Five reasons why mentoring is critical to leadership development

12 April 2019

Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams, reflects on why mentorship should matter to businesses when it comes to developing future leadership.

Cultivating future leadership from within is a growing trend in many businesses. It’s great for ensuring the long-term stability of the business because existing leaders won’t be around forever. Growing your own leaders from within requires mentorship – and here are five reasons why companies should do it.

More and more workers are expecting mentorship

As millennial employees and the generations that follow are beginning to represent larger portions of the workforce, studies show that they are seeking greater mentorship from their employers. The Huffington Post has reported that 79% of the millennial workforce see mentoring as critical to their workplace success. Research by Deloitte has suggested that millennial workers who intend to stay with an organisation for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor than not. 

Employers should recognise this as a good sign. It shows that those entering the workforce are hungry to excel in their roles and believe in staying with the business long term if they are given the opportunity to develop. 

Mentorship grows a stronger internal talent pool

For many employees, the level of mentorship will determine how long they intend to stay with the business. Further research by Deloitte has revealed that 43% of millennial workers plan on quitting their current job within two years. Let’s not let the terminology blind us from the facts – the millennial generation represents a significant portion of the workforce. Employers should begin to consider how they can satisfy the demand for increased mentorship. Not only will this stabilise workforce retention and reduce the cost of procuring external talent, it will provide a stronger talent pool for future leadership.

Mentoring is critical to leadership development

There is, in fact, stronger demand on leadership to confidently navigate businesses through disruption. Evolving technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, changing customer demands, globalisation, and now nationalism, are all disruptive factors that pose a risk to businesses today. Mentoring will be critical to ensuring those who understand these growing challenges also understand how to lead effectively. 

Mentors can see what others can’t

BLT’s latest research on UK leadership training programmes uncovers a divide between HR and line managers when it comes to taking ownership of leadership development. A mentor will give the business greater visibility of how and where those taking part in development programmes can improve. Line managers might not get this visibility and HR certainly won’t, as they have limited face time with each person. Most importantly, the mentor can communicate this back to those undergoing development, making sure the feedback is constructive and that achievements are highlighted too. 

Mentors facilitate strong relationships across the business

Mentors are more than role models. When they recognise the areas where people need support, they can connect them with others in the organisation who are experts in the relevant subject area and can provide the support required. Relationships build from these connections and these relationships will be important to continued development over time. Strong leadership relies on strong relationships, so by the time people reach the point where they’re ready to take up the leadership mantle, many of those relationships will be in place within the organisation. 

Mentors can continue to grow through mentoring

While it’s obvious that businesses and the individuals undergoing development will benefit from mentorship, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there are many benefits for mentors, too. For someone who’s been in the organisation for a while, the opportunity to become a mentor can be energising, re-igniting the individual’s engagement in the business and creating a stronger sense of value through the impact they’re having on the business.

Mentoring others can build confidence and help individuals learn more about themselves, while increasing their own skillset. Ultimately mentoring presents an opportunity to create a legacy within the organisation which can be passed down as mentees become mentors, providing the business with a consistent supply of strong, homegrown leadership on demand.


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Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.