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Leadership Lab: Management Competencies

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Leadership and Mentoring of Young Employees

Jim Horwath

Leadership and Mentoring of Young Employees

1. Introduction

The young employees of today are the future business leaders of tomorrow. As leaders, we have an obligation to help our future by training and mentoring tomorrow’s leaders today. How do we develop and keep the best young talent in an organization? The answer is using a mentoring program. By using an effective mentoring program, the leaders of today can help develop today’s talent into tomorrow’s leaders. Companies that leverage the leadership and experience of senior employees can develop and maintain the talent they have in-house.

2. Leadership Qualities

Leadership is action and not position; a leader shows somebody how to do something, while a boss simply tells a subordinate to get something done. The leader has a vision and a plan and must inspire people around them to believe in and execute a plan. Although there are different types of leaders, all successful leaders share common characteristics that contribute towards their success. An effective leader knows his or her strengths and weaknesses, and is able to maximize all of them. Leaders have a certain confidence about them, and are able to stay calm under pressure. They are able to control their emotions so they can think clearly and make the best decisions that will achieve goals and produce winning situations. Leaders need to be flexible and know how and when to change to best meet each situation. The leader knows how to manage conflict and understand the political culture to achieve the best results. Leaders and the mentors share many of the same qualities; we will continue to discuss combining leadership and mentoring to help young employees. If mentoring of the employee meets the agreed upon goal, the mentor had to function as a leader during the process. It is hard to be a mentor without being a leader.

3. Leaders and Young Employees

Leadership and mentoring of young employees is a way senior employees can help drive success of a corporation or an initiative. Young people graduate from academic institutions armed with academic knowledge and enthusiasm. However, many people quickly realize that they lack the skills required to navigate and succeed in a corporate environment. When employees of different generations need to work together on projects, there is the potential for an unhealthy rivalry and a contentious relationship. The young employee may feel the mature employee is stuck in their ways and unwilling to try an alternative, and the mature employee sees the youthful exuberance as flighty and undisciplined. When a mentor sponsors an employee, they form a professional bond that should leave a lasting impression on both parties. This paper will discuss the connection of leadership and mentoring, discussing how leaders can help develop the young employee.

People often discuss the concept of leadership, but rarely is one able to define what leadership is. When asked for examples of leadership, often we receive names but not the qualities of leadership. Helping employees recognize the difference between leadership and management can yield great results for everyone and create the utopia win-win situation. Leadership is action and not position; this is a powerful concept that can help employees grasp the importance of leadership in life, not only in a professional setting. Leaders show people what to do, a boss will tell somebody what to do. The concept that anyone with the desire can become an effective leader is a great mentoring topic.

According to Bernard Bass, leadership is a quality developed; it is not something people are born with. According to Bass, there are three ways a person becomes a leader. There is the Trait Theory where personality traits lead people into leadership roles. Only a few people possess the traits that make them natural leaders. Second, there is the Great Event Theory; an event happens that forces greatness and leadership from an individual. There are dramatic events that have an effect on people bringing out qualities that a person did not realize they had. Think of things like community disasters where an unlikely individual leads the masses. Finally, there is the Transformational Leadership Theory that states people choose to be leaders, and people develop leadership over time. Of the three theories presented by Bass, the Transformation Leadership Theory is the most common method used by individuals to become leaders. (Northcutt 2009)

4. Roles and Responsibilities of a Mentor

In this discussion, mentoring will represent the experienced employee offering professional advice to a younger employee, while serving as a teacher, advocate and counselor. Functioning as a mentor is different from being a coach. A coach is a person who helps a person achieve a specific goal. The function of a mentor is not to correct and remediate work behavior. The role of a mentor is to offer professional advice and help the employee to understand the corporate culture. The mentor and protu00e9gu00e9e form a junior/senior relationship where the senior assists the junior with advice on how to meet daily responsibilities; and help the junior create a plan to achieve short and long-range career goals. This is more like a karate instructor/karate student relationship and less like a coach/player relationship. Mentoring is a great way for senior employees to help the future leaders of tomorrow, and provides a way to give back to the organization.

