Is Mentoring Really Worth It?

Emotional Intelligence expert Daniel Goleman says coaching by managers can actually help...the managers.

Daniel Goleman, author of the bestseller “Emotional Intelligence,” is a regular contributor to Korn Ferry. His latest book, "Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body," is available now. 

Leaders fill many roles to meet the demands of the moment, serving as negotiators, strategy visionaries, decision makers, coordinators, conflict managers, and more. Any given leader brings various levels of skill to each of these roles. The best leaders are most accomplished at these different functions, and knowing which is needed when.

Being a coach or mentor to direct reports are two such key leadership roles. This goes beyond the “here’s how to fix that deficit revealed in your performance review” approach that sometimes passes for coaching. The Coach and Mentor Competency is one of the 12 crucial leadership abilities in my model of emotional and social intelligence. Leaders skilled at this competency care about the development of others, give constructive feedback, and focus on the person’s goals, not the company’s. 

Why coaching and mentoring matter

Leading means getting things done through others. The more skillful those people are, the more effective they’ll be at getting the work done. Building your staff’s capabilities helps them work better – and increases their engagement in their current position and enhances their career development. It’s also good for the organization as it improves and increases the skills available to meet the organization’s goals. Perhaps surprisingly, research shows it also benefits the leader.

Researchers at universities in Florida and Pennsylvania reviewed 18 studies about the career benefits for mentors and found that leaders who mentored were more satisfied with their jobs and more committed to their organization than those who were not mentors. One study conducted at the Center for Creative Leadership with data collected from more than 30,000 leaders from more than 4,000 different organizations across from 33 different countries showed that leaders considered to be effective mentors by their direct reports had higher performance ratings from their own boss. Other research done at CCL indicated that a key skill gap for first-time managers is the ability to coach, develop, and mentor their own direct reports. Companies recognize that managers need that skill to be successful, but many first-time managers fall short 

How to build coaching and mentoring skills

One key to developing the Coach and Mentor competency is recognizing that such support is not simply a focus on technical skill building. Rather, it means helping people move toward their goals. The Intentional Change Theory, developed by my colleague Richard Boyatzis, professor at Case Western University’s school of management, recognizes that people are more likely to do the hard work to learn and make changes if they have a clear sense of why they’re doing it—and how this will help them achieve their larger goal.

To develop your ability with this competency, first assess your abilities. Being a strong coach or mentor builds on other EI competencies, especially emotional self-awareness, emotional self-management, and empathy. Additional skills that underlie coaching and mentoring include listening well, stepping back from one’s own “agenda,” and focusing on the needs of the other person so you can better help them see how working toward their goals ties in to what they do in their job. The most adept coaches and mentors ask the right question at the right moment.

What’s the right question to ask yourself right now about your next steps in developing your ability as a coach and mentor? See my new primer for more insights to further develop your capacity in the Coach and Mentor Competency.