To develop future leaders, you need to give them mentors

07 Dec
December 7, 2017

Susy Roberts, 7th December 2017

Traditional succession planning is becoming increasingly difficult, thanks to the ruthless post-2008, post-Brexit job landscape.

Can leaders change their leadership style?

Economic uncertainty means that even the most stable of organisations always have one eye on the balance sheet, and it’s impossible to climb up the career ladder if half of the rungs could be whipped away following a poor financial performance.

As a result, promising young individuals are taking their talent where they see a future. Fast-track graduate schemes and management progression plans are only valuable as long as they provide certainty and consistency, and if someone comes along with a better offer, the psychological contracts of old no longer apply.

In order to remain the most attractive option, you must offer your young talent something that no-one else can, and it’s not an expensive package of perks. To see a future with an organisation, evidence shows talented performers need a connection, a goal and trust at the top – a simple and effective way to achieve that is to pair them with a mentor.

There’s a huge amount of evidence to show that mentoring has a powerful impact on professional growth, career advancement, and career mobility of the protégé. Mentors experience a renewed commitment to their profession, while organisations which promote mentoring to achieve business goals benefit from improved employee performance, increased commitment, an improved flow of organisational information and a leadership team ready to accomplish its objectives.

By shifting the focus from policies and performance reviews to executive coaching and mentoring from the top down and the bottom up, it’s possible to encourage loyalty and develop future leaders who drive the culture and ethos of an organisation.

Evidence shows we’re drawn to people like ourselves: a University of Minnesota study showed that economic and social behaviour was significantly affected by a series of identity traits; those who were shown someone more similar to themselves in a work situation had a significantly increased level of engagement. Quite simply, if a person is shown a success and given something to aim for, they’ll aspire to be that person.

So how should mentoring work in practice?

First and foremost, it should be kept simple and informal. The aim is to have a trusting relationship in which the protégé can confide in their mentor with any hopes, fears, issues and successes. And, while they are inevitably being judged on their performance, it’s in terms of their potential as a future leader, not in how they’re carrying out their role. As soon as forms begin to be filled and boxes start being ticked, it turns into a performance review and they’ll be focusing on those quick-win scores, not on developing their leadership skills.

By choosing leaders in a different department or a different part of the organisation, the protégé can speak freely without feeling they’re being line managed. Taking the time to match people well and look for similar backgrounds will significantly increase chances of mentoring success. The University of Minnesota’s study found that similarities in gender, religion, ethnicity, background, preferences for food, music art and sport all triggered positive affiliations, whereas those with differing preferences – supporting a rival sports team, for example – established less favourable outcomes.

The aim is to nurture and develop, not to score or rank. Establishing a process in which talent can bounce ideas off a senior colleague who has the traits which have been identified as desirable allows the mentee to develop without fear of reprisal.

Mentoring schemes are simple, cost-effective and much easier to manage than complicated formal development mechanisms. By implementing a simple scheme, where those who want to mentor can be paired with an ambitious mentee, we can give those who want to rise to the top role models and aspirations and proof that it can be done.


If you would like to discuss enhancing the employee experience at your organisation, by clarifying your mission, moulding roles around people or adopting strengths-based performance measures, please call us on +44(0)1270 750232 or email


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