We often mirror what we see. Coaches will model the behavior of successful coaches they know or observe, sometimes with detrimental results. Similarly, business leaders model other business leaders or when necessary, try to do the opposite, whatever that might be.
Too often, though, we choose people to mirror or model, and leadership books to read, solely for the purpose of figuring out how to win more games or increase our financial bottom line. In the process of looking for leadership models to emulate, we choose people who have won a lot of games or who have made a lot of money for themselves or their organizations, with little thought given to how they have affected the lives of the people around them.
In my life and career, I have seen all kinds of leaders. The ones who have had the greatest positive impact on my life are the select few who have been not only leaders but also mentors. Here are four essential traits of a mentor leader to keep in mind.
1. Becoming a mentor leader is not rocket science. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing about it. Leadership consists of principles and skills that are accessible to anyone and everyone. They aren’t necessarily intuitive, but they aren’t terribly difficult, either.
2. Mentor leadership can be taught and learned; but in order to be absorbed, it must be practiced. The best way to evaluate leadership philosophies and find your own style is by testing them in action. You can’t stay in the ivory tower reading books and discussing theories. Eventually, you have to wade into the fray.
3. Mentor leadership focuses on developing the strengths of individuals. It might be in a fairly narrow way, such as building a specific skill, or more broadly focused, such as teaching employees to be proactive about meeting others’ needs so they can better support the organization. Successful mentor leaders make the people they lead better players, workers, students, or family members and ultimately, better people.
4. Mentor leadership works best when the ones being mentored are aware that the mentor leader has a genuine concern for their development and success. Those we lead will be more receptive if they believe we genuinely want them to succeed.