Should mentoring by executives be mandatory?

mentoringCan mentoring reduce employee attrition?

I have recently been approached to act as a mentor to a few younger people at different stages in their professional lives. Apart from the fact that I started to feel really old, the thought of being singled out to share the benefits of my somewhat lengthy experience with younger, more junior individuals was secretly quite flattering and whole idea of being perceived as a ” savvy sage” was also something of an ego boost.

But without wishing to turn the whole mentoring process on its head, the one thing that struck me after a number of these conversations, was actually I had a lot to learn from them too. So who are the real sages? Was I less savvy than I thought and felt?


Mentoring is a relationship between an experienced and less experienced person for the purpose of supporting the lesser experienced individual in reaching their goals. Traditionally mentoring is considered to be for the benefit of the mentee and junior, younger people are often advised to seek out a senior person to support them on their career paths. Much research shows that anyone who is mentored, achieves higher levels of success than people who are not. This is true of the workplace, but equally valid outside in any context, community, or organisation. But with recent talk about the perceived lack of trust and transparency in communication in our organisations and political systems, today’s leaders are losing credibility in the ranks. So I started thinking that instead of encouraging junior employees to find a mentor – perhaps it should work the other way round.


When I started to engage with these younger and less experienced people I was instantly struck by the openness of the dialogue, but above all their insights. Clearly age and experience means that situations that were challenging 20 years ago are now only minor and routine parts of our daily lives. Repetition makes things easier and much practise makes almost perfect. But these young people have their own pool of knowledge, although possibly lack the confidence to share it as we older folk might. They lack the several decades of 20/20 hindsight to know the value of what they’ve experienced, but they do come at things from a different angle. We need that.

Lack of transparent communication

There was also more than a faint touch of cynicism and a lack of credibility in the overall ability of the leaderships of their organisations or communities, from business leaders to politicians. I have seen many recent studies from different parts of the world about the lack of employee engagement and indications that when economies settle, many intend to change jobs (65 % of Fortune 500 senior executives are concerned about this). In a recent report from Deloitte 48% cited a loss of trust in their employers, with 46 % suggesting that a lack of transparent communication from the company leadership as key factors in reaching their decisions to jump ship as soon as they could.

Out of touch

The older and more senior we are, the more we tend to stick in our comfort zones of colleagues and peers, both socially and professionally. We might make the odd sortie to the annual organisational party but for many it’s been some time since they’ve been hands on at the “coal face”.

So just how out of touch are we?

Most executives when they reach the lofty heights of senior positions are generally 20 or even 30 years removed from the grass-roots of their businesses – whatever they are. Television programmes have been made showing CEO’s plumbing the depths of their organisations incognito to find out what’s going on. The effects have been humbling, stage-managed it is true, but there nevertheless.

The mentoring process has put me more closely in touch with the experiences of a new generation. Has anything changed since my day? Regrettably in some areas not as much as I had hoped, in others, the changes have been significant. I have also tapped into a huge amount of generational information that I would never have gleaned from business books, blogs or newspaper articles.

For any women who would like a mentor -check out the 3Plus Mentor matching programme

Pay it forward

So my suggestion would be that all relatively senior managers should be obliged to mentor a junior person, not necessarily within their own organisation to avoid accusations of bias or favouritism, but somewhere in their business world or community! It would be a sort of “pay it forward” to motivate crusty, maybe stuck in the mud, possibly faintly narcissistic or even arrogant execs, to leave their Blackberries and schedules, to take time out from the privilege, but also the isolation and stress of their senior roles. This metaphoric rolling up of shirt sleeves will possibly help in some small way to turn back the hands of time and give them a chance to literally touch base.

Looking at the top from the bottom they can at least decide what they make of the view and indeed if they like what they see.

Am I still a “savvy sage”? Possibly! But still a lot of miles on those tires and a lot to learn.

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Should mentoring by executives be mandatory?

  1. Trevor Nagle

    While I would agree with the spirit of obligatory mentoring by executives, in reality there are many individuals (at all levels of leadership, including executive levels) who simply make poor mentors. Sometimes having a poor mentor is worse than having no mentor at all. Clearly, one solution is to ensure that mentoring competency is built into anyone selected into the executive ranks. But until that happens (if it ever happens), I would respectfully disagree with the conclusion that all executives should be expected or obliged to be mentors.

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Thanks Trevor for your comment. I agree – having a bad mentor is worse than none at all. I also agree menotring training would invaluable to all. But then ask the question – shouldn’t good leaders and managers be able to mentor successfully? Just throwing this final one out there! Could that be part of the problem in the distrust of leaders ?

      1. Trevor Nagle

        I agree entirely, Dorothy, that good leaders and managers should definitely be able to successfully mentor. That’s exactly why I agreed “in spirit” with the blog post. In a world in which some executives may indeed not be truly good leaders, however, I hesitate to make a blanket statement that even the bad ones ought to mentor. But I think you’re right on the mark! Great conversation!

  2. ava diamond (@feistywoman)

    I love this idea, Dorothy. And to take it a step further, perhaps we should also require them to BE mentored by someone younger and less experienced. It would enable them to have “beginner’s mind” in areas they might not be as familiar with, and would keep them up to date on things they might not be in touch with.

  3. Wally Bock

    Another thoughtful post, Dorothy. I confess that I really oppose the idea of mandatory mentoring in any form. I’ve been a mentor and I love doing it, but I wouldn’t want to have to do it. I have children in the workplace and I wouldn’t want them to be saddled with a “mentor” who didn’t relish process. And I surely don’t want them caught in a mandatory relationship they can’t get out of. The Wall Street Journal had an article on this in 2008. It’s at

    1. Dorothy Dalton

      Hi Wally – thanks for your comment and lovely Top Talent Management post mention! Appreciated.

      In principle I agree with you. But with any innovative move, a period of transition where there is some obligation ( light or otherwise) is quite often necessary to kick start it. I’m not suggesting like an arranged marriage where some choice is not an option. Clearly there should be some chemistry and some professional motivation. What it might do is start a dialogue which seems to me to be badly needed. Things are currently being left to chance and the figures point to significant potential employee attrition problems.

      Of course that could lead to all sorts of other issues. What if these senior people are rejected continually by potential mentees – does that convey a message? Are people who can’t successfully connect with others good leaders? Or can managers be considered successful if they lack that type of people skill?

      Just thowing those thoughts out there!

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