We all know that our wellbeing at work depends deeply on our relationship with our boss. Recent research has confirmed what seems intuitive: an employee’s positive relationship with their manager is closely linked to increased motivation and performance, while a negative employee-manager relationship is linked to poor performance. And Gallup organisational research indicates that at least 70 per cent of the variance in team engagement is explained by the quality of the manager. So, as a leader, how can you improve your connection and rapport with your people? It may not be the first solution that springs to mind, but becoming a mentor can help you be a better leader, and in turn, boost your team’s engagement and retention.

As many of us can attest, just because your manager’s in a leadership position doesn’t mean they’re a strong people leader (it’s more likely they were promoted due to their seniority or technical expertise). While some managers really do seem to be born leaders, they’re the exception, not the rule — for most of us, leading people isn’t easy or innate. So managers tend to learn as they go, often making mistakes – and losing staff – along the way. But in the current economic climate, employee and engagement retention is crucial. So today’s managers need to focus on developing and growing their people’s capabilities, rather than just managing performance. They need to become coaches. And that means leaders must be able to:

  • Be excellent communicators (including being a good listener).
  • Show empathy.
  • Give constructive feedback.
  • Have effective one-on-one meetings with direct reports.
  • Have regular conversations with each team member about their career growth, including identifying skills-gaps and training needs.
  • Identify career opportunities in the organisation for each team member, and coach each team member to develop their career.

Participating in a structured mentoring program can help leaders develop, strengthen and refine these skills.


How mentoring creates more impactful leaders

With their technical expertise, experience and knowledge of their organisation, leaders are perfectly placed to put their hand up to mentor more junior staff. But while there are many benefits to being a mentor, signing up to be a mentor doesn’t guarantee that a leader will reap those benefits.

In contrast, managers who participate in mentoring via online platform MentorKey will embark on a learning journey to make them more effective coaches and communicators. How does MentorKey do this? Via the unique, tailored guidance that’s built into MentorKey’s platform.


MentorKey’s in-built guidance

Research shows that people are much more likely to take action and learn when they’ve found solutions on their own than when they’re told what do. So MentorKey prompts mentors to ask open-ended questions (those without yes/no answers), generating questions which mentors can select, based on their mentee’s needs, to prompt compelling discussions during mentoring sessions. (For example: What is most important in your life at the moment? What do you really want to achieve this year? What will we achieve together that you wouldn’t have achieved on your own?)

In this way, mentors learn to guide their mentees to develop critical thinking skills, spark insights and arrive at their own solutions, rather than simply giving them the answer to problems. The guidance in MentorKey also helps mentors to coach mentees to get clear about issues such as:

  • The reasons behind their goals (e.g. Why is this important to you? What has prevented you from achieving this before? What will you do differently this time?)
  • The real challenge underlying an issue they’re struggling with (e.g. I hear your concern about this role being more unstable than your current one. What makes you think this? Is your current role completely free from risks?)

In this way, MentorKey guides mentors to learn to ask good questions of their mentees, to listen, and to see things from their mentee’s perspective, which helps mentors build empathy in order to have impactful career conversations.


Applying these skills to their own team

Over time, leaders can apply the skills they develop as a mentor to their interactions with their own team. In doing so, managers become better listeners, communicators, and coaches, and better able to guide their team members’ career development.

This career-coaching expertise is a valuable skill for today’s managers, especially when it comes to engaging and retaining talent. As Anand Chopra McGowan recently wrote in a Harvard Business Review article: “As employers grapple with a profound shift in the labor [sic] market, the burden of retaining and developing employees doesn’t have to rest with HR and training teams alone. Managers are in a unique position to drive employee retention and engagement — companies should give them the structure and tools to do so.”

One of those tools is a robust, structured mentoring program, which upskills managers to confidently hold one-on-one career conversations with their direct reports. In doing so, managers become more effective leaders by creating stronger connections and a deeper understanding of their team members – making their people happier to come to work, put in their best efforts, and stay with the company.