The mentor should be the biggest supporter of their protu00e9gu00e9e. Through the sponsorship of a mentor, the protu00e9gu00e9e should receive increased visibility and exposure within the organization. The sponsor can help socialize the good work accomplished by their protu00e9gu00e9 through leveraging their established contacts in the organization. The young employee often arrives with nau00efve enthusiasm that lacks a degree from the school of hard knocks. The mentor can serve an important role by sharing experiences with the protu00e9gu00e9e. This allows young employees the ability to learn from the mistakes of others. The protu00e9gu00e9e receives all the benefits without making the same, possibly career limiting, mistakes. The mentor can provide critical insights to the organization and help the young employee read and sense the events going on around them. This helps the young employee recognize opportunities and avoid career limiting mistakes. Succeeding in an established corporate environment is not easy. Young employees with an ambition to climb the corporate ladder and make the most of their professional opportunities need to learn how to succeed. The mentor is normally a seasoned veteran who can provide a roadmap on how they and other successful employees climbed the corporate ladder. The mentor and protu00e9gu00e9e should discuss where the protu00e9gu00e9e would like to end up. This information can help the mentor and protu00e9gu00e9e create a success plan based on the experience of the mentor and their peers. Each organization has a culture and life unique to itself; the mentor can offer advice on how to succeed in the organization. The mentor can fuse professional advice with organization experience when offering advice to the young employee. The organizational knowledge of the mentor will guide the advice and critique offered by the mentor. (Borg)

The mentor can help the protu00e9gu00e9 identify and learn new skills that will help the protu00e9gu00e9e succeed within the organization. The protu00e9gu00e9e should discuss ideas and strategies with the mentor looking for advice to see how this can affect the goals of the protu00e9gu00e9e within the organization. The mentor can help find new opportunities for the protu00e9gu00e9e and protect the protu00e9gu00e9e from career limiting or ending opportunities. The mentor will need to function as the confidant helping with unwritten rules of the organization and is there to listen when needed. (Borg)

5. Leadership and Mentoring Similarities

Leaders have a vision and the ability to get people around them to buy into the vision and achieve a result. The mentor functions like a leader by having the protu00e9gu00e9e believe and achieve the goals the mentor and protu00e9gu00e9e agree upon. The mentor’s vision is seeing the protu00e9gu00e9e reach their potential and having the protu00e9gu00e9e believe in a plan to reach the goal. Leadership and mentoring go well together Young employees are valuable organizational resources. Organizations that provide leadership and mentoring to young employees can receive great dividends from time spent with them. This paper discusses leadership and mentoring of young employees. To be an effective mentor there must be leadership, and leadership fosters mentoring. Employees may ask the question why they should become a mentor to somebody, especially a younger employee. There are times when the older employee may perceive the younger person as a threat to one’s job and position in the organization. As the business climate remains tough, this is understandable because it is human nature to do our best to survive. This is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate leadership through mentoring.

6. Mentoring Benefits

There are many benefits to becoming a mentor. Serving in the role of a mentor reinforces that the mentor is a SME (subject matter expert), and demonstrates leadership qualities by sharing this expertise. Organizations sometimes fail to realize the obstacles the young employee faces on a daily basis, the mentor can help with overcoming work-related obstacles. A mature organization has a certain culture about it that the experienced employee is comfortable with and knows how to navigate through. Not only does the mentor have the opportunity to teach a protu00e9gu00e9e, they have the ability to learn themselves. Being an effective teacher requires knowledge about the areas the teacher is teaching. Being a mentor provides the opportunity to enhance soft skills such as coaching, counseling, listening, and leadership. Mentoring and leadership go together, a mentor will demonstrate leadership skills through the mentoring process. (OPM Office of Human Resource Development)

Part of leadership is being able to resolve conflict in a way that is most beneficial to all parties. When leaders function as mentors, they are acknowledging the generational differences between the two, and can help resolve differences that may occur because of generational gaps. As the mentor passes on knowledge, he/she can help shape the future of the organization for the better. This is one case of one person making a big difference. If the mentor is successful with helping the employee, they can affect every person in the organization the protu00e9gu00e9e meets. Expand the numbers and you can see how powerful this can be.

