09/17/2014 01:06 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

Mentoring, Following and Leading: Skills We Should All Maintain

Ten years, 20 years or more into our career, how many of us take the time to consciously step back and ask ourselves about our communication style? Specifically as leaders, do we recognize the need to mentor (or be mentored), as well as to follow when appropriate?

I work with a lot of young persons who are five to seven years into their own careers, and just taking those first tentative steps toward becoming leaders. While very talented in their subject areas, many of them have a thirst for leadership and wish to develop these skills so that they can take on more responsibility. Likewise, as a member of the leadership team, there are times when I find that I have to step back and passively listen. There are also times when I sit with coworkers with a mind toward learning from them -- a definite form of mentoring.

Being a good leader requires the ability to be adept in moving in and out of situations, determining the best course of action and then working to implement. Other times, it is far more valuable for a leader to step back and gently influence the outcome, enabling future leaders to gain the experience themselves. So, how do we think about each of these? When should we step in, and when do we stand back?

Mentoring is often a very satisfying role to play. Recently, one of my newest leaders had the chance to take on doing some staffing modeling for the first time. Unsure of what to do and how the outcome would look, they solicited input. Rather than providing the recipe that has worked for me in the past, they were encouraged to find their own way. We talked about what variables to consider (volume of work, time to complete that work, skills and new work that comes as we grow), and then talked about how each of the variables could be used to build the model. From there, I waited and watched. What they produced not only exceeded my expectations, but gave me insight into how they work that would help me continue to develop them in their career.

Following as a leader is probably the most challenging thing to do. Over the years, we cultivate our own style, our preferred methods and how we measure them. Yet, how often do others who ask that one question that turns the paradigm on its head, forcing us to look at things differently, challenge us? Thinking we have all of the answers is limiting, and keeping an open mind to other ideas enables us to not only continue to grow, but can strengthen the solution and/or outcome dramatically. While it can be frustrating (to say the least), it is vital to individual and team success to listen to ideas that challenge our own, giving them time to expand our thoughts and awareness.

Leading is something we can all continue to improve upon. Every time we meet someone new, we have the opportunity to strengthen our communication skills -particularly how we interact and how we embrace individuality, while celebrating unique talents. Personally, I have found that as I have matured, my leadership style is one of coaching for excellence. Discovering the things that people do well and celebrating these things also builds trust and understanding so that when we move from leading to coaching, it is a positive experience.

In short, as leaders we should endeavor to lead with a smile, coach with empathy and look for opportunities to follow and learn. This to me is a recipe that breeds success.

If you have any questions or would like to further discuss, please don't hesitate to contact me via email at - happy to continue the conversation.

Pam Lyra, Axcient VP of customer satisfaction and operations, has more than 20 years of experience motivating and leading teams.