The Best Leaders are Mentors
February 13, 2015 Leave a comment
It’s an age-old question: are good leaders born, or created? Are the skills required to become a successful leader developed over time, or are they something so inextricably tied to personality that one born a leader will excel at it, while one who is not cannot hope to succeed? While history has certainly provided us with many examples of leaders who are successful by nature, that is the anomaly and not the commonplace.
Instead, many leaders begin as inexperienced and likely unsure of themselves when they are first tasked with leading others. However, they learn to overcome these issues with the help of dedicated mentors to teach them the ropes and teach them how to become successful leaders. To create a leader, a teacher and mentor is necessary.
Keith Krach, the chairman and CEO of DocuSign, is a real-life testament to the positive impact mentoring can have on one’s career. Krach graduated from Purdue as a General Motors (GM) Scholar. GM paid for his education at Harvard, where he received an MBA. Then Krach returned to GM, rising quickly through the ranks and becoming the youngest VP in company history at the age of 26. However, his tenure at GM was cut short after 10 years when he left to co-found Ariba, a software company, in 1996.
While he did not plan on spending his entire career at GM, he does credit his mentors at GM for providing what he calls “the most important learning experience during his journey to founding Ariba.”
He learned even more from his mentor at Ariba: John Chambers, now the CEO of Cisco Systems. Krach recalled of Chambers, “he said: ‘Keith, you can ask me anything. All I ask is you do this for someone else one day.’”
Krach and Chambers are a good example of the kind of bond that can develop between mentor and student, as well as how mentorship is something that a person carries with them throughout their professional life. Mentoring is a type of professional development that generally involves one-on-one training with a less experienced employee learning from the skills and experiences of a more experience employee. Since these one-on-one interactions and learning experiences are intimate and personal, they also serve to create a strong relationship between the two people involved, which has benefits beyond professional development.
While it is possible to learn the hard skills of any profession by climbing the ladder and accumulating new skills and knowledge, many of the soft skills necessary to become a successful leader are not. These skills include the ability to work with others in a position of authority, to delegate tasks, to make decisions, and to lead and train others.
These soft skills are best learned from someone who knows what to do and is willing to help a new leader learn the ropes, in other words a willing mentor. Mentors are useful for developing professionals because they can provide a new leader with advice during their transition, as well as being someone to bounce ideas off of and confide in during trying times.
It’s important to consider that there are several different types of mentoring as well, including group mentoring (as part of a group instead of strictly one-on-one), peer mentoring (with a peer instead of with a more skilled employee), and flash mentoring, mentoring for short periods of time, generally with many different people in a style reminiscent of speed-dating.
Mentoring is a vital process for sharing and exchanging valuable skills and information from person to person, and even across generations. We can be sure that we will have quality leaders in the future, just so long as they have mentors to guide them.