Leadership Barometer 27 Be a Mentor

December 3, 2019

There are several ways to tell how great a leader is. One true measure is how dedicated that person is to mentoring other leaders.

A favorite quote on my website is “The highest calling for any leader is to grow other leaders.”

Many organizations have some form of mentoring program. I support the idea of fostering mentors, but the typical application has a low hit rate long term. That’s because the mentor programs in most organizations are procedural rather than organic.

A typical mentor program couples younger professionals with more experienced managers after some sort of computerized matching process.

The relationship starts out being helpful for both people, but after a few months it has degraded into a burdensome commitment of time and energy. This aspect is accentuated if there are paperwork requirements or other check-box activities.

After about six months, the activities are small remnants of the envisioned program.

The more productive programs seek to educate professionals on the benefits of having a mentor and encourage people to find their own match. This strategy works much better, because the chemistry is right from the start, and both parties immediately see the huge gains being made by both people.

It is a mutually-supported organic system rather than an activities-based approach with forced meetings and burdensome paperwork.

The protégé benefits in a mentor relationship in numerous ways.

Here is a list of some advantages you get from having a mentor:

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster if you are new to the area.
2. A mentor coaches you on what to do and especially what to avoid.
3. A mentor is an advocate for you in different circles from yours.
4. A mentor cleans up after you when you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.
5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you to encourage further progress.
6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past, so you can avoid them.

I contend that in any good mentor relationship both the mentor and the protégé benefit from the relationship.

How does the mentor gain from it?

1. The mentor focuses on helping the protégé, which is personally satisfying.
2. The mentor can gain information from a different level of the organization that may not be readily available by any other means.
3. The mentor helps find information and resources for the protégé, so there is some important learning going on. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.
4. While pushing the protégé forward in the organization, the mentor has the ability to return some favors owed to other managers.
5. The mentor gains a reputation for nurturing people and can thus attract better people over time.
6. The mentor can enhance his or her legacy in the organization by creating an understudy.

Encourage a strong mentoring program in your organization but steer clear of the mechanical match game and the busywork of an overdone process. Let people recognize the benefits and figure out their optimal relationships.

A good mentoring effort improves trust in both directions.

I believe there is a shortage of excellent leaders, but I also believe with the proper mentoring and support, a majority of professional people have the innate capabilities to become good, if not great, leaders. So what is missing?

The real shortage is a lack of mentors for future leaders. Reason: most highly effective leaders are consumed with trying to optimize things in their current environment, and they neglect the activities that would develop other leaders.

If you are not happy with the number of excellent leaders in your organization, ask why there are not more leadership mentors.

Get some help to train all leaders not only to be better at their function, but to step up to the challenge of growing other leaders for the future.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc., a company dedicated to growing leaders. He speaks and conducts seminars on building trust in organizations.


Time Out

March 25, 2012

Imagine that you had a way to tell the leader of a meeting that you were bored with the current discussion and wished the conversation could move on to a more helpful topic.  Now imagine you could share your thought with others to test if they agreed without getting them or the leader upset with you.  If that seems like a utopia, just read on; this article has the solution to many hours of wasted time spent in meetings.

I advocate that each team should have some kind of Charter that allows the participants of team meetings to establish a set of ground rules to be as efficient as possible. At any time in its existence, a team can establish a few rules that will save everyone an amazing amount of frustration.

What is required is that the team be a group of mature individuals who all have their mutual best interest at heart. It helps a lot of there is real trust within the team.  Then just a quick brainstorm can generate a few basic rules.  For example, here are three rules that can lead to a more effective group process:

  1. We will start and end our meetings on time.
  2. We will listen to each other’s input and not grandstand.
  3. We will not make jokes at the expense of any team member.

One incredibly powerful team rule is the use of the “Time Out” signal.  The hand signal is the familiar one from football, where the referee puts the tips of the fingers of one hand to the palm of the other hand to form the letter “T.” Once a group has established that it is safe to do this, something magic happens.

