Two trends are converging in today's global workplace. First, demographic changes are creating a leadership gap due to the departure of baby boomers from the workplace, pressuring companies to fill the leadership gap and prevent valuable knowledge from leaving the organization. The second trend is the need for innovation and creativity in all aspects of business development, business processes and service provision. The capacity of a company to provide products, solutions and value-added services depends indisputably on the competence of the company in these areas. Just as organizations must retain the knowledge and skills of established leaders, they must also focus on developing the next generation of leaders who can lead others towards innovation in complex, dynamic and global organizational environments. Therefore, a focus on innovation must be fundamental to fill the leadership gap, and determining which tools are most effective in this effort remains an overwhelming challenge.
It is the national month of mentoring and, therefore, it is a good time to explore mentoring as a professional development tool. Mentoring can provide critical support for building individual and organizational competencies and can help organizations fill their leadership gaps by developing the next generation of individuals who will lead and manage innovation work. Mentoring has gained popularity and attention as an approach to support professional development for those who advance through the ranks in all types of organizations. Employees with access to tutoring constantly benefit from these relationships. For example, research shows that people with a mentor report higher salaries, more frequent promotions, higher job satisfaction, a stronger commitment to their organization, and a lower likelihood of wanting to leave their job compared to people without mentors. It should not be surprising, then, that the companies that invest the most in mentoring initiatives are also among the companies recognized as the best places to work in their industries.
I think it is time to expand our vision of mentoring to include the process of leadership and management of innovation work. Some recent research has established a link between the positive impact of mentoring on the work done by creative teams and the overall process of innovation. Leaders with strong functional experience and strengths in the creative process and social skills are more likely to have a positive impact on innovative and creative outcomes. Other important competencies include the ability of the leader to make ethical decisions and act as a buffer against negative consequences, especially by the work done by the creative teams. This emerging trend of mentoring research has documented some successful examples of companies using formal mentoring efforts to develop and lead innovation through learning, role modeling, peer coaching and mentoring.
At Pitt Business, we have a unique approach to developing the next generation of leaders through our Undergraduate Certification Program in Leadership and Ethics. Over the past 15 years, we have taken advantage of experiential learning approaches both inside and outside the classroom to develop students who can lead others, impact and be effective and ethical leaders among their peers. Topics such as service leadership, managing diverse stakeholders, creating collaborations and developing a wide range of relational leadership skills are the cornerstone of this approach to leadership development. However, the certification program also takes advantage of two key tutoring processes. First, it uses peer-to-peer tutoring among college students to foster teamwork and project management skills that research shows are critical to innovation leaders. Second, the power of ethical role models to act as agents of change is facilitated by the work of projects outside the classroom in collaboration with more advanced students, alumni and business and community leaders. We have seen that the transfer of knowledge in the critical skill area of leadership is carried out through these relationships of peer tutoring and interaction with well-informed external role models.
Our observation is that mentoring within the content of innovation is a critical tool to close the gap between experiences and learning. Leaders can learn to understand complex situations, provide knowledge to their team and ensure that critical development experiences for themselves and team members are not wasted. While organizations face a leadership gap, especially among the types of people that are critical to managing innovation, creating programs that support effective mentors can be the right tool to ensure that knowledge and experiences are not lost. and, on the other hand, they are retained to promote innovation for the organization towards the future.