The role of mentorship in leadership  

BAETZ Tobias 

NUTZ Melanie 



In today’s fast-paced business world, the role of mentorship in leadership is more important than ever and requires a continuous process of life-long learning, adaptation, and growth in organizations. Mentorship can support leaders in the everyday challenges of today’s work life and support them to build stronger teams as well as providing a diverse working culture. In the last few years, there has been more awareness of the benefits of mentorship. Nowadays companies face many challenges to be an attractive employer for potential employees. With the support of mentorship, future leaders will have to focus on the concept of mentorship to meet the needs and preferences of their colleagues and team members.  

Definition of mentorship and its role in leadership   

Mentorship builds leadership skills. A mentor is a teacher and role model for future leaders, so-called mentees. With the help of their mentor, mentees explore uncovered areas and their leadership skills by following their mentors’ footsteps. (Reeves, 2021.) 
According to Rothwell and Chee (2012), mentoring includes inspiring, motivating, and encouraging mentees to enable their growth.  
Mentoring is a one-on-one guidance process, where a mentor is an experienced internal or external person and provides advice for a less experienced employee. Due to the unique value of mentoring it gains more importance of leadership development nowadays. (Harvard Business Review, 2022.)   
The role of leadership in mentoring is to prepare employees for their future leader role and motivates them due to more responsibilities and knowledge. With the concept of mentoring in leadership both, the mentor and mentee, benefit in different ways and add value to teams. (Cook, 2022.)  
As Colin James (2019), a successful founder, speaker, and lead facilitator, says: “They will feel a stronger connection to you as a leader and the organization as a whole for investing in their skills and future”. And in the words of George Kohlrieser (Harvard Business Review, 2022), a professor of leadership and organizational behavior, “Great leaders become a secure base for others by creating trust and by providing energy and support to encourage their employees to take risks and seize new opportunities.”   

In an organization Mentors offer guidance and are role models that inspire future leaders. With Mentorship, leadership skills are built very effectively and offer more than the traditional way of online courses and classroom-style learning with tick boxes and reading. (Reeves, 2021.)  
A study published in the Harvard Business Review (2022, 5.), found that relationship-based types of development are more effective and 54% of respondents rate mentoring as very or extremely effective. The Harvard Business Review (2022, 1.) indicates that “40% of organizations that use coaching or mentoring report that their organization has realized better retention of desired talent, compared to 24% of those that do not use mentoring or coaching”.  

Benefits of mentorship  

For some companies and organizations, the topic of mentorship is not familiar yet. Therefore, for them to incorporate this practice into their organizational routine, the benefits, and possible drawbacks must be considered and evaluated first.   

Overall, mentorship can have an impact on several levels. First of all, it can be of great advantage on an organizational level, influencing engagement, retention, and productivity rates. As well as that, mentorship being a relationship between two individuals – the mentor and the mentee, is beneficial for both parties but from different perspectives. To illustrate each aspect in depth, and to ensure the validity of the information, several resources and examples will be provided.  

Starting from the broader picture – the organizational level, it becomes clear how much mentorship programs can elevate overall performance and satisfaction of the employees, as well as boost company’s ratings and revenues. For instance, 100% of the TOP 50 of “500 US Fortune companies” have mentoring programs. In addition to that, with mentoring programs, Fortune 500 companies’ median profits were more than three times higher than those without. On top of this, according to Springtide Research Institute, 82% of Gen Z employees prefer to have a mentor to assist them with setting goals. (Cook, 2023.)    

Having those arguments, it is also important to understand what mentorship can bring to participants of the program – the mentees. One of the primary advantages is that it is a good way of acquiring new knowledge and skills, learning new methodologies and approaches. It is especially impactful for those who are just getting started in their career, so they can learn from the mentor’s failures and successes to avoid common pitfalls.  

The potential to assist the mentee in expanding their professional network is yet another advantage of mentorship. A tutor who has been in the field for quite a while is most probably already having a broad range of contacts and partners, so the mentee can get acquainted with them and possibly get new opportunities or valuable advice, which can help with the career development.  

The mentee may also benefit from mentoring by gaining self-assurance and confidence. Mentoring relationships can provide “a source of emotional and psychological support” that can help the mentee feel more confident in their abilities, according to a study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior (Ragins & McFarlin, 1990). The mentor can offer the mentee constructive feedback and assist them in determining their strengths and weaknesses, both of which can be extremely helpful in boosting the mentee’s self-assurance and assisting them in achieving their objectives.  

Finally, mentorship can be a satisfying and fulfilling experience for the mentor as well. Mentoring relationships can provide mentors with “a sense of personal fulfillment and accomplishment,” according to a study published in the Journal of Management (Scandura & Williams, 2004). They might also find that mentoring gives them a chance to think back on their own experiences and learn from someone who is just getting started. 

Finding the right mentor 

Establishing a mentoring relationship  

“While 76% of working professionals believe that a mentor is important to growth, more than 54% do not have such a relationship” (Horoszowski, 2020). The problem is often that people don’t know how to find a mentor or establish a relationship. 

A mentor-mentee relationship is a professional and interpersonal relationship between a mentor and a protege aiming to offer advice, guidance, and new skills.  

First of all, before anything else, the mentee has to define his goals and specific needs by writing out his career goals and listing out some of the biggest obstacles to achieving them. Secondly, for the mentee, it is essential to know what his “ideal mentor” is by trying to think about what kind of personality would fit him and his needs best. After searching for and finding the right mentor, the key to success is simply defining the relationship from the beginning. The mentee has to share all the information with the mentor, ask for what he wants and needs from him by being the clearest in his words and expectations. Nevertheless, what each part has to be reminded of is to make this discussion an open dialogue where everyone feels free to express themselves. On one hand, the needs of the mentee have to be considered in a very serious way but on another hand, it is crucial to know how the mentor sees things. Find out how much time they are willing to invest themselves and build a schedule based on that. Both parties have to listen closely to make sure there is agreement. (Horoszowski, 2020). 

