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


Mentor Power

July 29, 2012

If you do not have at least one active mentor, you are missing a lot. In my experience, having a strong mentor at work made a huge difference in my career. Even in my ripening old age, I am still gaining benefits from the lessons and ideas planted in me by my mentor when I was younger.

There are obvious benefits of having a mentor in an organization.

1. A mentor helps you learn the ropes faster

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 than yours.

4. A mentor cleans up after you have made a mistake and helps protect your reputation.

5. A mentor pushes you when you need pushing and praises you when you need it.

6. A mentor brings wisdom born of mistakes made in the past so you can avoid them.

7. A mentor operates as a sounding board for ideas and methods.

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 is 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. It is pretty obvious how the protégé benefits in a mentor relationship, but how does the mentor gain from it?

Mentors gain significantly in the following ways:

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.


Leadership Mentors

October 30, 2011

In my work, I consult with management and leader groups at all levels in organizations of all sizes and types. We normally think of each group as being unique. They have their own style, idiosyncrasies, type of work, environment, and goals, yet I have found most groups to have many similar aspects.

In any group, you will find a core of dedicated and cooperative individuals who are there to help and earn a living. They have basically the same hopes and dreams, although each one has his or her unique story to tell. Then you have a few superstars who are really trying to get the most out of every experience. They shine above the others in many ways. Finally you have the slackers and trouble makers. Even though their numbers are less than 10% of the population, these people take up roughly 80% of the time of their managers. They often feel that life has dealt them a rotten hand, when it is really their own attitude that is usually causing their misery.

When I meet with a new management team for the first time, the manager often tells me “we’re different here,” and yet when you consider the entire group, despite any other differences, they are usually similar to the pattern I described above. It takes me less than 5 minutes to scope out the distribution for that particular group. Usually it is very close to a normal distribution, but occasionally I will find a group that is either much better or much worse than the norm. For those outlier situations, there is often a relationship between how people are treated and how they react. If people are treated well by leaders, the group will be better than average. If people are misused by leaders, then you find a group with more problems.

The people in a dysfunctional team can be made more positive if the leader finds ways to improve his or her own skills. The good news is that it takes people only a short time to become more motivated. The transformation can take as little as six months. The leader would have culled out the cancerous elements of the team to allow the healthy cells to shine through and work up to potential. The leader would have set up expectations and gained the respect of everyone. Trust would be in evidence every day.

Reverse the situation and put a less-skilled leader in with a high performing team, and the team will lose its edge quickly. People will start acting as if they are playing games with each other, and trust will be reduced. In that environment, some problem individuals will quickly surface to bring down the average performance of the team.

I have seen the above pattern work in both directions so many times over the past 40 years of observation that I am convinced there is a causal relationship. If you look around and see a need for higher quality leaders in your organization, it is costing you plenty.

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.