do the things you do—is a mark of maturity for a mentor leader.

Mentor leaders put people first

Short-sighted leadership focuses primarily on the bottom line. In business, it’s quarterly profits, shareholder equity, and sales targets. Not that these things aren’t important—they are. But when they become the primary focus of a business or a team, they inevitably result in an organization that is out of balance. Leaders whose definition of success depends on such a short-term focus— will one day wake up to discover they’ve missed out on what is truly important in life, namely, meaningful relationships.

A life spent focused on things of the world will not add value to the lives of others.

Instead of asking, how can I lead my company, my team, or my family to a higher level of success? we should be asking ourselves, how do others around me flourish as a result of my leadership? Do they flourish at all? How does my leadership, my involvement in their lives—in whatever setting we’re in—have a positive and lasting influence and impact on them?

Simply stated, leadership is influence. By influencing another person, we lead that person. Leadership is not dependent on a formal position or role. We can find opportunities for leadership wherever we go. Likewise, leadership is not based on manipulation or prescription, though sometimes it may appear that way to an outside observer. By keeping our motives aligned with doing the best for those around us, we will keep ourselves focused on being a positive influence.

Mentor leadership focuses on relationships and positive influence because success in temporal things can be so fleeting. At the end of it all, sometimes you reach the organizational goals you’ve set, and sometimes you don’t. But either way, if you’re a leader, people’s lives should be better because of the influence you’ve had along the way.

Mentor leaders strive for significance in life

Building a life of significance, and creating a legacy of real value, means being willing to get your hands dirty. It means being willing to step out in your life and onto the platforms of influence you’ve been given and touch the lives of people in need. Whether it’s in your business, your school, your community, or your family, if you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.

Mentors build mentors. Leaders build leaders.

When you look at it closely, it’s really one and the same thing.

As you build your leadership skills, it’s important to remember that why you lead is as important as whom you lead. Leading for the benefit of others is a much more compelling and powerful motivation than leading merely to get ahead or to hit an arbitrary target. Leadership based on building significance into the lives of others is much more energizing in the long term than other types of leadership. The very nature of mentor leadership is that it endures and can be replicated. As we build into the lives of the people around us, one at a time, one-on-one, we have the potential to extend our positive influence through them into countless other people as well.

Mentor leadership isn’t focused on self or solely on short-term goals like wins, championships, stock prices, or possessions; it is focused instead on the longer-term goal of bettering people’s lives. And that includes people who have made mistakes, who have made a mess of their lives. Mentor leaders see potential and strive to develop it in the people they lead.

Mentor leaders keep an eternal perspective

The mentor leader sees time differently than other leaders. Though short-term results are important—there are upcoming games to prepare for or quarterly reports to complete or some other expectation placed on us—a leader must look into the distance, beyond the immediate return, where the rewards are more permanent, and where some rewards are eternal.

Mentor leaders tend to lean toward longer-term results. They are involved in the present, but are willing to defer immediate gratification in order to build value and structure into people’s lives, creating a culture based on something more than wins and losses. It takes time to build mentoring relationships.

CHARACTERISTICS OF A MENTOR LEADER

Mentor leaders are competent…

To succeed in any endeavour, we have to know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. That doesn’t mean we have to have all the answers, but it does mean we must have a solid foundation of skill, ability, and knowledge.

The people under our leadership will only continue to follow us if they are satisfied that we are qualified to lead. It’s not that they believe we’ll never make a poor decision, but that they trust us to guide them well.

As leaders, we must be able to explain why one path is better than another, why our marketing strategy and sales approach is appropriate for the products we’re trying to sell, why our practice regimen is this way and not that, or why we expect this play to work against the other team’s defence.

Again, we don’t need to have all the answers, but the people we lead must be confident that we have the competence to lead them in pursuit of the organization’s vision and mission.

Mentor leaders remain focused on integrity…

Integrity is one of the essential building blocks—if not the cornerstone—of any leader’s success, but especially that of mentor leaders, who desire to add value to the lives of those they lead. Leadership skills must be built on a proper foundation.