7. Why Employees Should Seek a Mentor

Taking this discussion from another point of view, why would a young employee want to have a mentor in the organization? The potential protu00e9gu00e9e has made it into the organization, moving up in the organization should not be too hard. This is an area where the young employee must put pride aside and realize the path to success will be much quicker and smoother using a mentor. When a young employee becomes the protu00e9gu00e9e of a mentor, many benefits will help the protu00e9gu00e9e assimilate easier into the corporate culture. The young employee will have a quicker and easier transition into the organizational workforce. The young employee will see their organizational skills develop at a much faster rate because they can use the experience of another person and not make the same mistakes.

The mentor can help reinforce that the knowledge and tools learned in school are correct and work in real life. Many students need to take required courses as part of the curriculum, yet often students question why they need to take certain courses. The mentor can help the student leverage some of their academic knowledge in a real-world setting. With a mentor, the young employee receives exposure to areas of the organization they normally may not experience, or may not experience until they have more time in the organization. The young employee may have ideas that may or may not apply to the organization. The mentor can help vet ideas based on his or her experience within the organization. In a leadership role, the mentor can help socialize the good ideas and help promote their protu00e9gu00e9e. The mentor can help protect the protu00e9gu00e9e from bad ideas and assist in strengthening ideas that have potential. The mentor has a chance to demonstrate leadership by working with the protu00e9gu00e9e and helping to further the career of the younger employee. This demonstration of leadership can help build trust and strengthen the bond between the two. (OPM Office of Human Resource Development)

8. Selection Process of Candidates

The selection of candidates is an important process. Although everyone can benefit from mentoring, a formal mentoring program should have a selection process that matches the right mentor with the right protu00e9gu00e9e. Effective mentoring requires trust and respect of both parties. Without mutual respect and trust, the mentoring program will lose some of its effectiveness. It is important to match mentors and protu00e9gu00e9e properly. If the mentor and protu00e9gu00e9e is not a good match, the mentoring program will not produce the desired results.

9. Candidate Qualities

Here are a few things to look for when selecting employees that are potential protu00e9gu00e9es for a mentoring program. There is the employee who is quiet and humble about their accomplishments, and does not boast about what they accomplish. Colleagues that are more assertive many times overshadow these organization stalwarts. This does not mean the assertive person is more capable, only that the quiet achiever needs mentoring to bring out his or her best. These quiet, effective employees are great candidates for a mentoring program. These employees usually have the desire and tools to succeed; they only need a mentor to cultivate their strengths and help them meet their potential. Another candidate is the young employee who seem to be born a leader. These employees have the respect of their peers, work well with others and have that “it” quality about them. These employees look to be future leaders; a mentoring program can help accelerate that process and nourish their natural ability.

The matching of mentors to protu00e9gu00e9es does not have to be within the same functional group or working structure. A good mentor should be able to help a protu00e9gu00e9e regardless of the responsibilities of the two. There are times when pairing mentors and protu00e9gu00e9es from different disciplines can work really well. For example pairing a manager with a young engineer can help guide the engineer into management responsibilities. Finally, there is the employee who asks for sponsorship from a mentor. The employee, or potential protu00e9gu00e9e sees something in the mentor they can relate to, or qualities in the mentor they admire. (Borg)

Not all employees are candidates for mentoring. Although all employees can benefit from mentoring, some have no desire for a mentor and may become resentful if placed in a mentoring program. There are employees who come to work to do their job, and have no desire to get ahead. These employees may see mentoring as nothing more than an added burden in an already dissatisfying job. A mentoring program may actually have the reverse effect and cause an average employee to become a below average producer. This form of passive resistance can be a poison in the organization. Adding this type of employee into a mentoring program would be a waste of time and resources for both parties.

