How to develop team members and yourself

Before you can lead others, you must first learn to lead yourself. That's the concept behind self-leadership. As leaders practice self-leadership, they can use the same principles to develop and mentor their employees and team members.

Every leader's definition of self-leadership can vary. Still, most definitions follow an outline similar to the one laid out by best-selling author Liz Wiseman: If leadership development is helping people move toward a shared vision, self-leadership is bridging that gap between where we are and where we need to be.

Simply put, it is the ability to progress and grow in the right direction and involves self-knowledge, goal setting, and self-management. It means self-awareness to understand skills and weaknesses and the sensory context to learn how others perceive those skills and weaknesses.

We live in a time of ambiguity and change when leaders ask people to constantly give up the comfort of the status quo and move in new directions to develop new strategies, learn new skills, and let go of old practices. However, according to Wiseman, it's much harder for leaders to ask their employees to change and evolve if they aren't willing to do it themselves.

As leaders set the example through self-leadership and continually evaluate, evolve, and refine their skills and mindsets, they set the example and create a safe and supportive culture for employees to follow in their footsteps — leading to an organization and workforce that is primed for the future and continually improving and growing.

Practices for Leaders Who Want to Develop Their Team

In its most basic form, mentoring provides employees a person to act as a sounding board, coach, and guide. Research shows that 90% of employees with a career mentor are happy at work, meaning mentoring helps leaders build their teams and creates a supportive and engaging environment where employees can grow and thrive.

Consider these five best practices for leaders as they mentor:

1. Be intentional. Mentoring requires building authentic relationships. Set aside time to communicate, be available, and give your best to your mentees.

2. Create confidence. A strong mentor builds up the people around them by empowering their employees to try new things, ask questions, and believe in themselves.

3. Be constructive. Great mentors provide feedback and don't shy away from difficult conversations. They seek to build up the people around them as they help them improve.

4. Be an active listener. Please pay attention to the people you are mentoring and communicate in ways that make them feel comfortable and heard.

5. Connect and collaborate. Mentoring is about relationship-building. Work with your mentee to improve and grow together.

What Self-Leadership Looks Like When Mentoring

Self-leadership may be an internal process for leaders, meaning they follow the practice to improve themselves. But, they can apply self-leadership principles and involve their mentees in a relationship that benefits and improves both parties.

Here are three suggestions to put self-leadership into practice when mentoring:

Provide Feedback

Self-leadership relies on honest feedback. In a mentoring setting, this means providing feedback regularly through routine conversations and check-ins instead of waiting for an annual or semi-annual review. When giving feedback, mentors can point out blind spots in their mentees. Wiseman shares the experience of talking with an author she mentors. She asked if he wanted feedback and then shared an adjustment that improved his book. The author couldn't see the suggestion because he was heads-down when writing the book. A mentor can help people see what's on the periphery with regular feedback.

Create Safety

Along with providing feedback, mentors can also create a psychologically safe environment for their mentors to ask questions, experiment, and listen to suggestions without fear of judgment. Amy Edmonson refers to this as "elt permission for candor." When employees and teams feel safe to speak up, they tend to be more motivated and engaged and create better work. Whether you're mentoring one person or leading a team, creating safety through humility and sharing your growth establishes candor and strengthens relationships.

Creating safety comes from asking inviting questions that people don't feel pressured to answer a certain way. It's the difference between asking, "Do you have any feedback?" versus "What feedback do you have for me?" As leaders practice self-leadership, they ask questions that welcome a response and build relationships.

Understand Context

A significant component of self-leadership is self-awareness. For mentors, that means helping mentees see things they cannot see and helping bring situational and contextual awareness. Often, employees don't lack the skills; they lack visibility and context. A mentor acts as a sounding board for ideas and helps mentees find what they struggle to see; they encourage growth and development. A good mentor helps people raise their sights and see things differently, perhaps by taking a different perspective, providing additional information, or giving them new responsibilities. As leaders provide context, their mentees can see things differently and apply their skills and knowledge in a new way for better results.

Self-leadership encourages leaders to grow and develop continually. When self-leaders become mentors, they can share those principles and help build their team members, resulting in a positive and prepared organization.

Written by

Michelle Kaiser
Michelle Kaiser

Senior Editor |

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