Good leaders and managers not only inspire staff members and demonstrate good managerial skills, but also assume the role of mentor or coach to help develop aspiring, emerging, and, in some cases, stagnated, managers. Many social work clinicians find themselves advancing to leadership and management positions because they performed well as clinicians or case workers but haven’t yet developed good managerial skills. Given the fast-pace nature of our field, training new managers can be a careless afterthought, haphazardly choreographed, or altogether overlooked. A dangerous assumption is that new managers will step into the role with inherent skills to swim upstream through the administrative challenges. This philosophy places the responsibility solely on the individual rather than evaluating the ecological factors that can contribute to a novice manager’s demise. A common misperception about developing talent is that leaders and managers think there is simply not enough time in their already packed schedules to mentor others. However, mentoring is not a burdensome task—yes, it requires forethought and planning—but the reality is that good mentoring can occur in the moment by knowing the right questions to ask, which takes less time than one might think.

Why mentor and develop staff? There are a number of benefits to committing to mentoring and grooming staff.

First, mentoring increases the likelihood of success for the individual, for the teams the individual manages, and for the organization as a whole. When novice managers are unsuccessful in their new roles, it costs the organization not only money but also morale. Second, as shifts occur in the organizational structure, such as when an agency expands, merges, affiliates or reorganizes in any way, it can create a swift need to fill managerial positions that are either new, newly structured, or newly vacant. Organizations can deepen their players’ bench by proactively preparing aspiring and emerging managers through proper training and mentorship to quickly suit up for a new position. Third, mentees may not have had much experience dealing with the stress of managing and leading others and navigating highly complex system issues, and therefore may not be aware of how they relate interpersonally during times of high stress. Mentorship can help the mentee assess their emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skills, which can ultimately help the mentee improve their capacities for motivating teams towards desired changes. Lastly, when mentorship is successful it not only enhances the skills of the the mentee but also those of the mentor. Assisting the mentee provides the mentor with opportunities to reflect on their own experiences and identify their own areas of strength and weakness. Mentors may make adjustments in the way they are currently leading, analyzing problems, or practicing self-care. Thus, mentoring contains an inherent learning process for the mentor, and this can provide new opportunities and ideas about leadership philosophies, behaviors, and skills, which again ultimately benefit teams of personnel and the organization as a whole.

So what do good mentors do? Well, first they avoid the common mistake of trying to clone themselves, and instead help the mentee to develop their own skills and style. Mentors should embrace and nurture the fact that members of their team are unique individuals who can share their own strengths and weaknesses, and therefore do not aim to replicate themselves. Second, good mentors recognize that while helping employees master skills is essential, it is at times more important to overlook discrete skill building and instead help mentees develop and articulate their leadership style, values, and emotional intelligence. Mentors who facilitate character building are more likely to have committed workers who are eager to achieve goals. Of course some have a pervasive worry that they will invest their energy and time in developing people who will then take their skills and find greener pastures, and, while some may do just that, it’s more likely that they will be strong contributors during their tenure and more inclined to give ample notice if they do leave, as a professional gesture of gratitude for your commitment to their professional development. Third, good mentors demonstrate their authentic commitment to the mentee’s professional growth and development. They genuinely want to see the mentee develop and grow, even if that means they have outgrown their current position, and are dedicated to providing opportunities for the mentees to stretch and reach toward their professional goals. Lastly, mentors ask questions more often than they answer them.. Yes, some situations call for an immediate and direct answer, but knowing when to turn a moment into an opportunity that advances the mentee’s critical thinking skills and allows them to reach the answer on their own can empower the mentee and help them grow.