performance excellence

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


Have a burning question that you always wanted to ask our OD Doctors, Dr. Lily Cheng and Dr. Peter Cheng? Do email us at and we’ll reply you within 5 working days. The featured question in our Ask The OD Doctors section will receive a mystery gift from us!


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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When And How To Say No To Work

When and How to say no to work 

By Joel Cheng

Director, Strategic Partnerships (ODI)


For people who work in organisations as part of a team, it’s almost inevitable that various work requests will be sent your way - be it in the form of a manager asking you to complete a report or a colleague asking for help on an unfinished project. More often than not, our attitude should be to approach such requests in a helpful manner, as ultimately we’re all working towards achieving our organisation’s goals. However, there’ll be occasions when you have to say “NO” to work. 

This might sound strange, but in certain situations and circumstances, accepting extra work can actually be detrimental to both your personal goals and the organisation’s. Let’s take a look at WHEN such situations can arise and HOW we should handle them. 




1. It distracts you from completing key tasks

As part of greater whole in the organisation, you have to manage roles and responsibilities that have been delegated to you by the upper management. Every individual’s key tasks work together to produce results for the organisation and these tasks have to be done in a timely and competent manner. When work is sent your way that distracts you from completing such key tasks, it might be a clear sign that you should say “NO”. At the end of the day, you have to deliver on what is expected of you and it should be a priority. 

2. It’s not within your abilities at the moment

Every individual has different levels of competencies in various areas, and your position in the organisation should be one that maximises and leverages your skill set. For example, an internal auditor will quite likely not be asked to give creative strategy ideas on the organisation’s marketing projects - an obvious misalignment in task and individual. That’s not to say someone who’s an auditor cannot be creative, but in this task, someone else, say a senior marketing executive, is more suited to take on the responsibility. Similar to the example above, if you’re unable to confidently deliver a competent result on a work request, you should say “NO”. You shouldn’t accept work requests for the sake of helping if the quality of the work is compromised. 

3. It doesn’t have a high organisational impact

Time and effort are both resources that are precious in the working environment. On a whole, organisations will perform better if their people are making the best use of their time and effort to work towards achieving goals that have a greater impact on the business than goals that don’t. In this case, you should say “NO” to work requests that don’t have a high impact and are less urgent. 



1. Politely: In all communications between you and your colleagues, you should strive to be polite in communicating your “NO”. Being polite helps to maintain professionalism as well as to not let the requester feel as if they’ve been “blown off” by you. 

2. Assertively: When saying “NO”, be firm and hold on to your stance. Once you’ve carefully evaluated the work request and have come to a conclusion that you should say “NO”, it should be communicated in a way that shows your resolve. Take note that being firm in your “NO” doesn’t mean you have to be loud or aggressive. Aim to show that you’ve made up your mind and stand by what you say. 

3. Clearly: Being clear is very important when saying “NO” to work. This is to help the requester understand your reason or reasons behind saying “NO” so that there won’t be any misunderstandings. Clarity helps both parties understand where they are at and allows them to move forward on the same page. 


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