While creating the model for developing and building leaders to be incorporated into the curriculum of the Liberty Voice Institute, a philosophy based on the four basic tenets of empowerment, professionalism, collaboration, and boldness emerged which has fostered significant growth and success for the teachers and trainers at the Guardian Liberty Voice who adopted it. While it runs somewhat contrary to many current theories of business management and training models, it is based on much older concepts. Even in a company based on a platform of advanced technology and thoroughly modern approaches to the sharing of ideas and information, something as simple as apprenticeship and mentoring is still being proven to be the most effective method of instruction around. Community is a concept which has been removed from the lexicon of modern team building and leadership training in favor of networking skills and negotiation strategies. Community, however, is and always has been the strongest of forces for progress.
The first part of being a successful leader/mentor is for that person to understand and own their own position and authority. If a manager is unable to be secure in their job, and feels threatened by the potential advancement of the people they are trying to train, they cannot be completely effective. Part of the leadership process involves having a personal career path planned out, with a clear set of goals for the future. It is often even helpful to share those goals with trainees. If they can see helping their mentor to achieve their goals as part of the process for them reaching their own, they have an investment in the process, If they want the job their mentor currently has, that should be encouraged. If they see that person advancing and achieving their own goals, they will respect the advice and direction their mentor has for them. More importantly, nobody is ever promoted out of a position if there is nobody capable of filling their spot. Compartmentalizing information and holding back information about responsibilities and job functions, contrary to many popular theories of management, is detrimental to the process and leaves successors unprepared to handle the jobs they aspire to. This ultimately can only be considered a failure on the part of the trainer.
It is important early on to link those successes and goals not just to a personal career, but to the growth and success of the company. People need to see their own advancement as a function of their contributions to the success of the company. The key is to make that real for them. If a leader can provide examples from their own rise to the position they are in, their successes and how they were able to impact the bottom line, it takes a huge step toward cultivating professionalism born of a common cause as opposed to a cutthroat environment. A leader needs to make sure that the trainee knows that they are appreciated for their efforts in helping that leader reach their goals, and assure them that their mentor is behind them and just as interested in seeing them reach theirs. Even when put it in terms of self-interest, they need to be secure in that mentor as an ally and a primary means of empowerment and support.
Getting people to realize that putting the best interests of the company first instead of petty disagreements and competition will help all other aspects of their professional interactions. It also helps the trainer to weed out those who are not suited to a leadership role. If they are not able to keep that focus on the company ahead of difficult interactions with peers and superiors, then a trainer needs to reconsider their candidacy or at least delay it until they are able to find a way to effectively coach the desired results. In this,both collaboration and professionalism are encouraged as essential building blocks of their success.
Once a leader understands and is comfortable both with the extent of their authority and the scope of their responsibility to those they are to mentor, they can begin to forge the relationship with them. It cannot be a formal relationship entirely. To give them what the mentor brings to the table, they need to show it to them. Leadership skills are too much an inherent part of a person to be taught by way of a lecture. The mechanics of a position are such a small part of success doing the job that there is no way to simply tell someone about it and hope they are able to make a leap. A leader must be transparent, and let the learner see them in the role, performing job functions, and making decisions. Leaders have to allow access and be exposed. There is no way to teach problem solving and decisiveness other than seeing someone going through the process, giving them access to the thought processes involved. It puts the teacher out on a limb if they are not comfortable and confident in themself. That is why the first step is to have that security in ones own position. Empowerment requires trust that is genuine.
The way to begin any mentorship is to have a first meeting where the ground rules are established for both mentor and student. The mentor relationship is a contract between the leader and the person they are trying to develop. They need to understand their role and responsibilities, and they need to know what to expect from their teacher. It is not just about establishing boundaries, but about creating a level of trust between the two. There are a few things that have to be committed to in order to establish that trust.
For them, an atmosphere must be provided where they are not so afraid of making mistakes that they become indecisive. Learning something new cannot be something that puts learners in danger of losing what they have already achieved. The teacher needs to let students know that they will accept responsibility for mistakes, including the consequences of those mistakes. A mentor needs the student to know that if one of their decisions is a poor one or one that has unforeseen consequences, that it is part of the process, and that the mentor will still back them. If the mistake requires a reversal of their decision or an apology of any sort, it must be addressed in a manner that will not undermine them in their new authority. It is necessary to find a method to let them know that they are allowed to make mistakes without fear of reprisals. In private, the issue can be addressed, coached if necessary, and an explanation the reasons that the decision was wrong can be provided, but never in front of the people that they will have authority over.
It is important to let them know that they will never wonder where they stand with that leader. It requires a promise to give feedback immediately, rather than making them wait until a formal review, and that must be done. Especially important is remembering that positive feedback is just as important as corrective, as long as it is genuine and specific. False praise does nobody any good.
Important to the process is establishing an environment of safety. Colloquial and colorful language habits aside, the meetings between a teacher and any of their trainees, particularly in a group setting, must be conducted with strict professionalism. A casual, friendly atmosphere for the sake of fostering relationships and building a team is great, but the mentor’s role in these meetings is also as facilitator. It is important to make sure that the conversation does not cross over any lines which would cause offense or create a level of discomfort which is not compatible with the mentoring process. A leader must keep the conversation always directed back toward the company and the agenda which has been set.
Boldness counts. Indecisive leaders fail. A truism which is good to present is that failing to make a decision is, in fact, making a decision. Decisions by default carry no authority behind them and are easily overturned or ignored. To this end, a student needs permission to exercise their leadership possibly earlier than might be traditionally thought prudent. A student must also be allowed to fail so that they can learn how to deal with that as well. A methodology which involves mentoring, then empowering a person to exercise authority within an environment of support and safety, yields better results than any classroom experience.
Building leaders is not about the mechanics of any job description. If a candidate needs instructions on the basics of performing their job duties, they are not ready for the leadership phase. That being said, trainees should be aware that this is the perspective the mentor holds if they are going to learn the boldness they will need to be effective. They need to be told that the mentor is not interested in training them in the minutiae of their duties. It should be established from the start that the beginning point in this process is a complete confidence in their skill sets and in their ability to do the job well. They should understand that the goal is to see them excel in that job through confident leadership and the ability to act, applied imagination, and cultivated forward vision. Those are the skills which the mentor should be seeking to draw out of the trainee in order to turn them into a leader. Building leaders is a process of empowerment, collaboration with professionalism, and boldness.
Editorial By Jim Malone