Perspectives: Great Leaders Are Great Mentors

August 12, 2013

by Steve Adubato, Ph.D. for NJTV

We all need mentors at critical points in our professional lives. Being a mentor is an important part of leadership. Our success as leaders is often judged on how effective we are in mentoring and developing others. It’s not good enough that you become the best at what YOU do. That’s not a real leader; that’s an expert, and there is a huge difference between the two.

Consider the following tips and tools on how to effectively mentor those around you:

  • Catch people on your team doing things right. Often as leaders and managers, it is so easy to jump on people when they make a mistake. I know I do it more often than I should. Of course we need to respond and deal directly with performance issues, but at the same time, we must be vigilant in recognizing and celebrating when team members succeed. Mentoring is about communicating to someone what they did right, why it is important to the team, and what specific behavior needs to be replicated in the future and why. If a leader fails to communicate in this fashion, the team member will fail to be motivated or inspired, which is a missed opportunity, not just for a leader, but for the entire team.
  • Put people in a position to succeed. Think through the respective strengths and weaknesses of those on your team. Avoid putting people in positions just because you need to “fill a slot.” Smart leaders identify the best writers and then put those people in positions to write on behalf of the team. Poor leaders take very weak writers and insist that they write and then are continually frustrated when a poor work product is delivered. Of course we need to develop people in areas where they can improve, however, this should not be done by putting them in a position to fail. Consider people with poor communication skills who don’t like interacting with others being put in charge of customer service. That’s ridiculous. Instead, take the person who is highly personable and put THAT person in charge of customer service. Sounds simple, but many leaders fail to get this mentoring step right.
  • Mentoring is a two-way street. It’s one thing to communicate specific goals that YOU would like a mentee to accomplish, but it is also important that the mentee is given the opportunity to tell you what he or she thinks is important. If a mentor is driving the entire process and setting the goals, without the active participation of the mentee, there won’t be sufficient “buy in” or engagement. That’s why creating a two-way street with open communication is critical to effective mentoring.
  • Push the envelope. It is essential that a mentor communicates to a mentee a level of confidence about his or her potential. One of the best things that someone can say about a leader who has helped develop him is, “He believed more in me than I believed in myself.” When a mentee sees that you have confidence in him and his ability, it has the potential to cause him to be more confident. Why? Because the mentee figures, “If someone so successful thinks I am capable of accomplishing this task, then maybe the mentor is right.”
  • Stay with it. Even if the mentee gets defensive when you deliver hard to hear feedback, it is essential that you communicate that you are being direct, “Because I care about you and your future. The only way you are going to get better is by having hard conversations like this.” Stick with it, even if you don’t get the reaction you’d like at first.  Effective mentoring is definitely a marathon, not a sprint.

Write to me at if you’ve been a mentor or have had a great mentor in your professional life.