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What to Know About Mentoring the Next Generation of Leaders

by Catherine Savage on

As discussed last week, the next decade will see a significant shift in the workforce as Baby Boomers approach retirement, taking with them valuable skills and experience. Further, the job market is favorable towards applicants meaning organizations have to work harder to attract and retain employees generally. On top of this constant shifting (and potential loss) of skills, the Next Generation of Leaders (NGLs), are often perceived to both be and bring a change from what preceded them. So how does mentoring fit in?

To quickly review, mentoring relationships, if developed correctly, can be an effective solution for skills transfer. Academic and practitioner research  shows they can also play a key role in retaining employees. And mentors are critical, not just important, to an individual’s personal and career growth: a mentor sponsors their protégé; provides them with coaching, counseling and exposure; challenges them to grow and protect them from external forces who might limit them; shows acceptance of the protégé’s skills; and acts as a role-model for the protégé.

The mentor also receives valuable benefits in the legacy she gets to leave behind with her protégé.

However, we’ve seen our clients face a persistent problem with engaging and developing a new crop of leaders who many confess to not quite understand. Should you regularly read this blog, you’ll know that Vantage’s perspective cautions against relying on stereotypes to understand generational differences in their employees, and recognizes that while individuals in the same cohort can share similar characteristics, individuals are unique.

At the same time, it can be helpful to understand what the potential motivators are for our NGLs, and to then position mentoring in a way that meets their needs and personal drivers. So, with that being said, we will rely on Dr. Gustavo Grodnitzky, Ph.D., an expert in generational differences in the workforce, to provide us with insight regarding what NGLs may value in their employment:

What’s Important to Know:

  • From a broad perspective, NGLs (many of who will be from Generation Y) value things like relationships, blended life, and working for a cause:
    • This means they come to work to make friends. Further, if they can’t build these types of relationships at work, they are likely to be disengaged and ultimately leave.
    • As opposed to work-life balance, these leaders won’t care as much about when or where work gets accomplished. They DO care that work gets done.
    • They are motivated by an understanding of how their work impacts the larger picture, and if the work has significant meaning and impact.
  • These leaders are “technology natives.” They are also the first generation to experience mass reverse learning – having adults seek them out to understand something.
  • They want to focus on their development, and in particular their leadership skills.

What Does This Mean for Mentoring?

Given this context, below are a few suggestions for mentoring NGLs:

1. The core values of mentoring will remain the same. From these relationships, people want support, guidance, and advocacy. They want someone who they feel is in their corner, but can provide them with the direct feedback when necessary.

2. Companies will likely have a population that is extremely motivated by the idea of mentoring and being mentored. NGLs highly value development and want to join organizations that have ripe developmental opportunities. Additionally, more tenured employees who are later in their career and potentially nearing retirement may feel a strong desire to leave behind a legacy. Preparing up-and-coming leaders for large leadership roles through mentorship can help fulfill both needs.

3. NGLs also want a place of employment that can provide them with deeper-level relationships. Creating a system that pairs leaders together quickly accomplishes this goal and, in addition to passing on necessary skills, can keep both individuals engaged.

4. Communication in mentoring relationships will likely look different. It’s not uncommon to hear comments about how NGLs seamlessly leverage an array of technology platforms to communicate (or conversely, how current executives don’t leverage technology in the same way). This does not mean that mentors who prefer face-to-face conversations or phone calls should only text with their mentee because of the mentee’s preference. However, it does mean that communicating about communicating is going to be important. Each will need an understanding of how the other prefers to stay in touch, compromising on what will work best for both individuals, and then setting expectations early in the relationship.

5. Understanding, compromising and expectation setting will also be important to decide when communication happens. The line separating work from life has become exceedingly blurry. Thus, NGLs may send a quick text late in the evening as they’re thinking about a work problem, while a Gen X or Baby Boomer mentor may wait till business hours to engage someone in a discussion on the same topic.

 

Overall, organizational leaders can rest assured that there are no major transitions needed to provide mentors to their Next Generation Leaders. Research strongly supports that NGLs are looking for these relationships and see them as critical to an effective working life. Further, with some expectation setting and general understanding of potential differences in pairing a millennial leader with a Gen X or Baby Boomer, the relationship can be positioned to provide both individuals with benefits beyond the traditional work context.

In what ways has your organization succeeded in leveraging mentoring relationships?

What other modifications needed to be made for these relationships to work in your company, and with your leaders?

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