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The best ways to mentor talent in your healthcare business

Brian O'Connell

Healthcare entrepreneurs like to call their own shots; there’s no doubt about that.

But savvy startup owners know they can’t do it all alone – over the short-term or the long-term.

That’s why hiring and grooming quality staffers is such a high priority for small business owners. Few businesses have thrived by the work ethic and strategic vision of one single entrepreneur.

The trick is to hire future business leaders while they’re still young and impressionable enough to absorb the lessons of commerce, and don’t mind a mentor (meaning you) who provides the kind of no-nonsense career and management guidance needed to turn today’s 25-year-old salesperson into your future director of sales or even future CEO.

What’s the best way to mold the future leaders in your healthcare company? The business journal Academy of Management Learning and Education has a few thoughts on that topic, and they’re certainly worth vetting for entrepreneurs looking to groom young talent for greater responsibilities.

A new study that appears in a forthcoming issue of the journal sheds some light on the topic. The data, pulled together by a research team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, concludes that startup owners should establish mentoring programs for “promising prospects” but only on a one-on-one basis, and not in formal group training.

In doing so, business owners and CEOs should endeavor to create that one-on-one environment so it creates an atmosphere of “full trust” between mentor and protégé, and where the latter can handle “blunt criticism” from the former.

In a word, the best protégé programs are all about trust – and the more trust you have, the stronger the training results should be down the road.

“Organizations in the U.S. spend billions each year trying to develop better leaders with mixed results,” says Peter Harms, assistant professor of management at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and co-author of the study. “This study is important because it explains why so many programs may be falling short of expectations.”

What Harms and his team were really after was the elusive link between mentoring and leadership training. And what he found was that trust from both parties really does breed confidence.

“Our research demonstrates that if leadership training efforts are to be successful, the targets of such interventions must be ready to develop,” he explains. “And the foundation of such readiness is an atmosphere of trust and a willingness to hear the hard truth about yourself.”

Harms also says that research data has been historically weak on the link between mentoring and leadership development, but that several studies did indicate that it was the seasoned business leader’s job to instill trust and confidence in young, promising business talent.

The study involved surveying the sentiment of several hundred cadets at the U.S Military Academy at West Point. Researchers split the survey groups in two, with some cadets in a tailored, one-on-one structured mentorship program or a comparison group that would participate in group leadership training in a classroom setting. The results clearly showed that the cadets participating in the one-on-one sessions “were significantly more likely to increase their confidence for being in a leadership role than their counterparts.”

Harms and his team say that West Point instructors were better able to “reach” individual cadets and build the types of relationships that proved fertile for growth in both confidence and trust. That climate also allowed for more straight talk and criticism, which builds even more honesty and trust, Harms says. That’s not to say group-based mentoring and training didn’t work – just that the one-one-on sessions worked better.

 “West Point cadets are taught the value of doing what is right, even if it is hard for them,” Harms adds. “There’s a reason for this. Individuals who embraced this principle showed that they are the ones who deserve to be leaders of the future. And when the time comes, they will be ready.”

Keep the West Point study in mind when you’re building your own business mentorship programs. Whether it’s a future battlefield general or a future CEO, straight talk in a one-on-one setting may be the best way to reach out to talented protégés.

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