The Role of Mentorship in Leadership Development

And how the requirements of today’s trust-based leadership demand relationship-based learning methods like mentoring to develop effective leaders.

By: Leadership Dynamics team


5 mins

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This article is part of our series on leadership development.

The changing nature of work means that, in order for today's leaders to be effective, competence and authority are no longer enough; they need to be able to lead through trusted relationships. But as the demands of leadership have evolved, so must the methods for developing leaders.

At the heart of relationship-based learning practices are coaching and mentorship, working in tandem with traditional methods like continual professional development courses and self paced e-learning to enhance their effectiveness.

This article will explain why leadership mentoring is such an integral part of today's leadership development programs, their benefits and how best to implement them in your organisation.


  • Defining mentorship as a training method

  • The importance of mentorship for leadership skills

  • Benefits of mentoring in leadership development

  • Implementing mentorship in a leadership development programme

Defining mentorship as a training method

Leadership development is a complex process that requires the guidance of experienced professionals. The terms "coaching" and "mentoring" are often used interchangeably, and while they can be used in complementary ways, they are distinct practices that differ in function and outcome.

Coaching involves working with an external specialist whose job is focused solely on coaching. They can help individuals identify their strengths and weaknesses, set goals, and develop strategies to overcome obstacles. 

Mentorship involves working with an experienced professional, usually a superior within the same organisation, who can provide guidance, support, and advice based on their own experiences. Mentors help individuals navigate complex situations, develop new skills, and build their professional networks.

Coaching is typically focused on short-term goals and specific skill development, while mentorship is more focused on long-term career development and building relationships.

The importance of mentorship for leadership skills

Mentorship plays a crucial role in leadership development by providing individuals with the guidance and support they need to overcome challenges, develop new skills, and improve their performance. Future leaders can learn from the experiences of others, gain valuable insights and perspectives, and develop new strategies for success.

At the same time, learning one-on-one can help individuals build confidence, improve their communication skills, and develop a stronger sense of self-awareness – all essential qualities for effective leadership.

Transitioning to relationship-based learning

As leadership changes from the more authoritarian style of the past to the trust-based leadership style of today, leadership development programmes must change too. Relationship-based learning is becoming more and more recognised as an effective method for professional development.

Learning must be relevant and practical. Research shows that 75% of students forget what they've learned within six days if they don't apply it in the flow of work. And since adults only retain 10% of what they hear in the classroom, it's essential to approach learning from several angles to maintain an effective leadership development programme.

A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that 54% of respondents rated mentoring as very or extremely effective compared to 35% for traditional skills training.

We now know that a generic class by itself is no longer enough; learning needs to be personalised in a way that is specific to the requirements of the job. And that's why mentorship works so well.

Benefits of mentoring in leadership development

Here are some of the key benefits of mentorship in leadership development:

  • Up-to-date leadership advice: Receiving advice from someone who is actually putting what they say into practice each day is highly valuable. While classes can offer foundational basics, their content can be interpreted and enriched by someone who can honestly say what has worked for them and what has not.

  • Fulfilling learning: Learners feel more supported in a relationship-based learning process. The earlier mentioned study showed that 86% found relationship-based leadership development made them feel truly supported on their leadership journey.

  • Improved self-awareness: Self-awareness is essential for effective leadership, as it allows leaders to not only identify areas for improvement and make informed decisions, but understand how their behaviours impact others around them. If a leader is self aware enough to know what behaviours they need in order to complement the rest of their team, then they can personalise their learning and development. Self analysis with data-backed people analytics can help learners gain an objective view of themselves and inform their future leadership path.

  • Enhanced skills and knowledge: Through mentorship, leaders can develop a range of skills and knowledge, such as communication, problem-solving, and decision-making. These skills are essential for effective leadership, and can help leaders to build high-performing teams and achieve their goals.

  • Increased confidence: Mentorship can help leaders to build their confidence and self-esteem, which is essential for effective leadership. When leaders feel confident in their abilities, they are more likely to take risks, make bold decisions, and inspire their teams to achieve organisational effectiveness.