Each member of the team is now empowered to let his or her thoughts be known when the group appears to be spinning wheels.  The time out sign is merely calling the question by letting the leader know that at least one individual thinks the team would be better off moving to a different topic.  Because of the agreement that the individual will not be punished for making the gesture, team members are free to use it when the situation arises.

The team leader should now say something like this, “I see Jake is signaling that he wants to move on, are the rest of you in agreement?”  If most of the team members show affirmative body language or verbal response, then the subject can immediately be changed to something more valuable. Imagine how refreshing this method would be in those all-day meetings that seem to drag on forever.

Just this one hand signal can save a team hours of tedious repetition or arguments, once a team agrees to use it.  I advocate that you encourage your team at work to discuss and approve the use of the “time out” gesture and other basic rules. These rules can significantly improve the productivity and empowerment of any team.


Quality Check for Meetings

November 27, 2011

For most of us, meetings are our most significant time-wasting activity. If you have not found yourself frustrated while sitting in a useless meeting with no escape, you must be a hermit.

The interesting thing is that we, the participants, really do have the power to manage these interfaces between people in ways that are productive, impactful, and fun. In this article, I want to focus on a simple quality check as a means to improve meetings.

The way time is used in meetings is a part of the overall culture of a team. Managing meetings well is one activity that will improve team performance, but it should not be done in a vacuum. It should be a part of an overall process to improve trust and accountability within the team. Leaders normally set the pace for what goes on in any team, so they need to take a lead role in managing meetings for better outcomes.

I advocate that teams have a quick evaluation at the end of each meeting. The leader simply states the following. “Our time is precious, and meetings use a lot of time. It is our responsibility to make sure we are making the best use of every minute. How many of you think this meeting was an excellent investment.” The feedback can be in the form of a quick discussion, a questionnaire, or, if trust is high already, just a thumbs up for good, thumbs down for bad. Of course, if a binary vote turns out to be mostly negative, a conversation needs to take place to understand the specific issues. It can take less than a minute, but it gives a quick feedback. The other benefit is that it lets people know the leader is not clueless and is open to suggested improvements for next time.

For this method to be fruitful, the leader must establish an environment of trust. People need to know they will not be punished, in any way, for giving their opinions. If the leader reacts well to comments, even if the input suggests the leader is wasting the group’s time, then trust will be enhanced. Another benefit occurs if the leader includes other people in planning future events to prevent the same problem at the next meeting.

It is critical if the leader does such an evaluation that he or she follows up and actually makes the changes suggested. A subsequent time check should not bring up the same issues. If it does, then stronger action is required before going further. The leader is responsible for the follow up and modification of meeting processes, even though he or she may ask for help from others as well.

This quality check allows everyone to take ownership of the meeting process to ensure it is vital and adding value. If there are problems in the meeting format or content, they can be addressed before the next meeting, so bad habits are not proliferated. I urge you to add this simple check to the end of all your meetings. It will pay big dividends.


Addition by Subtraction

October 16, 2011

The title of this article came from a student in one of my online classes on Team Dynamics. He got the phrase from an “extraordinary” Chief Master Sergeant named Jim, currently serving at the Pentagon. I really love the phrase because it is so simple, yet so profound.

We are all familiar with some of the problems that occur when working in teams. In this article, I want to focus on the impact that can be made by a single person who is a misfit in the group and slows down all team progress.

I need to be careful to describe the phenomenon correctly. Normally, I am an advocate of having diversity of opinion and styles within a team. Reason: respectful differences in outlook or opinion are healthy because they usually lead to more creative and robust solutions. If you have a team of clones who all think alike on most issues, you have a mono-culture that may seem to work well, but it will probably lead to myopic solutions. In general, having “different” people on a team is a good thing.

Unfortunately, we have all had the experience of being on a team where one individual simply stops forward progress on a regular basis. The root cause may be a personality deficiency or some kind of chemistry problem between members. The person may become moody or bellicose and derail group processes at every opportunity. In rare cases there is an intent to stop the efforts of a team, sort of like a sport.

