Mastering Mentoring 4 Communication Modes

July 31, 2021

A mentoring relationship is mostly about communicating ideas in both directions. It is a consistent effort to provide value from the mentor to the protégé and vice versa.

At the start, it is worth it to have a serious discussion about the various options of communication and the advantages or limitations of each one.

The methods, frequency, and types of communication should be agreed upon after this discussion.  Then the relationship begins, but do recognize the patterns you have just invented are general guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. There will be circumstances where you operate outside your normal pattern or even consciously modify your pattern based on new information or special circumstances.

This article will focus on some tips and caveats for the various modes of communication.

Face to Face

This will likely be the most common method of communicating. It may be from informal chance meetings, or the discussions may be formally scheduled. It will depend on the physical layout and how booked each individual is.

Some people like to schedule a set time each week for a one-hour discussion.  You might schedule a lunch meeting each Wednesday with your mentor. The caveat here is to not be too rigid about a set meeting. If there is nothing new to discuss or if there is some priority job that needs to be done during the scheduled time slot, by all means take the opportunity to test each time if the meeting will be value added. 

Many mentor relationships end up on the rocks because the schedule had become an albatross for the mentor.  Stay alert to this possibility and keep testing.

Email or Text

In conjunction with live face to face discussions, it is fine to probe ideas or share data via electronic communication.  Depending on the person, the email may provide a more positive interface or it may turn out to be unreliable. 

I recall one situation where I was dealing with two mentors due to the matrix organization I was in.  My main mentor was highly reliable on picking up email information, so that mode worked perfectly well. The other mentor was spotty at best with getting back to requests by email.  I operated very differently with these two mentors due to their differing communication styles.

Remote Video Interfaces

Sometimes the situation will require most communication be done on one of the remote video platforms (like Zoom or Teams). These modes are helpful in that you can see if the other person is in a position to listen and consider what you are saying.  Watch the body language to pick up a signal that the other person is distracted or rushed.

Voice Mail

One of my mentors was most reliable using voice mail.  This form was excellent for access, but the asynchronous nature of the communication led to some awkward lapses at times. Sometimes I would find myself needing a reply but not getting one in a timely manner.  I found myself debating whether to bug my mentor that I needed a response or waiting a longer period.

The good part about voice mail is that we were able to keep the dialog going 365 days a year without being a burden.  In fact, it turned out to be an advantage when my mentor once said, “You know, Bob. I can always count on you to be there every time I dial in. You are much more active and dedicated than your peers.”


There are dozens of ways to have meaningful dialog with your mentor.  The advice here is to have an open discussion about which modes will be most useful, and select those as your primary vehicles.  The caveat is to remain flexible to operate outside your normal convention when circumstances make that a better choice. 

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 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.


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.


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 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. 

Talent Development 15 Coaching Supervisors

November 1, 2020

Section 2.7 in the CPTD Certification program for ATD is Coaching. Section B reads, “Skill in coaching supervisors and managers on methods and approaches for supporting employee development.”

I have always had a keen interest in coaching of supervisors and managers. I believe their role is pivotal, and their situation is often challenging. Throughout my career, I spent roughly 40% of my time actually working with supervisors in groups and individually to develop and sharpen their skills.

Successful Supervisor Series

From 2016 to 2018 I wrote a series of 100 blog articles specifically aimed at creating more successful supervisors. I am sharing an index of the entire program here so you can view the topics covered. The index has a link to each article on my blog in case you may be interested in reading up on certain topics. Note: After you call up the document, you will need to click on “enable editing” at the top of the page in order to open the links below.

Use for Training

You may wish to select articles at random or as a function of your interest, or an alternative would be to view one article a day for 100 days. You could use the series as a training program for supervisors.

In that case, I recommend having periodic review sessions to have open discussion on the points that are made. There will likely be counter points to some of my ideas that apply to your situation.

