Good leadership from solid mentoring

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 September, 2007, 12:00am

Exploring workplace issues with Ji-Ye Hwang

Later this year my company Hewitt Associates will publish the findings of our 'Top Companies for Leaders' study. This is a global study that researches leadership practices and recognises organisations that successfully and consistently develop leaders.

As part of the judging process, I had the opportunity to interview chief executive officers and human resource department heads to explore their viewpoints on leadership development, and how they implemented their practices. In one interview, I asked leaders from a financial services company what they found most useful in developing leaders in their organisation. I expected an elaborate reply, but instead their answer was simple: 'We find mentoring and coaching relationships to be the most effective in developing leaders in our organisation.' After the interview, I started reflecting on my own mentoring relationships.

I have had the privilege of having several mentors in my life. At university I had a political science professor who I shared my perspectives and test arguments with on the latest political events around the world. While we mainly talked about politics, our many conversations added depth to my problem-solving skills that are so critical in my job today.

At work, I have had two main mentors. My first is a senior colleague who I have worked with for several years. How I interact with clients today has been shaped by my observations of him in the meetings we attended together. What will I remember this mentor for? He always said: 'Two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.' He also said, 'It's not about you. It's about the client.' These words continue to ring in my head today.

My second mentor was once my manager, but has become my go-to person to bounce ideas off. I appreciate this mentor for checking in on me every so often to see how I am doing in busy times. He has helped me navigate through organisation structures and manage complex relationships that are the hallmark of any matrix organisation in the global economy today.

Mentoring programmes are now on the list of best practices of leading organisations. At my firm we also have a formal mentoring programme, and I have spoken to several companies that wanted help in setting one up. While companies can do all they want to set up the infrastructure and assign mentors to individuals, unless there is a degree of initiative from the individual seeking mentorship, the relationship will just be a formal one in name at best.

If you want to grow in your organisation, take the initiative to find a mentor, develop that relationship and have a teachable spirit. The right mentors will impart knowledge and provide the eye-opening experiences that no classroom experience can offer.

Ji-Ye Hwang is a senior consultant with Hewitt Associates, a global HR consulting and outsourcing company. She is Hewitt Hong Kong's lead consultant for employee engagement. Her views are not necessarily endorsed by Hewitt Associates.