Some say the only real way to develop and train leaders is throw them into leadership roles to get actual experience while pairing them with a mentor. This way, the theory goes, future leaders get experience and receive the necessary guidance and feedback to succeed.
This trend in leadership training stems from a school of thought that says “you can’t learn without doing.” It would seem that this approach flies in the face of the traditional training method, which involves providing information about how to succeed before casting employees into leadership roles.
But the two approaches can actually go hand in hand. While you can’t “learn without doing”, you also can’t “do without learning.”
Here are some reasons why:
You don’t know what you don’t know.
The truth is, no matter how experienced a mentor is, you can’t take advantage of one as a resource unless you already know what you need to work on. This means learning the necessary skills before enlisting a mentor to get an idea of what you need practice with.
Mentors are only human.
Often times mentors have their own careers and other mentees to develop, so they can’t be there to help 24/7. Expecting them to dedicate all their time to one person (who might well be struggling in a particular area) is unrealistic, no matter how much they want to help. With readily available content, however, mentees can independently catch up on the areas they are struggling with so they can use their mentor’s time as wisely as possible.
Educational content keeps mentorship from becoming a crutch.
Mentors can sometimes be so knowledgeable and ready with answers that they don’t give mentees a chance to grasp the information for themselves, keeping them from becoming masters in their own right. Coupling on-demand training content with a great mentorship program grants the mentee the autonomy to learn independently in a way that satisfies him. You also provide a resource in the mentor to help mentees put what they learn to action or apply theory to practice.
Some people are natural problem solvers.
How many people turn to Google to help diagnose their car? Style their own hair? Look up medical symptoms? Some people are much more comfortable taking a “hands on” approach to their problem solving. For these people, providing a library of information might fit well with their learning style.
Content allows you to take credit for your own growth.
While mentoring helps sharpen skills already learned and provides advice on how to implement them, strong leaders will want a sense of “ownership” when it comes to their own career development. On-demand learning allows these individuals to be active participants in their own training, which in turn allows them to relate to their mentors more effectively.
Having a mentor fosters an attitude of humility and teamwork.
Those same strong leaders often tend to struggle with asking for help. However, when a training and development program involves mentorship, a message is sent that says “hey, we don’t expect you to know everything. It’s okay to ask questions. We are in this together.” Providing mentors is a great way for a company to make the first move in establishing a relationship based on teamwork. Plus, a strong learning culture builds company loyalty among employees, which saves money, avoids waste, and attracts a higher level of talent.
Mentors can guide use of content strengths and weaknesses.
Mentors can also augment content. They can provide feedback on different personality quirks, hidden talent and potential that might otherwise be missed. Mentors can then better use their time to direct the potential leader to content that can help enhance his or her their skills plus work on areas of development.
Everyone’s learning style is different.
Everyone has different personalities and learning styles that a mentor may not know how to train. While mentors are good at pointing out what a mentee still needs to learn, it isn’t fair to expect them to teach everything. Again, a library of information might fill the gap between the information to be learned and the mentor’s lack of experience in certain areas.
In the end, mentoring and content can be more effective when used together. If both aspects of your program are good, they will better engage future leaders while giving them the freedom to reach out for help.