Senior Leaders Need Mentoring, Too



As a mentoring relationship comes to an end, I will often interview the mentor about what they learned during the relationship. “I need a mentor, too,” is the most popular refrain during these conversations. 

Even the most senior-level employee is often surprised at their own realization about how much they would benefit from mentoring. But it’s indeed true that mentoring is for everyone.

There are many byproducts of effective mentoring—goal-setting and accountability are the most commonly cited outcomes. Of course, goal-setting is not just for junior employees. The most senior employees benefit from taking stock of their strengths and challenges and determining where they need to grow.

There are three additional benefits to mentoring that I observe most frequently, especially for those in leadership and senior-level positions: Connection, Clarity and Competency. 

Let’s look at the ways mentoring can promote connection, provide clarity, and increase competency.

Mentoring Promotes Connection

There has been increased attention on the crisis of disconnectedness—people are feeling increasingly isolated in the workplace, especially in this era when much of our communication is by email and teams are often working remotely. Social isolation can lead to physical and mental health problems, as well as poor performance and slow cognitive function.  

On the other hand, we know that employees who have meaningful relationships at work are more engaged, more productive and perform better. One of the benefits of mentoring is that it fosters connections among people by creating deeper relationships.

There is truth to the saying that “it’s lonely at the top.” For senior-level employees, finding a mentor outside of their organization can help them connect to other leaders in their industry or community. In this case, the mentor is able to provide unbiased guidance, advice and feedback on difficult situations, decisions and discussions. This relationship also allows a senior-level mentee to find a broader context to leadership styles, processes and insights. 

Mentoring Provides Clarity

It is sometimes said that there are three kinds of knowledge—what you know, what you don’t know, and what you don’t know that you don’t know. As we go about our daily work, it is easy to get caught up in the demands of our current role and the urgency of those daily demands. Too often, we forget to make time to consider our personal development. When we find a moment to think about what we want to learn, we seldom have the information or the presence of mind to determine where to begin. Mentoring helps create clarity by helping mentees know what they don’t know, understand their strengths, set goals and work with intention on their own development.
Senior-level employees may have to make increasingly difficult decisions in situations they have never faced before, and those decisions often have ramifications for the whole organization. The “right” course of action is not always clear. It is often valuable to get an outside perspective to understand what consequences might ensue or how their decisions might be perceived. A mentor can provide that perspective and serve as a sounding board so that the executive mentee can manage their own bias, identify blind spots and make important decisions with greater confidence and clarity.

Mentoring Increases Competency

Most mentees want to become better at doing their job, and they see mentoring as a vehicle to accelerate their competency. When mentors and mentees do the work of building trust and setting salient goals, mentoring pairs often see demonstrable progress to let them know they are becoming more competent.

In a 2015 study by Suzanne de Janasz and Maury Peiperl titled CEOs Need Mentors Too, of 45 CEOs in formal mentoring relationships, 84 percent said mentors helped them avoid costly mistakes and became proficient in their roles faster and 68 percent reported making better decisions.  

The need for a mentor does not evaporate with seniority—because we never outgrow the need to learn, to develop and to create meaningful working relationships.

Originally published on the HRPS blog.


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