  • Expanded networks: Well-established leaders acting as mentors can help future leaders to expand their networks and build relationships with other professionals in their field. These connections can be invaluable for career growth and development, as well as for accessing new opportunities and resources.

  • Improved performance: Ultimately, mentorship helps leaders to improve their performance and achieve their goals by providing guidance, support, and feedback to overcome challenges and build resilience.

Best practices for mentorship in leadership development

As an essential component of any leadership development program, mentors help develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in demanding roles. But there are some key pillars of a great mentor-mentee relationship:

  • Set clear goals: Before starting a relationship, establish clear goals and expectations to ensure focus and effectiveness.

  • Provide regular feedback: Feedback is crucial for self-awareness, growth and development. Regular feedback builds trust in the relationship, and helps leaders identify areas for improvement as well as celebrate successes. Feedback from existing leaders working in a potential future role is invaluable.

  • Encourage self-reflection: Self-reflection is a powerful tool for personal growth. Mentors should encourage leaders to reflect on their experiences, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and set goals for improvement.

  • Offer support and resources: Mentors should provide support and offer resources to help leaders achieve their goals. This might include training programmes, networking opportunities, or access to other experts in the field.

  • Be a role model: Mentors should lead by example and demonstrate the behaviours and skills they are teaching. This helps build trust and credibility with the leader being mentored.

Implementing mentorship in a leadership development programme

Identifying goals and objectives

Before implementing mentorship in your leadership development programmes, it is important to identify clear goals and objectives. Determine what skills and competencies you want to develop in your leaders and how mentorship can help achieve those goals. Consider the needs of each individual leader and tailor the mentorship programme accordingly.

This is where people analytics can help paint a picture of your potential leaders, their functional capabilities, experience and behaviours, as well as how well they will work with other kinds of behavioural profiles.

Self-assessment tools such as PACE help individuals understand their strengths and their areas for improvement, building a high level of self-awareness as they work with their mentor.

Selecting the right mentor

Selecting the right mentor is crucial to the success of your leadership development programme. Choose individuals who have experience in leadership roles and can provide valuable insights and guidance and who have the behaviours required to establish a rapport with the junior leaders they are mentoring. Consider providing training for mentors to ensure they have the necessary skills and knowledge to be effective.

Creating a supportive environment

Creating a supportive environment is essential to the success of mentorship programmes. Leaders should feel comfortable seeking guidance and feedback from their mentors so it’s best to encourage open communication and create a culture of continuous learning and development. Provide resources and support to help leaders apply what they have learned through mentorship programs.

Effective mentorship requires a strong relationship. Trust, open communication, and a willingness to learn and grow are essential for success. When done well, mentorship can be a powerful tool for developing effective leaders and driving an organisational culture of success.

Measuring success

Measuring the success of a mentorship programme is important to ensure they are effective and meeting the goals set out at the beginning. Ultimately, the performance of the mentee is the main metric, but it can help to codify assessments. Consider looking at improved leadership competencies, increased employee engagement, and higher retention rates. Ask for feedback from senior leaders who have participated in the programme to identify areas for improvement and make adjustments as necessary.

Effective leadership development is personalised

The move to trust-based leadership demands better leadership development. Relationship-based learning, such as coaching, mentoring and job rotations are key to offering learners relevant leadership training for the roles they are aiming for.

But to know what to learn, leaders need to first know themselves. At Leadership Dynamics, we know that the best leadership teams are made up of those that understand themselves as individuals and how they work with others, which requires a degree of emotional intelligence, especially self-awareness. And the best way to gain self awareness is to look at oneself without the bias, through objective data.

Our people analytics tools assess a leader's skill sets, experience and behaviours using data from more than 7,000 successful private equity transactions over the past 10 years and 5,000 senior executives' behavioural assessments.

With a completely objective assessment of leadership abilities, future leaders can pinpoint the gaps in their skills, behaviours or experience and work with a mentor to develop strategies to plug those gaps and help their future leaders reach their full potential and drive success for the company as a whole.

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