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Are Your Future Leaders Hiding in Plain Sight?


Tue Nov 20 2018

Are Your Future Leaders Hiding in Plain Sight?

In DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2018 report, researchers describe some of the top challenges CEOs say they face right now when developing leaders. At the top of their list is developing next-generation leaders, with 64 percent of CEOs reporting this as a concern, followed by failure to attract and retain top talent, a top challenge identified by 60 percent of respondents.

This scarcity of talent in the leadership pipeline can impact organizations’ ability to fight off competitors, grow their business, build new products, improve upon existing products, serve their customers, create a more diverse workplace, and so much more. Without a clear plan in place for who could be future leaders, many organizations may find themselves in an untenable situation.


But what if future leaders are hiding in plain sight in organizations?

Mentoring and leadership development typically go hand in hand, but these programs are often very selective and exclusive. But what if they weren’t? What if mentoring with a focus on leadership development was more broadly available to employees at all levels of an organization and in roles that may normally not be considered leadership-centric?

Mentoring can help build skills in critical leadership areas such as self-awareness, adaptability, effective communication, strategic thinking, influencing others, and emotional intelligence. By mentoring employees at all levels, organizations can identify more people who have the potential to be effective leaders and who could be further groomed to take on such roles.

The DDI Global Leadership report examined how companies use mentoring to enhance leadership potential. They found that many organizations are not taking full advantage of the practice, losing out on a well-documented chance to improve their leadership pipeline. Two key insights researchers shared in the report:

  • 60 percent of first-level leaders have not had a formal mentor.

  • One-third of senior leaders reported they have not formally mentored anyone.

Talk about a missed opportunity! Don’t let this become an if-only-we-had moment. Instead, make this an I’m-sure-glad-we-did moment.


Think more broadly about mentoring—not only in who can participate, but also in how you offer it. Reverse mentoring and group mentoring could make a significant impact beyond the typical one-to-one traditional mentoring pairs, and that can help you bring mentoring to more people.

Reverse Mentoring

One of the best parts of leadership development mentoring programs is that future leaders are exposed to proven leaders in the organization. Mentees get to learn from these talented people who have shown they have a penchant for excellence when it comes to leadership abilities. Additionally, mentors have the chance to meet some of the up-and-coming talent in the organization that they otherwise might never have been exposed to.

Now take those same groups of people and flip mentoring around: Let your up-and-comers be the mentors, and your established leaders be the mentees. Your emerging leaders could mentor the established leaders on things such as social media, emerging technology, social trends, and generational perceptions. This role reversal can flip the relationship dynamics and help your future leaders develop some of the very leadership abilities you want them to cultivate. You could run a traditional and reverse program at the same time, being sure to match people in different pairs for the different programs so that there are no blurred lines over power dynamics in these relationships.

By using a reverse mentoring program as part of leadership development, you put your future leaders in a position where they are the experts who can share their knowledge with others. You will help them hone their interpersonal skills, learn how to speak to different audiences, build their confidence, and broaden their professional networks. You will simultaneously give your more experienced leaders a chance to identify future leaders who may not already be known to the organization and who will then be able to develop skills in an area that they truly need help with.

Group Mentoring

Mentoring groups, or mentoring circles as they are sometimes called, provide an efficient way for peers to learn from one another and experts on topics that can impact all areas of employees’ jobs. Using group mentoring in conjunction with one-on-one leadership development mentoring allows mentees to share their stumbling blocks and successes with people who are going through the same thing. In research on group mentoring conducted by River, participants said that the group mentoring experience allowed them to:

  • Understand/help another person understand a different point of view.

  • Improve their relationship with leadership.

  • Assist in the development of another.

  • Provide or receive encouragement/support to or from another.

Additionally, 96 percent of respondents said they could apply the information gained from the group mentoring experience directly to their role in the organization.

Potential future leaders don’t just have to be mentees in these mentoring groups; one great way to help your employees build leadership skills is by having them lead mentoring groups. They can use these groups to help them develop critical skills such as listening, driving the conversation, seeing the big picture, and relationship building. Their mentors from their one-on-one mentoring relationships could even see them in action in a leadership capacity as they lead a group, and then provide them with feedback on things they could adjust or things they did well.

Don’t let your organization be like the ones DDI reported on—missing a prime opportunity for developing leaders. Instead, leverage mentoring to help find hidden leaders in your organization and strengthen your pipeline beyond the surface level. Build expectations for mentoring into your leadership development program and into your organization’s overall culture.

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