Successful Supervisor Part 52 – Successful Mentoring

November 11, 2017

Mentoring is one of the most powerful ways organizations can improve. When you see organizations that thrive, you often see a culture that encourages and rewards employees for mentoring others.

Over several decades I have seen numerous “mentoring programs,” and most of them don’t last very long or have much success. I have also seen groups that thrive on mentoring, such that it is sustained and grows with time.

This brief article is about the contrast between those two visible extremes.

Why Mentoring Programs Fail

The core reason mentoring programs fail is imbedded in the word “program.” When we think of a mentoring effort as a mechanical process that brings mentors together with protégés, we get off on the wrong foot. Even with the use of sophisticated computer algorithms, the ability to match people up perfectly has a dismal record of success. Here are some reasons why:

1. Chemistry Missing

Great mentoring relationships grow organically. One person admires another, usually more senior, person and they become friends. They usually do not even use the word “mentor.” It is the quality of the relationship that adds value in both directions that keeps the momentum going.

When the match is cooked up by some outside process other than genuine admiration and chemistry, the taproot of stability rarely has a chance to grow.

2. Time Commitment Too Structured and Demanding

If a mechanical process is used, there are often periodic meetings with some form of documentation of what was discussed. In the frenetic pace of business and the chaos in which most executives live, the ability to carve out a specific hour on every Tuesday is unrealistic.

The intention may be there, and the meetings may actually happen for a few weeks, but unless the relationship is extremely valuable, the meeting schedule will start to slip out, and a few months down the road it becomes a rare exception that the “normal” meeting occurs.

Contrast that with a more informal mentoring relationship that has no fixed schedule. The two people meet only when there is a reason and then it is a drop in or call in situation rather than a scheduled commitment.

3. Value Mostly One Way

To endure, the value gained from the relationship needs to be bilateral. The protégé gains specific knowledge and seasoning that is shared, but the mentor also gains from the ability to see the organization from a different vantage point.

Being able to experience what is going on through the eyes of another (often younger) person is a huge advantage for busy executives. Managers often become insulated from the actual environment as perceived by the numerous people in the organization.

4. Lack of Trust

All mentor relationships are based on trust. Each individual needs to be sure the information passed back and forth will only go outside the confides of the two individuals if permission is given by the other person. If a violation of the trust is verified or even just suspected, the mentor relationship is in serious jeopardy.

This challenge is particularly acute for the mentor, because information may become known independent of the mentor, yet the protégé may suspect it was leaked.

For the mentor, it is important to be keenly alert to changes in body language that might reveal a weakening of the relationship that was not caused by that person.

A Better Way

To gain the most from mentoring, make the concept ubiquitous in the culture. Do not seek to pair certain people up, rather let them select each other via natural processes.

Avoid having a documented “Mentoring Program,” but foster an environment that encourages people to pair up as they wish. Let them choose how often and under what circumstances to meet. Let them select the best methods of communication, so the system is not a burden on either party.

For example, I had a great relationship with a boss for over two decades. He liked to communicate mostly using voice mail, so the majority of our discussions were in that mode rather than in scheduled meetings. The asynchronous nature of the communication allowed us to be unfettered, yet very closely connected. He could deal with hundreds of other managers across the organization, yet I was always available.

I recall this person sending a voice mail at about 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. His comment was, “I always like interfacing with you, Bob, because whenever I pick up the phone, you are always right there.” He and I never used the word “mentor” to describe the relationship; that really helped make it successful.

For the protégé, the challenge is to be accessible in the right way at the right frequency, yet avoid being a pest. It is a fine line, and body language is the most sensitive way to pick up signals that you are coming on too strong.

A mentor would likely never say, “You are taking up too much of my time,” but an astute observer would be able to detect the input through dozens of body language signals.

Make sure you have at least one mentor in your life, and also make sure to guide some other people on their journey. These relationships add significantly to the quality of one’s life and work.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Competition Friend or Foe

July 12, 2012

Is competition between individuals or teams at work good or bad? The answer is “yes.” When taken to extremes, it is easy to see that cut-throat competition where one group works to succeed at the expense of another group will lead to poor performance or even sabotage. If you doubt that, just start watching The Apprentice on TV. I have not watched it in a few years, but it used to be based on taking 1000 bright business students and creating 999 losers and one winner.

On the other extreme, we know that pit crews are amazingly competitive in a good way. They will work for days to shave a few tenths of a second on a pit stop. They are seeking perfection, and the friendly competition between teams creates an atmosphere that breeds excellence.

How can you know if you are creating the kind of competition that is healthy? Here are some signs that you have crossed the line from useful competition to the detrimental variety.

1. Teams plan activities that advantage their group but disadvantage another group.

2. People manipulate numbers in order to win out over the competition.

3. People try to raid personnel from a different team.

4. Gossip or rumors about another team take on a hurtful tone.

5. The formation of cliques becomes an egregious activity.

6. Team celebrations become disruptive or dangerous.

7. Teams fail to share resources that were intended to be used by multiple teams.

8. Teams demonstrate a lack of trust.

9. Team members refuse to be cross trained.

10. Teams hold information back or become secretive on some issues.

Monitor your teams at work, and look for the signs of unhealthy competition. In general, some friendly competition is a good thing, but when it is carried to an extreme, really bad things can begin to happen. If the competition is fostering some of the symptoms above, here are seven remedies that can help.

1. Clarify the goals. Remind people in different groups that they are all part of a larger effort.

2. Reinforce people who demonstrate healthy competition, and counsel people who are on the other extreme.

3. Cross-pollinate members of the teams so it becomes harder to draw on historical loyalties.

4. Hold team building activities for the larger team and intermingle the groups to build chemistry.

5. Be sure stated goals do not encourage silo thinking by ensuring alignment with the larger organization.

6. Celebrate success of teams in the larger environment to create a winning culture.

7. Remove team members who exhibit poor attitudes toward other teams.

Many organizations use contests or other overt methods of encouraging team competition. These can be helpful or hurtful depending on how they are administered. Make sure the competition in your organization is enhancing overall performance rather than fostering bad blood between groups. Use the tips above to keep competition healthy.