Mentoring Without Preconceptions

Women see mentors as valuable in helping them grow into leadership roles. An executive coach discusses the most common pitfall in mentoring.

Many organizations recognize that they do not have enough women in leadership roles and are committed to closing the gender gap. Bringing high-potential women together with senior-level leaders in a mentoring relationship is one approach that many take to address this issue. 
Such programs are well-intentioned, but in my experience are often limited by the stereotypical ideas that top leaders have about the kind of mentoring women want and need. Some believe, for example, that women are inherently good at collaboration and team-building but lack skills in analytical competencies and strategy definition. As a result, the mentor enters into a relationship with operational guidance and advice already mapped out to help the woman overcome these perceived “gaps” in her leadership skills.  
Needless to say, such programs typically meet with failure and frustration, confirming to many women that the organization does not know how to help them achieve their leadership goals.
The fact is, all people are different and when mentoring anyone – woman or man – it’s critical to begin without preconceptions. I take a three-step approach when coaching talent:
Increase their self-awareness – Help them to identify their specific talents, drivers, and challenges, and to recognize their success patterns and situations that lead to derailing  behaviours. 
Increase their understanding of the organizational environment – Help them understand what is expected by top leaders, how decisions are made, and the unspoken ways that things get done and the values underlying the processes; identify a network of influential people in their environment. 
Develop a strategy to align the person’s skills and drivers with the realities of the organizational environment in which they work. 
In recent Right Management research, more than 200 leaders globally were asked about issues related to achieving gender parity in leadership. All of the women surveyed, from Millennials to Gen X/Boomers, suggested “mentoring” as a key way that leaders can support women into leadership. Done correctly, mentoring can be a powerful tool in creating a people-oriented workplace culture in which all employees are encouraged to contribute, grow, and find their own pathway to helping the organization succeed. 
Related Articles: 
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Women and Leadership: What is Your Culture Mirroring?
Women in Technology: Accelerating Leadership Development