Employee Mentoring: Can you Be an Effective Leader & Friend To Your Employees?


In the great movie "A Bronx Tale," protégé Colagero asks the gang leader Sonny, "Is it better to be loved or feared?" Sonny replies, "That's a good question. It's nice to be both but it's very difficult. But if I had my choice, I'd rather be feared. Fear lasts longer than love."

When running a business, some entrepreneurs don't know how to act. Some think they get the best results when they are feared. Others want to be loved, but are concerned with being seen and/or becoming a pushover.

In either case, including variations of each (e.g., you desire to be slightly feared), entrepreneurs who run companies must mentor their employees in order to get them to excel.

Typically, when people think of mentoring, two things come to mind-someone outside your company showing you the ropes, or some kind of apprenticeship program.  However, I believe you can and should be a mentor and friend to your own employees and team, and not just a boss. This article will show you what mentoring is, why it works, and who in your organization you should spend time mentoring.

My favorite definition of mentoring was created by Bozeman and Feeney, who defined it as "a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development...

...Mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)."

So How Do I Mentor My Team Members?

A leader who is also a mentor cares about their protégés and teammates, and approaches work from the eyes of a servant, not a commander. They know that educating and improving the skills of individual team members will help them and their company be happier, more productive, and more successful.

Mentoring also adds a degree of friendship and affection to the workplace. This makes work a lot more pleasant for all employees, and also makes for a work environment that is more conducive to learning, admitting mistakes, and personal growth.

To mentor someone, you should invest time with them one-on-one in order to:

     1) Teach them their job position's skills

     2) Assess what they need to improve and measure their growth
     3) Infuse leadership in them, so they are more empowered to solve
         problems and figure things out on their own without waiting for your answers

Why the Need for Mentoring?

Mentoring has been shown to have a positive effect on one's career. One study by Gerard Roche (1979) found that mentored employees were more satisfied with their work and careers than their non-mentored counterparts.

It has also been found that mentoring facilitates the socialization of new hires into the organization, reduces turnover, minimizes mid-career adjustments, and enhances the transfer of the entrepreneur or business owner's vision, knowledge, and values.

These are the exact things you want - better, happier, more skilled employees who are committed to the vision of your company! This is why mentoring is such a high-leverage practice to include in your leadership activities.

Who Should be Mentored?

The traditional wisdom is to invest the most support and training in your best and brightest employees. But Delong & Vijayaraghavan (2003) reported that it's a wiser move to support the large middle-base (your team's B-players):

"Like all prize-winning supporting actors, B-players bring depth and stability to the companies they work for, slowly but surely improving both corporate performance and organizational resilience... They will never garner the most revenue or the biggest clients, but they also will be less likely to embarrass the company or flunk out... these players inevitably end up being the backbone of the organization."

This makes sense to me, however, I prefer to invest more in the hiring process so you only hire "A" players. Then, you can mentor your "A" players and turn them into "A+" players that allow you to dominate your market.

As the leader of your business, you are more than just the boss, the visionary, the founder, and CEO. You also play the role of coach and mentor for your team. Because you cannot mentor everyone in your company, particularly as it grows, choose 5 or so employees that you can comfortably mentor. And then have them mentor 5 employees beneath them. Etc.

At times in your business, you'll have to be a player yourself in order to score points, win the game, and get results. But over time, you'll see your time allocation changing to include less time spent "playing," and more time spent coaching and mentoring your players to perform under your direction.

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