Wish you knew the secret to becoming a strong leader in the veterinary profession? Wish no more, thanks to a first-of-its-kind study. In a field experiment, researchers found that pairing a seasoned pro with a promising prospect in an informal mentorship was significantly more potent in developing strong leaders than formal group training.
The process, however, was effective only if protégés fully trusted their mentor and were willing to handle blunt criticism, not just empty praise. The findings, forthcoming in the journal Academy of Management Learning and Education, reinforce the notion that the more employers can move away from one-size-fits-all training toward one-on-one mentorships characterized by trust, the better their chances for building strong leaders will be. And that benefits your business.
Researchers say this study is important because it explains why so many training programs fall short of expectations. Research shows that if leadership training efforts are to be successful, the targets of such interventions must be ready to develop. While the value of personal mentorship for future leaders is often touted, little research had empirically determined whether it actually has a positive effect on leadership development. In particular, no research had been conducted showing that being in a mentorship relationship increased protégés confidence in their own leadership abilities—a belief that has been linked with leader performance in several previous studies.
Mentors are important in helping protégés make meaning out of their experiences in a focused, one-on-one manner as compared to a less-personalized group setting. Mentors also provided important psychosocial support and served to validate their protégés’ claims of leadership. For the process to work, however, protégés need to be open and willing to discuss and explore their leadership with their mentor. That requires a high level of trust. Additionally, protégés who are oriented to handle tough and negative feedback also get more from mentorships than those who prefer to be only complimented on their performance.
Businesses may want to consider approaching leadership development in new, more systematic ways by using mentors. Prior research has also demonstrated that mentoring relationships have positive benefits for mentors as well as their protégés. Organizations have to decide for themselves how important leadership development is.