New-Age guru Deepak Chopra observed: “A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recognizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.”
Mentoring is about learning from another’s experience and advice. It is a relationship between two people in which the more experienced person offers support, guidance, and counselling to enhance a protégé’s success at work and in other areas of life. Whereas coaching instructs and develops people, mentoring involves and empowers them to contribute to organizational goals.
The leader as mentor uses experience and expertise to imbue followers with greater insight and ability. As teachers, they know that people empowered with knowledge make a more potent force for change. They answer how we are going to get there. Their organizations disseminate critical information.
The leader as mentor also understands the ethical dimension and the need to exercise judgement on difficult issues. The core of principle-centred leadership is integrity – exemplified by 1991 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi’s stand on freedom and democracy in Myanmar. Ethical organizations share values and beliefs and operate with integrity.
Mentors have a passion to help. Ideally, they are senior managers with broad remits that can open doors, act as a sounding board, and thrive on others’ success. They are role models who are listeners, learners, care-givers, and optimists. They are humble, honest, and tolerant.
Mentors find it rewarding but mean business. They can be tough on the ego – pointing out weaknesses, pushing hard, expecting results. They represent a long-term commitment. The ability to confide in someone with decades of experience can be a key strategic advantage for the organization. Mentoring can also help manage diversity and minimize intergroup conflict in organizations.
Deputy Ministers in the Ontario Public Service value employee engagement, diversity, and affinity groups. But some say that support for young professionals and middle managers does not focus enough on traditional values – loyalty, dedication, functionality, hard work, experience, recognition. They favour intentional leadership development via job shadowing and mentorship programs.
Mentoring is also an integral part of professional exchanges, networks, and communities of practice. Senior finance, budget, and audit officials from 40 Commonwealth countries have been mentored and exposed to workplace learning by shadowing counterparts. In this way, the Commonwealth transfers knowledge and skills from higher to lower-capacity institutions through south-south cooperation.