Mentorship and Succession: the most neglected aspect of Leadership

Dr. Alfred Mbeteh.

Leadership is a vital concept with numerous connotations. For instance, Maxwell defined it as “having a genuine willingness and a true commitment to lead others to achieve a common vision and goals through positive influence”. Similarly, Dr. Myles Munroe referred to it as “the capacity to influence others through inspiration, motivated by passion, generated by vision, produced by a conviction, ignited by a purpose”.

However, to narrow this down, for the purpose of this article, leadership is defined as the ability to influence people to passionately pursue a vision now and beyond the current leader’s tenure. Implicit in this definition are the two most important roles that differentiates between great leaders and leaders who only occupy a position: Mentorship and succession.

The word méntoras (μέντορας), the Greek word for mentorship originated from the classic poem ‘The Odyssey’ by Homer in 800 BCE. The poem describes a character, Odysseus who was the King of Ithaca. Odysseus was preparing to live his kingdom for Troy and decided to find someone who can act as a friend, teacher, and adviser to his son, Telemachus whilst he was away. The name of that guardian was Mentor.

Therefore, to mentor simply means to replicate oneself in another. It is a process of carefully imparting the key skills and qualities of a mentor into a mentee.

Mentorship is the relationship between the mentor and the mentee where the former teaches the latter on how to effectively maintain and enlarge the vision of the former.

Similarly, the term succession is a Latin word for successionem that simply implies to follow after or step into the shoe of another. It is the process of effectively planning the handing over of a leadership position to a well-trained mentee. Succession is one of the only few words in the dictionary with the word SUCCESS. Thus, succession is the successful handing over of a leadership position to a successor (mentee) in order to successfully carry on the vision of the mentor (leader).

However, Mentorship and succession have been the most neglected aspect of leadership. A lot of organizational and political leaders have held unto power for the longest of time and when they do let go, there is always a struggle to find a perfect replacement.

But why do leaders hold unto power? Why can’t they simply plan their succession by mentoring others? The answers to these questions, the author believes are anchored on two key pillars:

1) the core values of the leader that he or she has acquired from his or her environment and

2) his or her lack of understanding of the importance of Mentorship and succession.

In the worldview of the great Italian writer, politician, philosopher, and historian, Nicole Machiavelli “It is much safer to be feared than loved,”. Implicit in this worldview was the advocation for manipulation and cruelty as the best strategies to be a great leader and hold unto power for the longest of time.

Machiavelli postulated that the utilization of deceit and the killing of the innocents, is a sine qua non to attain and maintain power? His doctrines were predominantly practiced by ancient and medieval leaders.

Decades after, the author of ‘The 48 Laws of Power’ (shown in figure 1) Robert Greene built on Machiavelli’s worldview by propagating what seems to be the most ruthless view on leadership.

Figure 1: The 48 Laws of Power

Some of the key laws that may have consciously or subconsciously led to the neglect of leaders in mentoring their followers are:

Law 2: Never put too much trust in friends, learn how to use enemies.

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions.

Law 6: Court Attention at All Costs.

Law 8: Make other people come to you – use bait if necessary.

Law 11: Learn to keep people dependent on you.

Law 12: Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm Your Victims.

Law 15: Crush Your Enemy Totally.

Law 17: Keep others in suspended terror: cultivate an air of unpredictability

Law 18: Keep Others in Suspended Terror.

Law 20: Do not commit to anyone.

Law 27: Play on people’s need to believe to create a cult-like following

Law 42: Strike the shepherd and the sheep will scatter

Law 43: Work on the hearts and minds of others.

Taking Law 11 in particular “Learn to keep people dependent on you” it is clear that Greene is suggesting that leaders shouldn’t empower their subordinates. They should rather keep the core secrets that help them to attain and maintain their position away from their followers. In fact, Greene specifically asserted that you should “never teach them enough so that they can do without you”. Simply keep them wholly dependent on you and you became more powerful and feared.

Thus, philosophical leadership theories postulated by Machiavelli and Greene has transcended the minds and actions of most leaders even today. Most leaders believe that teaching a follower to take on leadership roles will only help to weaken their current power base. They believe the best way to stay in power is to widen the gap between what they know and what their followers know.

However, 21st-century leadership requires a complete overhaul of the Machiavellian philosophical values. Leaders need to develop values that are in congruence with mentoring their followers to take on leadership positions. Leaders need to understand that Mentorship and succession are naturally built into the leadership function.

Mentorship allows leaders to find their successful replacement. Mentorship makes it possible for a leader to delegate activities thereby reducing their workload. To mentor is to understand that there is leadership potential in every follower and that it is the responsibility of the leader to harness that potential. Leaders don’t therefore, need to have their followers dependent on them, they simply need to empower them for a successful succession.

In order to effectively mentor and plan for a successful transfer of power from the mentor (leader) to the mentee (follower), the following six key strategies embedded in what the author calls the MENTOR’s Model can be utilized:

M: Mobilise the greatest of your followers into a MASTERMIND GROUP

E: Continuously ENGAGE them on your broad vision

N: NURTURE them with tips and advice on a continuous (Kaizen) basis

T: Provide regular empowerment TRAINING programs in the form of workshops, seminars, etc

O: Set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART) OBJECTIVES and delegate part of your leadership function

R: REVIEW their performance on a regular basis

In conclusion, with the ever-changing world, meeting the needs of current and future challenges requires an exemplary leadership style that is rooted in effectively planning for succession through Mentorship. Leaders should understand that their greatest achievement lies not in the number of infrastructural facilities they build, but rather the number of followers they helped. make leaders. In essence, Leaders should simply build people, not buildings.


About The Author

Dr. Alfred Mbeteh is a Researcher, Entrepreneur, Author, Lecturer, and Motivational Speaker (REALM).

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