People often say they would “run through a brick wall” for a leader they feel strong loyalty to. One way to inspire that is through mentor leadership. This means you are a servant to those you lead, responsible for their development and well-being.
In other words, you lead by lifting them up and putting them first, not by ordering them around to serve your needs. The iconic image of this is Jesus Christ washing the feet of his 12 disciples shortly before He was to be crucified.
In business, building a culture of mentor leadership attracts better employees and empowers them to drive the organization’s performance.
Attract and develop better employees
Where is most of the best talent? Highly unlikely next to their phones waiting for a cold email from your recruiting coordinator. Instead, they’re probably gainfully employed elsewhere, perhaps even by your competitors.
The best talent consistently has multiple strong options available to them. You’re not going to outbid Google or entice the cream of the crop to leave their current situation just by throwing money at them. You better do that, of course. But you also have to differentiate yourself.
People want to go where they can grow and thrive. They also want to work with managers and peers who genuinely care about their growth. Build a reputation as that type of company, and the desirable candidates will find you.
Note: this is created over time by your prospective, current, and former employees (and basically anyone who comes into contact with your company, including clients and vendors), not by putting in your job postings buzz-phrases like “looking for team player who thrives in a collaborative, optimistic, high-performing team environment.”
Better, empowered employees produce better results for the company
Armed with great talent, you still have to deploy it effectively. A lot of companies (even many that claim they care about employee development or that they value innovation) govern by fear. Often times this exists covertly in the form of certain rules and norms (i.e. perception is everything), or inflexible activity metrics (these are important but cannot be the be-all and end-all). Other times, you can just look at who is (and isn’t) getting promoted, as well as who’s leaving.
All these are symptoms of a lack of trust and confidence in employees (inherently communicating to employees that less is expected of them), which results in a company of robotic “Yes” men. You’re not only left with less talented people, but they are also unable to perform to their potential.
In an organization centered on leading by serving, everyone is focused on growing and contributing instead of worrying about protecting their turf. You go from one or a select few people supplying all the ideas and direction, with everyone else falling in line and merely serving as “extra hands,” to everyone generating force to advance the organization’s mission.
For a micro-example of maximizing everyone’s effort on the things that matter, look at good sales leaders. They try to remove all activities not related to speaking to prospective clients (e.g. copying and pasting cold outreach emails) from their sales reps’ plates because those distract from their main goal (revenue generation).
Likewise, you don’t want your employees wasting valuable company time (and money you are paying them) politicking with their colleagues. You want them maximizing their time on activities that build the value of the company, or on improving their ability to do that.
A culture of mentor leadership encourages that. It develops and empowers employees so they are more motivated and better-equipped to push themselves past their perceived potential to accomplish things they didn’t know they were capable of. This is good for their personal growth and good for the company’s performance.
And great talent wants to work for great companies, so this then feeds into the aforementioned process of attracting talent, which perpetuates this entire cycle of attracting great employees and empowering them to perform well for the company.
Patience is required: This is a strategy for long-term, sustained excellence. If you’re all about extracting (squeezing every ounce of value out of the short term) as opposed to investing in your team, this is not for you.
This is hard and is not for everyone: It requires confident leaders who embrace and lift up — rather than feel threatened by — those who are smarter or more talented than they are.
In other words, genuinely caring for your people pays off in the long run.