In addition to these elements that make it possible to build a great and healthy relationship, research published in Academic Medicine has shown that successful mentoring relationships must include the following elements: shared respect, shared values, a personal connection, a discernment of altruism and an active listening. (Horoszowski, 2020). 

Key skills and competencies for mentors  

Among the comprehensive list of key skills for mentors, active listening is, from the beginning of the relationship to the end, the skill that the mentor must have if this one wants this relationship to work. Being fully attentive to the individual when they are speaking and identifying nonverbal forms of communication are components of active listening. (Indeed Editorial Team, 2022). 

Secondly, one that makes sense is relationship skills. Mentors should appreciate human contact, provide guidance and be empathic, someone who cares about people. It will allow the mentor to build trusting relationships and help assess and recognize the characteristics of the mentee. Due to that, the mentor will be able to cooperate better and help the mentee overcome challenges in professional life. (Indeed Editorial Team, 2022). 

Then, a skill that is fundamental but not the easiest to develop is the ability to provide constructive feedback. Constructive feedback involves evaluating progress, giving thoughtful advice and forming strategies to support a mentee while they’re attaining their goals. Feedback, if it is not positive, is not always easy to receive depending on the personality of the mentee. Thus, the mentor must find his own way, own communication, to give constructive feedback without misunderstandings and by making it clear that it is for the good of the mentee. (Indeed Editorial Team, 2022). 

Furthermore, the capacity to govern your own emotions, attitudes and behaviors involves the use of self-management skills. For instance, having the ability to respond emphatically to the mentee’s views, even if they’re different from the mentor’s, organizing goals for the mentee and abiding by deadlines to help them meet those goals and prioritizing mentorship responsibilities; these are ways of acting that the mentor must learn to develop. (Indeed Editorial Team, 2022). 

Finally, having coaching skills is more than necessary. Coaching is not being the boss of someone, giving orders, but rather helping them to discover their own solutions and actions. Coaching helps mentors to empower the mentee, enhance their self-awareness and confidence, and facilitate their learning and growth. (Indeed Editorial Team, 2022). 

There is a famous model, called GROW, which helps practice coaching for mentors. The GROW model, which stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will allows to guide the mentee through a structured process of setting goals, assessing the current situation, exploring possible options, and committing to actions (Mind Tools Content Team, 2023).  

Key skills and competencies for mentees  

Firstly, as it was said for the mentor, active listening is the skill that the mentee must have as well if this one wants this relationship to work. This is a lot more than a simple relationship between two colleagues. The mentor is competent in this field, knows what his role is, and which advice to give regarding a specific person. The mentee had better pay close attention and take the mentor’s advice seriously. (Reeves. M, 2018). 

In the same vein, a great mentee is someone who is able to accept criticism positively. A person who is not stubborn, who is open-minded, ready to make efforts and always wants to improve himself. Those are the characteristics of someone who has everything to succeed. Once again, the mentor is here to help the mentee in his professional development and not to belittle him. (Reeves. M, 2018). 

This is in line with the 3rd skill; the mentee should be always in continuous learning. Indeed, if the mentee wanted a mentor to help him grow up in different ways, this means that the mentee still has some things to learn. This is the case for everyone throughout their lives. The mentee, and in the end, everyone else, must never believe that we have nothing left to learn, that everything is learned, understood and acquired. The mentee must have a philosophy that we can always explore new things, and that we can always do better. Thus, mentees need to be hard workers. A mentoring relationship will require extra time and energy, so they have to demonstrate a willingness to work hard without ever giving up. It is with determination and perseverance that the mentee will achieve his goals. (Reeves. M, 2018) 

Measuring the impact of mentorship 

To really measure the impact of mentorship in leadership it can be helpful to use this step-by-step guide: At first, define one or more goals for the mentoring program and design it accordingly. Then try to use a framework model to measure the effectiveness of the program. In the next step you can gather both quantitative and qualitative data to measure the impact of the program. The last step is to analyze and to interpret the data and align metrics with goals to build a compelling story of mentoring´s value (Schnieders, 2020).  

According to the research done by Wronski and Cohen (2019) it is very interesting to see: The lower the position of the individuals in the company is, the more they want to have a mentor. Especially for individuals or managers, a mentor can have a huge benefit for the workers. For vice presents or even c-suits like CEO or CFO, the wish for a mentor isn’t that high anymore. The reasons for that are simple. As a vice president or CEO, you already are at the top of the company, and you are not able anymore to improve higher. It is also common that CEOs already had mentors in their life and have already learned a lot, so that it is just not necessary for them anymore to have someone by their side (Wronski and Cohen, 2019). All in all, we can see that employees rate their chances to improve their career higher if they have a mentor by their side.    

Overcoming challenges in mentorship    

Last but not least, we want to take a short outlook on overcoming challenges in mentorship. As we already mentioned before, a very important key point is to clarify goals and expectations to avoid a lack of clarity. It is also very important to ensure diversity and inclusivity in mentorship programs to avoid bias and discrimination. (Mentoringcomplete, 2018.)  

Difficulties in matching the right mentors and mentees are also common mistakes. Therefore, it is very important to take a closer look at both personalities before starting a mentorship program. Also challenges or changes in the organization that may affect or interrupt the mentoring program should also be avoided. (Reeves, 2022.) 

As mentorship programs continue to evolve, addressing these challenges will become increasingly important in creating successful programs. Also, the incorporation of technology and innovative program design can provide new opportunities to overcome traditional barriers and limitations in mentorship.  


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