If the people in your organization can’t rely on you—whether on the big things or the little things—how are they going to follow you? They may follow you for a while, but it won’t be with passion or full commitment. The reason is simple: When faced with uncertainty about a decision or direction, they won’t know whether the person making that decision or pointing them in that direction can be trusted. They may follow for a time, but only conditionally, haltingly, or with misgivings marking every step.

Mentor leaders lead by example…

In order to lead effectively, mentor leaders must be willing to get into the trenches. They must get involved. It’s not possible to mentor from an ivory tower.

Courageous leadership often means holding firm to decisions we deem to be in the best interests of the organization—even when others disagree.

Leading by example is a powerful way for mentor leaders to forge strong bonds with the people who follow them. But what kind of example are you setting? Do you take shortcuts that others aren’t allowed to take? Do you have the courage to make—and stand by—decisions that will be criticized? Do you have the courage to make decisions that are in the best interests of those you lead, regardless of what others may think, even if they temporarily stall the short-term progress of the team?

Mentor leaders exercise faith…

Long-term success requires faith—faith that your efforts to plan and execute the process will lead to the desired outcome. Your team must see your faith and commitment lest they lose sight of the vision, lose faith in the process, and stop following.

Sometimes, as a leader, you simply have to act as if the things you believe in will occur. You have to implement positive steps as if the hoped-for result will in fact become reality—you have to put action behind your words.

Leading with faith requires a level of optimism that isn’t always easy to maintain. Hoping for a desirable outcome—much less having confidence and assurance that it will happen—requires some mental strength and fortitude

Mentor leaders are accountable…

Nothing is more deflating to morale than to have a poor outcome pinned on someone who doesn’t deserve it. It lacks integrity and it overvalues the outcome at the expense of the people, as well as the process. Most of the time, we are only judged on the outcome, whereas the only thing we can control is the process. Make your process the right one and stay true to it.

In any event, leaders who are accountable earn the respect of those they lead. Without that respect, they cannot lead for long.

Mentor leaders are approachable…

It used to be common for leaders to keep their distance from the people they led.

Because relationships might cloud the leaders’ judgment, it was thought that they should stay aloof and above the daily fray.

When you know the people who are following you, maybe some of the decisions get tougher. Maybe they are more painful. Maybe the additional information you have—about a person’s home life, family, finances, or personality—might make a particular decision more difficult. Being available and approachable is necessary for effective leadership.

Being available and approachable isn’t always as easy as it might sound, however. Being available—available to teach, available to interact, available to care—also means being involved. But by allowing others to approach you, and by being open to and sincerely welcoming interaction in your leadership role, you’ll have the opportunity to relate to people on a much more meaningful basis. It will pay enormous dividends for you and your organization in both the short and long term.

First of all, as your relationships deepen, you will build trust, and your open-door policy will provide an environment in which even more mentoring can occur. Second, as the bonds of friendship grow, the people you lead will grow more committed to you—because it is clear that you care about them. And the goals that seem worthwhile to you will have value to them. They will go out of their way to help you and the rest of the team succeed.

Mentor leaders exhibit loyalty…

Loyalty, of course, is related to integrity and trustworthiness, but it’s also slightly different. Loyalty involves being faithful to something or someone—a team, a mission, or an individual. Simply being trustworthy does not necessarily demonstrate loyalty. Loyalty takes trustworthiness and integrity to another level.

Loyalty develops depth in a relationship, which then forges the bonds to hold the relationship firm and fast when storms and challenges come. And they will come. When mentor leaders demonstrate their loyalty time and time again to those they lead—in both their personal and professional lives, those relationships will be fortified to withstand whatever challenges they face. Adversity will come. It’s guaranteed. Life is not a matter of smooth sailing. Sometimes the sails are trimmed and the wind is at our backs, but that kind of sailing doesn’t last forever in this life. The storms will come, and the waves will crash over even the strongest of relationships, teams, organizations, families, and individuals. That’s when proven loyalty will provide the strength and perseverance necessary to help those relationships survive and come out stronger when the storm passes.

