Executive Mentoring 101: Develop Leadership Skills

It's easy to think that corporate mentoring is geared only toward new employees, junior associates, or people fresh out of college or business school.

But that couldn't be further from the truth. Mentoring is a lifelong process. Think about the mentors you had as a kid: family members, coaches, teachers...you likely didn't have just one mentor who guided you to adulthood. You probably had several who played different roles and who helped you learn different things.

The same is true for those "veterans" in any company or organization. In fact, we believe mentoring at the executive level is just as important as mentoring at the junior level.


Your junior employees are tomorrow's leaders, but your executives are today's leaders -- and they need guidance now more than ever. Mentoring can help them develop:

  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • Charismatic leadership

So how does executive mentoring work? While the traditional method of one-to-one mentoring probably comes to mind, here are three other models that often appeal to executives.

1. Self-directed Mentoring
What it is: Self-directed mentoring offers some of the features provided by one-to-one mentoring. The main difference is that mentors and mentorees are not interviewed and matched accordingly by a mentoring program manager. Instead, mentors agree to add their names to a list of available mentors from which a mentoree can choose. It's up to a mentoree to initiate the process, asking one of the volunteer mentors for assistance.

Pros: This model can work well if your organization's corporate culture prides itself on its independent spirit and members know how to take the initiative (a trait that's likely present in many people at the executive level). While it's critical, from our perspective anyway, that someone monitors the program and that the organization agrees on the program's main objectives, this model can also work if a program manager is not available.

Cons: This model typically enjoys only limited support within the organization and may result in mismatched mentor-mentoree pairings.

2. Employee-Alumni Mentoring
What it is: A handful of large companies have supported the concept of corporate alumni for years. McKinsey, for one, has long had a tradition of following alumni as corporate ambassadors, spreading the McKinsey ethic into their new positions.

More recently, however, companies have begun to realize the potential inherent in linking employees and alums. The Big Four accounting firms, for example, have all rebuilt their alumni programs in the last several years under this premise: alumni are an excellent source for recruitment, new business development, and brand promotion.

Pros: Mentoring helps to provide value to both employees and alums while fostering lasting bonds to attract "boomerang" workers. At the same time, this model helps retain current workers by showing (via the relationship with the alums) that they can have a long lasting and enriching career with the organization.

Cons: You already have the main resource -- your alumni. Organizing them is another issue, so this particular model might take more time to ramp up than a traditional one-to-one program. Dedicated alumni portals, publications, event programming, directories, social media tools... these are the types of things you'll need to set up in order to support the program. Once it's set up, however, the sky's the limit.

3. Reverse Mentoring
What it is: This model matches senior executives (the mentorees) with younger people (the mentors) to help the older generation stay current and informed about new technologies or trends. For example, a 20-something employee may introduce a senior executive to social networking on Facebook or Twitter.

Pros: Considering the speed at which technology changes, this mentoring model is becoming more popular and important.

Cons: We'd argue that reverse mentoring isn't really mentoring at all -- it's coaching. Whatever you call it, this model is still an effective way to keep top executives productive and happy.

Wondering what type of mentoring would be best for your organization? Contact us today and let's talk.

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