Ask the OD Doctors: How Can I Prepare to Mentor My Young Leaders?

Ask the OD Doctors: How Can I Prepare to Mentor My Young Leaders?

Reflections and Thoughts by Dr. Lily Cheng

Founder and Chief OD Catalyst


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Coaching involves four critical leadership practices: Mentoring, Consulting, Counselling and Training. These practices are important in unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. Mentoring, however, is very much lacking in today’s superlative dynamic environment because time is limited for the leaders of today to balance strategy, execution, leading, managing and project management. 


There is no question that every leader in senior positions know the importance of succession planning, talent management and building up the leadership pipeline to ensure business sustainability. How then do we as leaders find the time to mentor and bring out the best in the young leaders of our organisations?


For leaders to make full use of their time with their mentees, leaders can adopt the principle of the 70:20:10 concept. 70% of their time should be spent mentoring young leaders on the job, in the context of their role within the organisation. 20% of their time is then allocated to reviewing peer learning while the remaining 10% is spent sending young leaders to formal learning, thereafter taking the time to review what they learned.


To help leaders create effective on the job mentoring activities (the 70%) that are targeted at raising the leadership readiness of young leaders, here is a framework you can consider when you mentor your young leaders:


#1 Organisation-fit mentoring

The idea: Intentional mentoring engagements centered on speeding up the assimilation of young leaders to help them better understand the future of the business and the right culture needed for the organisation to thrive.  


When young leaders champion strategic activities, it requires them to have a good grasp of the past, present and future strategic directions of the organisation. It also encourages them to participate in the culture transformational journey of the organisation once they establish the organisation’s strategic directions. Walking alongside them throughout this strategic process is the best opportunity for you to mentor them and prepare them to be part of the future of the organisation. 


In my experience, what has helped me mentor and empower my young leaders is getting them involved in the preparation phase of our strategic planning process.  They are assigned to spearhead discussions on critical topics like market intelligence, SWOT analysis of the organisation, sense making of past and existing data on business achievements and failures. However, not all of my young leaders have the potential to do this, so I select the top 10% of my young leaders to lead this effort. I will personally mentor them, review their findings, and hear their perspectives before the strategic planning sessions with the rest of the organisation.


Quick tips for leaders:

1. Selection of data - Mentor your young leaders on data selection. Guide them to think about where they should look for information and what not to look for.

2. Analysis of data - Provide young leaders with quality questions to facilitate better thinking processes when they analyse the data.

3. Presentation of data - Allow them to explore how they would like to present the findings and interpretations; this is a great opportunity in the mentoring process for them to demonstrate the quality of their thinking.


ROIs of organisation-fit mentoring: Improved productivity and greater organisation strength.


#2 Job-fit mentoring

The idea: Intentional job rotation activities for selected young leaders to explore their capabilities and potential to stretch.


Having young leaders take up different portfolios for a period of 3 to 6 months will encourage learning agility as they will be required to perform in situations with different or steep learning curves. This requires us as leaders to be willing to take risks with them by allowing them to do real work and not merely become observers of the process.  


In my experience, this form of mentoring is one of the best ways to get them highly engaged, highly productive and highly rewarded. 99.9% of this intentional mentoring has turned out really well as these young leaders take on higher level of responsibilities with almost complete understanding of the business relationships and workplace relationships needed to succeed in the business. Truly, these young leaders stay with you longer.


Quick tips for leaders:

  1. Selected young leaders must have a positive attitude towards job rotation. As we do not expect them to fully contribute to a particular business area for the entire 12 months, we must be prepared to do short term appraisals that fairly assess their contributions. 
  2. Young leaders who succeed in this job-fit mentoring are those who tend to be more open to risk-taking. 
  3. It is key to monitor their energy levels throughout their involvement in this form of mentoring. Generally, I find that they are highly charged and driven to see tangible outcomes.
  4. On a quarterly basis, you will need to check in with your young leaders on their achievements and challenges faced to ensure that you provide recognition as well as solutions. 


ROIs of job-fit mentoring: Builds workplace relationships with key stakeholders, peers and customers, and improves one's interpersonal skills at work.


#3 Career-fit mentoring

The idea: Intentional and deep expert-driven mentoring activities that require young leaders to delve deep into the nuts and bolts of the core areas of the business.  


Allow your leaders to be mentored by the best of the best in your organisation to encourage them to grow roots in their areas of expertise. In my experience, there are some young leaders who prefer to specialists in their career rather than generalists. You will need to provide clear procedural mentoring activities for them to build strong foundations in the core business areas. Also ensure that time is given to explore and experiment with new ideas for the business, and knowledge management system in the organisation. 


Quick tips for leaders to be aware of:

1. Selected mentors must have deep expertise for such mentoring, for young leaders to succeed.

2. Watch out for mentors who may not enable young leaders to explore and experiment - you will need to check your young leaders’ knowledge and understanding continuously.

3. As a mentor, you need to pull the brake when your young leaders dive in too deep as they can get lost in their search for greater depth and understanding.

4. Work with them on new, novel projects to facilitate meaningful mentoring with your seasoned expertise, so as to raise their meaning at work and meaning in work in their expert roles.


ROIs of career-fit mentoring: Better work quality and greater job satisfaction at work.


I hope the above tips provide you with refreshing insights on how to mentor your young leaders. Start a conversation with me on mentoring solutions by writing to to share your own tips!


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