10. Mentoring Program Responsibilities

In a successful mentoring program, both the mentor and the protu00e9gu00e9e have responsibilities. The protu00e9gu00e9e must give as well as receive. Employees selected as protu00e9gu00e9es for a mentoring program have responsibilities similar to the mentors. The employee must want to be in a mentoring program, otherwise the results will be poor and the effort will be a failure. The protu00e9gu00e9e must be willing to accept criticism and work on changing behavior. The protu00e9gu00e9e should be willing and open to learning new skills; this will benefit both the organization and the individual creating a win-win situation. The protu00e9gu00e9e must have a desire to advance within the organization and be willing to provide greater contributions to the organization. For maximum benefit, the protu00e9gu00e9e must own certain processes and help drive the mentoring relationship forward. Having the protu00e9gu00e9e own some of the processes will provide the protu00e9gu00e9e a sense of commitment towards making the program work. This process ownership will also start to develop leadership skills and start to groom a future mentor. Just as the mentor provides feedback to the protu00e9gu00e9e, the protu00e9gu00e9e should provide feedback concerning the mentor so the mentor can make adjustments where necessary.

A mentoring program cannot be successful if there is not participation from both parties. There needs to be a clear delineation of responsibility for both parties. If the mentor also functions as the protu00e9gu00e9’s manager, both parties need to know the difference between the manager and the mentor. A successful mentoring partnership starts with written goals that the team references on a regular basis so they can measure how they are doing towards meeting their goals. These written goals will help determine whether the partnership is a success and will provide progress made towards the goal. There should be a periodic review of goals with the intention of charting the progress of the partnership. The goals agreed upon must be realistic and attainable; setting a goal that is not achievable will not help either partner. The mentor should function as a colleague first, and an expert second. The mentor must possess excellent listening skills; listening allows the mentor to understand the goals and concerns of the protu00e9gu00e9e. The mentor must be very calm and welcoming; the protu00e9gu00e9e should feel relaxed and comfortable when dealing with the mentor. The mentor must have a disposition that allows the protu00e9gu00e9e to relax and feel comfortable. The mentor can introduce resources and people to the protu00e9gu00e9e. It is the responsibility and duty of the protu00e9gu00e9e to pursue leads and people introduced by the mentor. It is not the responsibility of the mentor to police what the protu00e9gu00e9e does with people and resources introduced to them. Mentoring is a tool for achieving goals. The end goal is the reason for the mentoring partnership; each party should not lose sight of why they are partners. The mentor should have high expectations from the protu00e9gu00e9e. The most effective mentoring relationships strive to push the leadership abilities of the protu00e9gu00e9e and provide an active learning environment for both parties. (Borg)

11. Conclusion

The mentoring process should start and develop the leadership attributes in a protu00e9gu00e9e. Many organizations refer to management as leadership and avoid the term management. The mentoring partnership may be the first hands on experience with leadership for the protu00e9gu00e9e. There are many similarities between leadership and mentoring. If the mentor is effective, the protu00e9gu00e9e will be eager to follow the guidance of the mentor. Having people willingly follow a mentor and believing in the mentor is an attribute of leadership. The mentor must provide a sense of trust in the protu00e9gu00e9e, and will slowly build the confidence of the protu00e9gu00e9e as he/she starts to move towards his/her goals. A leader wants to show how great their team is, so the mentor looks to socialize the good works of the protu00e9gu00e9e. A good leader takes charge when the situation calls for it. The protu00e9gu00e9e must own some of the mentoring processes, and this is a step towards building leadership. Forcing the protu00e9gu00e9e to take responsibility can start to plant the seeds of leadership in the protu00e9gu00e9e.

Being a mentor is a form of leadership. The mentoring partnership allows a protu00e9gu00e9e to interact with a leader and start building leadership skills. The mentor should slowly start to see leadership traits starting to appear in the protu00e9gu00e9e, and the protu00e9gu00e9e should see a change in the mentor. The leadership provided by the mentor is a great way to help the future.


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