I am not writing about a person on the team who fills a Devil’s advocate role from time to time in order to prevent the group from slipping into a dangerous group think. Nor am I referring to the person with a concern or observation who voices it in a polite way. The person I am describing is one who habitually takes a contrarian view and refuses to accept the fact that he or she is derailing conversation rather than fostering a balanced discussion.

I advocate that any team should have a written and agreed-upon set of expected behaviors. These statements indicate our agreement on how we will treat each other along with specific consequences for members who do not comply. If peer pressure and body language fail to convince the person to stop the disruptive behavior, then it is time for the person’s manager to do some private coaching. Sometimes that can make at least a temporary improvement However, some individuals just cannot or will not change. Stronger measures are required. The solution is rather obvious. The person needs to find some other way to get entertainment, and should be excused from the team.

This surgery is really “addition by subtraction.” Reason: once the problem person is removed, the entire team will breathe a sigh of relief, because now decisions and progress can occur more easily. I have had grateful team members come to me with tears of gratitude in their eyes saying, “Oh thank you! Removing Frank from the team took some courage, but we are so grateful to have the ability to navigate without him. Life will be so much better for all of us because of your action.”

Removing a problem person from a team is often a painful process. Egos can get bruised or there may be an ugly scene. My advice is to take the action, but only after you have exhausted all remedial efforts.


Fewer, Shorter Meetings

September 28, 2011

The ruling paradigm on meetings is that they should be scheduled for one hour. If a manager sends a note to her administrative assistant to schedule a meeting sometime this week, the assistant will instinctively assume the duration is one hour.

We come by this paradigm through convention, and it is an opportunity to challenge the status quo. Suppose the administrative person scheduled the meeting for 40 minutes. What would be the outcome? In most organizations it would mean that everyone invited to the meeting saved at least 20 minutes. As a side benefit, the 40 minutes spent at the meeting would be far more productive because the standard paradigm has been broken.

Start by challenging the need for a meeting at all. This is especially true for “standing meetings” (by this I mean the kind that happen automatically each week, not the kind where there are no chairs in the room – BTW, no chairs is a great way to encourage shorter meetings). Since standing meetings often do not have a specific agenda, they frequently degrade into “group grope” sessions.

There are numerous things that can be done to improve the time utilization at meetings, Here are nine of my favorite techniques;

  1. Suggest that the person leading the meeting be extremely mindful of the duration. After all, what we have at work is our time.
  2. Have a meeting agenda and stick to it unless the group makes a conscious decision to adjust priorities.
  3. Shock people into a realization of what is actually happening:  Set up the meeting to start at 2:17 pm and end at 2:49 pm. That would be a 33 minute meeting (if my math is correct).
  4. Put a premium on how the time is spent in meetings. Make sure the agenda is specific as to how much time will be devoted to each topic and stick to that schedule. Have a PITA assigned to keep things on track (PITA stands for Pain In The Rear).
  5. Acknowledge the need for important side issues, but do not let them derail the meeting.  Handle them efficiently or find another venue to deal with them.
  6. Start and end each meeting on time.  Become known as a stickler for this. You can be courteous and bring stragglers up to speed on what has already been accomplished, but you are really enabling them to continue the practice. It is not polite to others to arrive late for meetings. It is also not polite to attendees for the leader to extend beyond the advertised finish time.
  7. Have a set of expected behaviors for your meetings and post them. Hold each other accountable for abiding by these rules.  Here is a favorite rule of mine. It is expected that when someone feels we are spinning our wheels or not making the best use of time, he or she will give the “time out” signal to the person running the meeting (finger tips of one hand touching the palm of the other hand).  Nobody will be punished in any way for making this sign. It simply calls the question as to whether we are spending our time wisely right now.
  8. Have some time set aside in each meeting to reinforce good behavior and feel good about things that are going well. If we spend 100% of our time dealing with the bad stuff that needs to be fixed, we will never smell the roses.
  9. Obtain and use a meeting cost calculator. You can find free programs on the WEB.  Just plug in the average salary and the number of people, and the calculator lets you know how much money is being spent.  With this information visible on the screen, wordy managers find it beneficial to shut up sooner.

All these rules are common sense. It is too bad they are not common practice, because they help preserve our most critical resource: our time.