Mastering Mentoring 3 Questions

July 24, 2021

Any mentoring relationship will have lots of time to dialog. It is the exchange of ideas that leads to growth for both the mentor and the protégé. The fundamental objective is to learn from each other by a series of discussions.  How these discussions are conducted will have a lot to say about the relative effectiveness of the relationship.

Use Questions

Try to slant your verbal expressions to the other person in the form of open-ended questions.  An open-ended question is one that cannot be answered “yes” or “no.”

I think it is possible to overdo this advice. I know one consultant who is a former lawyer. He frames up every single thought in the form of an open ended question.  It is just in his DNA, like he is incapable of making a declarative statement..  Whenever I meet with this person I come away exhausted as if we are playing some kind of communication jousting match. If you ask him a question, he will respond with another question.  It is annoying. 

It will be tempting to suggest techniques or actions in a declarative form. The reason is that the effort has the feel of one person teaching another.  Let me share a couple examples to contrast the two styles.

Examples

If you are the mentor, you might be tempted to advise the protégé with a statement like, “Never interrupt another person who is in the middle of a thought.” That is good advice, but it might be better to frame it up as follows, “How do you react when someone cuts you off before you have finished your point?”

A protégé might be tempted to say, “We should plan to meet at least once per week.” A more fruitful discussion of timing might start with the question, “How can we tell when it’s time for us to meet physically?”

Vary Your Communication Style

Be a bit flexible, and vary your style of communication so that most, but not all, of your ideas are presented in the form of questions. The flow of conversation should take on the feel of two people who are respectfully exploring the ideas under consideration by doing a lot of listening. Mentors would do well to shoot for conversations being 70% listening and 30% speaking and remember to use all forms of communications.

Keep in mind that not all communication will be face to face,  All modes of communication will be used at times in the relationship. Electronic communication is frequently used to coach a protégé. Typically, exchanges using e-mail or texting can be an efficient mode of mentoring. Even body language will become part of the method of conveying meaning between the parties.

Conclusion

A great mentor relationship can last for years or even decades, because both parties are getting benefit from the relationship. If both parties frequently point out their gratitude for the relationship, you are on the right track. Invest in these relationships because they will bring out the best in both people.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 2 Getting to Know You

July 17, 2021

At the start of every mentoring relationship, I take the time to do a deep dive into the other person’s background, preferences, hobbies, personal family life, and any other thing I can think of as a baseline for the other person.

Many leadership mentors feel it is inappropriate to probe into matters outside the professional life of a protégé. I believe that mindset is flawed, because in order to be of maximum assistance to this person, you need to really know what makes him or her tick.

Note: for the remainder of this article, I will use the male pronoun in order to avoid the cumbersome “he or she” structure as much as possible. The concepts should apply to each gender equally.

You are not embarking on a casual relationship here. You are entering into a relationship that will impact every aspect of the other person’s life. I am not advocating that you pry into areas where he wants privacy.

Caveat

The caveat here is to gently test the comfort level for any topic before getting involved in a discussion in that area. For some topics, it may take a long time to build up enough trust to share details about the individual’s past. Other times a person may be perfectly comfortable sharing any detail from the past right from the start.

 I believe it is important for you to know as much as you can in the following areas:

What does he find motivating?

We each have a key to what gets us excited.  We may not even be able to articulate it accurately, but it is there. If a person draws a blank on this issue, try using a “Strength Finder” instrument that may help uncover some hidden keys to the person’s motivation.

When is he most happy?  When does he feel most fulfilled? What does he dislike? What are his opinions on different management styles?

Identify his background

In as much detail as he will offer, find out about his upbringing and what events shaped his life up to this point. Pay particular attention to how he describes his feelings as he talks about his background.

Find out his current family situation, if he will share that

What forces are acting on him at the moment, and what is he proud of? What does he worry about? Who were some of his heroes when he was growing up?  How did he get along with the other kids in the neighborhood?

Hobbies

What does he like to do with his free time?  What things does he avoid at all cost? Who does he like to hang out with and to what groups does he belong? What was it about these groups that was of interest to him?

Annoyances

What types of situations get him angry, and why does this occur? How does he act when angry? How does he go about resolving his anger?

Aspirations

Where does he want to be in 5 or 10 years?  What steps is he taking to get there? What does he think are the biggest obstacles?

How can you be most helpful to him?

The person may not have a good grasp of this variable at the start, but there may be some directional ideas he can share that will be useful.

Conclusion

Learning these things about the other person will enhance the relationship in many ways. First, you will not be making false assumptions about the individual. Second, you can relate to his personal traits as you brainstorm what actions might be helpful next. Third, it will be easier to show empathy for the person when times or topics get tough.

You can often find out about these and many other personal traits in just a couple hours of chatting. You may also want to let him know these things about you, since a good mentoring relationship is bilateral.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 


Mastering Mentoring 1 A New Series

July 10, 2021

I have been writing a series called “Leadership Barometer” for the past couple years. Thus far there are 100 articles in the series.  At this point I am not tapped out, so  that series will continue, but there is a subset topic that deserves a new series of its own. The topic is mentoring: specifically mentoring for leaders.

My observation has been that there are many candidates to become great leaders, but the world still suffers from a shortage of great leaders. The problem is not having enough candidates but having adequate teachers. When teaching skills such as leadership, we usually refer to the activity as “mentoring.”

The reason so few high caliber leaders take the time to mentor other leaders is that they are so consumed with being successful themselves; there is very little time to mentor others.  I consider that mindset as a big mistake. Unfortunately, the problem is very common.

For this series, I will use my experience to recall many techniques that I have found helpful when mentoring would-be leaders.  I will also share some caveats or things that do not seem to work very well.  Each article will focus on just one facet of mentoring.

One negative practice has sunk many a well-intended mentoring effort. If we start to think of a mentoring effort as a “program,” we start off on the wrong foot.  Often groups will do a kind of “matching” effort in order to pair people who should work well together.

The more senior person (called the mentor) is introduced to a protege, with whom he or she will work in the future. This mechanical pairing of people has a low batting average in terms of a solid long term mentoring relationship. The reason is simple; to achieve a sustainable effort both parties must benefit by the relationship.

The way to avoid this common trap is to not think of mentoring as a program. Instead, encourage individuals to seek out a person who would resonate with them personally and who is willing to provide access. Don’t over administer the relationship with fixed meeting schedules or forms to fill out.  Let the relationship progress at a rate and with such tools as the two people invent themselves.

This “ownership” by both parties is a critical first step.  Each party will be interested in making the relationship work and be willing to invest time and effort into a process that they mutually own.

In my own case, I was blessed with a very strong mentoring relationship with a senior leader.  We did not call it “mentoring,” we just had a very close relationship where we both got large advantages out of spending time together. There was no paperwork or fixed schedules to adhere to, rather the interfaces occurred naturally as the opportunities for coaching became evident.

Communication was almost daily, and it was mostly done through the mode that was most comfortable for the mentor. In this case voice mail was used extensively to coach each other. I, the protege, gained insights and techniques in the form of ideas or suggestions. My mentor gained by my sharing my observations of how my mentor was engaging the entire population. So, we were kind of coaching each other along on a daily basis for more than 25 years.

The first piece of advice in this series is to encourage the organic formation of mentoring relationships and do not over-administer the effort as a “program.”  You will be much more successful in the end.

 

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.