Proven loyalty, believed and embraced by the people you serve and lead, will go a long way toward unifying your organization into one that can face every challenge—together.

METHODS OF A MENTOR LEADER

Engage

Too many leaders think—mistakenly—that they must stay aloof and above the fray. They believe they should maintain a respectable distance from the people they lead so they can remain “objective” and not become entangled in the issues and concerns of their followers.

It is critical for mentor leaders to engage with those they lead. It’s impossible to mentor from a distance. Without engagement, you cannot lead effectively. You cannot mentor with empathy. You cannot inspire people to new heights and lift them to a better place in their lives. If you do not engage with those you serve, you will never understand them or know enough about them to be able to have a positive effect in their lives.

Educate

Education is an essential building block of mentor leadership. Workers who are new to a task cannot be empowered and elevated until they’ve been educated in what to do. First things first.

Because mentor leadership is all about helping others become the best they can be, it is built on a foundation of teaching, helping, and guiding. Our goal should be to help everyone earn an A—or whatever the equivalent measure of success is in our organizations. Mentor leaders must not be content to merely teach the group from the front of the room; they must take a hands-on, one-on-one approach to mentoring individual lives. By providing others with opportunities to grow, we help them become even more valuable members of the team, even as we’re building the overall strength of the team.

Equip

Mentor leaders create an environment in which others can be productive and excel. They set the parameters and guidelines for the task, project and continually recast the vision, and then provide the tools and equipment needed for everyone to be successful in their assignment and to ultimately accomplish their mission. In essence, they strive to furnish what is needed for the task—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—and to accomplish the mission.

Encourage

Encouragement is the fuel that powers our efforts to engage, educate, and equip. Nothing does more to lubricate the rough spots than a good dose of encouragement.

Mentor leaders care. Mentor leaders lift others up. Mentor leaders encourage.

Empower

Once the people you lead are ready, it’s time to turn them loose. But not before they’re ready. As a mentor leader, you have a responsibility to engage, educate, equip, and encourage them first—and at every appropriate point thereafter, as well. You can’t just walk in and empower them. If they’re not ready, you’re only setting them up to fail

Energize

Great leaders energize and inspire those they lead. Even as they face their own daily struggles and stresses, mentor leaders look for ways to energize and motivate the people around them.

Energize. Inspire. Motivate.

The mentor leader does this—intentionally.

Elevate

What are the goals in place for your organization? To build the best team possible? To win the most games? To develop the top-rated sales force, one that makes its quota every quarter? To have the highest graduation rate of any high school in the state? Those are all worthy goals, and as a leader you have to function with the goals of your organization in mind. But the ultimate goal of every mentor leader is to build other leaders. The regenerative idea that leaders produce leaders, who in turn produce leaders—is a powerful concept for mentor leaders and their organizations. At the heart of this regeneration is the principle of elevation—raising people up.

Many leaders struggle with this essential concept. Elevating is difficult. It seems paradoxical to elevate someone who might end up taking your place. But raising up leaders is the truly selfless goal of every mentor leader, the culmination of focusing on others. To elevate your followers means to help them reach their God-given potential, even if it means preparing them to replace you. It may also mean that you prepare them to leave your organization for better opportunities elsewhere—perhaps even with your competitors.

Engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate.

Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance.

Those are the methods of a mentor leader.

Mentor leadership is all about shaping, nurturing, empowering, and growing. It’s all about relationships, integrity, and perpetual learning. Success is measured in changed lives, strong character, and eternal values rather than in material gain, temporal achievement, or status. Ultimately, mentor leadership is just as successful in achieving the standards of accomplishment in our society. But unlike other types of leadership, it is primarily concerned with building and adding value to the lives of people in the process.


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