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"There is a difference between success and significance. I think that success is when I add value to my life. Significance is when I add value to others…I think mentoring is significance…" John C Maxwell

Think back on your own career, starting as far back as school. Almost all of us will be able to name a handful of individuals (teachers, religious leaders, a family member, a boss) who have contributed disproportionately to our development, have showed belief in our abilities and have encouraged us to pursue dreams and aspirations. They drew from within you a best that you couldn't have conceived of. It is because of this profound effect of these people on our lives and the profound effect that mentors could have on organizations, business, churches, children, community, our country…that I want you to examine this theme of "raising up giant killers" with me.

Why giant killers?

In nature the lioness models the principles of raising up giant killers. She has a gestation of just over 100 days. This short time in the womb results in underdeveloped young who are basically helpless at birth. It is unthinkable that these frail little creatures are born with the potential to become the most powerful hunters in the African bush! The lioness models those non negotiable qualities of successful mentorship but also understands that she has a dual role in the pride as mother and hunter. The lioness is a patient mother and will deliberately invest in time to bond and interact with her cubs, often just watching over them. There is also a point where she needs to introduce her offspring to the rest of the pride. This introduction is strategically timed to ensure a safe induction in an often hostile and extremely competitive environment. Each event in the pride creates opportunity to learn. The lioness purposefully times the raising of her cubs and exposes them at the right moment to the different activities in the pride. It is this opportunistic approach to learning and development that expedite the competence of the young adults. Finally she recognizes the importance to wean and encourages the young adults to hunt for themselves. Her ability to care for, nurture, protect, expose and eventually wean is a truly remarkable effort.

Organisations are very much the same as a pride of lions. If they want to survive, they need a continuous supply of specialists in key positions and competent managers, particularly at the more senior levels where knowledge, decisions and strategy are part of the individual's success. There are two ways to ensure such a supply. One is to recruit directly into critical and senior positions from outside the organisation. The other is to develop talented managers internally to ensure an adequate pool of staff that could compete for opportunities as they arise.

As much as the lion has to invest in knowing its territory and adapt his hunting to be able to survive, so will organizations. The changing business landscape has necessitated a more aggressive focus with regards to a number of business realities, the

  • Continuation of rapid organisational change and transformation
  • Increasing globalization of business and intensification of competition
  • Rising customer expectations with regards to product and service quality
  • Escalating expectations from a younger generation of employees with regards to quality of work life and career management, and
  • Increased public scrutiny towards corporate governance and social responsibility

These pointers have no doubt a number of implications for business and management in the future, also the people that will be employed in key positions

  • Greater concern with the planning and implementation of strategic change
  • Organisations will become fast moving, less bureaucratic and more responsive to external forces and change
  • Organisations will become progressively more dependent on the quality of their human resources and therefore need to grow internally the capacity for their future needs
  • Organisations will become more and more diverse that includes members from many different cultural backgrounds
  • Even more emphasis on leadership and less on administration
  • Greater involvement in non hierarchical relationships with suppliers, customers, and joint venture partners

What kind of managers will be required to fill such roles? Young talented staff members are often identified for management and leadership positions because of their on the job work performance and their technical expertise.

In countless instances these young professionals are promoted to positions for which they have not been properly groomed and therefore do not have the appropriate know-how and skills. Many of these talented individuals also represent vast numbers of woman and individuals from different cultures and backgrounds. Organisations face the challenge to accelerate their development in a proactive way and not to play mouth to the numbers game of diversity targets.

Organisations that want to survive will have to identify managers and leaders with a mindset of the lioness, who are willing to act as mentors and will take time to invest in the development of talented individuals. Who will care, protect, expose and eventually raise giant killers for the business.

This article is an extract from Niël Steinmann's book called "Fundamentals for Effective Mentoring: Raising Giant Killers".

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