Mentoring Future Leaders

Here’s a little secret most consultants, especially those who “teach” leadership, don’t want you to know. 

Leadership cannot be taught, it must be experienced. 

You can teach people about the various characteristics of effective leaders. You can teach them about personality types and how that determines a person’s response to different leadership styles. You can teach them about those different leadership styles and when to apply them. 

You can and should teach them all of that. But you can’t actually teach them to use any of it. They must see that knowledge in action and they must experience what it feels like when they are led. 

That’s why one of the most important parts of any future leadership development program has to involve the current leadership. Every leader, every single leader in an organization must be involved in mentoring the organization’s future leaders. 

Every senior level leader should be mentoring a mid-level leader. Every mid-level leader should be mentoring an entry level leader. Yes, that means people being mentored are also mentoring others. That all assumes of course that the leadership mentors are indeed effective Authentic Leaders. Assigning a poor leader as a mentor might actually be worse than letting a new leader figure it out for themselves. 

If you think you can send a person to some leadership classes and then sit back and watch them lead then you need to seriously reconsider your thinking. You can learn about leadership in a classroom but you only learn to lead by seeing and experiencing leadership in action.

Most people lead the way they were led. A great leadership class or even a lengthy leadership program doesn’t do much to change that. That’s a shame but it’s also reality. If a person was led by poor leaders throughout their careers then it’s very likely they will be a poor leader themselves. That’s because their “model” of leadership was poor. 

People learn about driving in a classroom but they learn to drive by driving. You can’t learn to fly without a plane and you can’t learn to swim without water. Why anyone would think you can learn to lead without actually leading is beyond my ability to comprehend.

If you want to develop future leaders then allow them the opportunity to lead while being mentored by a proven Authentic Leader. Any other type of leadership “training” will miss the mark. 

2 thoughts on “Mentoring Future Leaders

  1. Another example of mentoring is the medical profession with “levels” of practicing beginning in medical school and advancing to intern and then a residency in a specialty before being recognized as a “leader” in a particular field. I had the pleasure of teaching third year residents in a family practice program in a hospital for a few years. I observed their interactions with patients both in person and via video and we had a seminar once a week for class work. So, my point is most of that training was in the actual practice, thus we have a medical practice or a law practice, with the practioners being the physicians and attorneys.

    1. Great example Gary. There are things we just can’t learn is a classroom setting. I would think coaching on interactions with real patients would be invaluable to a young doctor. I’m betting they have never had a difficult conversation with a Cadaver but difficult conversations with living patients could be a huge challenge and learning opportunity.

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