Why Top Employees Don’t Always Make Great Mentors and Leaders

The answer to this question is probably your biggest opportunity to make your mentoring program a highly valued component of your organization’s success.

For many years, one of the training components was a review of the “Principles of Adult Learning.”This topic is still an essential aspect of staff development and mentoring today. However, a comparison of “adult learning” principles and “leadership” principles (another hot topic today) shows that they are the same.

Consider an example. Adult learning theory states that we need to respect the experience and prior knowledge of adult learners and build on that strength in designing staff development for them. We need to do that for adult learners, because that is how adults learn best. The principles of effective leadership suggest that effective leaders do the same thing. They understand that strong leadership requires followership and that such a following is earned, in part by respecting the prior experience of employees.

It may be that if a mentor is effective in working with another adult learner, they are so because they have applied the principles of effective leadership to that process, whether they label it or think of it that way or not.

What’s happening here? This issue is surfacing frequently because we are in the midst of redefining what excellence in work and in leadership are. In the same way that we are redefining roles from just “management” to include leadership, we need to redefine the kinds of role models our mentors are expected to be. That is why not all “good” employees (by an older definition) make good mentors (by a newer definition).

However, it seems that great mentors are automatically great employees and leaders. In fact, examining truly effective mentoring, one finds that it is the same thing as effective leadership as we are coming to know it. This is quite important, as it clearly indicates that learning to be an effective mentor is exactly the practice we need for learning how to become better employees and leaders.

Experience shows this concept to be the hidden potential of effective mentoring and one that very few mentors or mentor leaders understand. This is what we mean when we use the term “high impact” mentoring. It is teaching mentors HOW to mentor so that it promotes performance growth in others.