Some examples relating to Employee Development

Most of this series deals with the development of the supervisors themselves, but many of the articles deal with supervisors supporting employee development. I will share links to 10 specific articles here as examples from the series:

9. Motivation

40. Engaging People

47. Coaching People on Money Problems

57. Building a High Performance Team

70. Reduce Drama

78. Trust and the Development of People

82. Trust Improves Productivity

88. Better Team Building

89. Repairing Damaged Trust

93. Creating Your Own Development Plan

I hope this information has been helpful to you. Best of luck on your journey toward outstanding Supervision and Leadership.

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.

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.

Successful Supervisor 100 Your Leadership Legacy

November 3, 2018

The legacy left behind by a departing leader reflects the caliber of leadership. John Maxwell summed it up in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership”:

“When all is said and done, your ability as a leader will not be judged by what you achieved personally or even what your team accomplished during your tenure. You will be judged by how well your people and your organization did after you were gone. You will be gauged according to the Law of Legacy. Your lasting value will be measured by succession.”

Pass your legacy of exceptional leadership skills to future generations by becoming a grower of other leaders. Doing this not only helps the new generation, but it also enhances the performance of your current team.

Modeling and teaching outstanding leadership skills is the most effective way to bring your organization to the pinnacle of success and keep it there. You need to make this investment, but it is a joyous one because it enhances the quality of work life for everyone. As a leader, you will have more success, more joy, more followers, and more rewards.

When leading an organization, large or small, you can’t do it all. Running the details of a business must be done through others. In large organizations, there might be thousands of others. You need an organization of trusted lieutenants to accomplish the work. To do this, you need to shift your focus from manager to teacher.

The best leaders are those who believe it is their highest calling to personally help develop the leaders who work for them. A large portion of their mindset is spent evaluating, training, and reinforcing leaders under them.

The training is not centered on classes or consultant seminars. There will be some of that, but the bulk is personal coaching and mentoring by the leader. The best leaders spend 30-50% of their time trying to enhance the caliber of leaders on their team. Why is this? When you improve the capability of leaders working for you, the whole organization is improved. You are leveraging your leadership.

In my line management role, my job title was Division Manager. I saw my function, just as I am doing in this series of articles, as “growing leaders.” I found that spending time and energy on growing leaders gave a better return than spending time inventing new HR practices or supply chain procedures. John Maxwell, in “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,” called it the Law of Multiplication. He makes the distinction between developing followers or leaders as:

“Leaders who develop followers grow their organization only one person at a time. But leaders who develop leaders multiply their growth because for every leader they develop, they also receive all of that leader’s followers. Add ten followers to your organization and you have the power of ten people. Add ten leaders to your organization, and you have the power of the ten leaders times all the followers they influence. That’s the difference between addition and multiplication.”

Develop leaders in as many layers as you have under you. If there are three layers between you and the masses, then develop three layers of leaders. It is not enough to work on the group closest to you. They will get the most attention, simply by proximity and need for interface time. To be effective, you need to work at all leadership levels and make it a personal priority.

Jack Welch is probably the best example of this in industry. At his famous School of Leadership at Crotonville, he was personally involved in mentoring and coaching the thousands of leaders in General Electric. Jack believed that teaching was what he did for a living.

“It was easy for me to get hooked on Crotonville. I spent an extraordinary amount of my time there. I was in the Pit once or twice a month, for up to four hours at a time. Over the course of 21 years, I had a chance to connect directly with nearly 18,000 GE leaders. Going there always rejuvenated me. It was one of the favorite parts of my job.”

Do the mentoring and development yourself. Do not hire a consultant to do it. It is fine to have help for certain specific skills, but is a big mistake to let the professional trainers take over. Leadership development must be your passion, one that you take seriously enough to consume a significant part of your time. You don’t send people to a one-day seminar and expect them to come out good leaders. The combined snake oil of 100 consultants cannot transform your team into effective leaders as well as you can. Warren Bennis summed it up as follows:

“True leaders… are not made in a single weekend seminar, as many of the leadership-theory spokespeople claim. I’ve come to think of that as the microwave theory. Pop in Mr. or Mrs. Average and out pops McLeader in sixty seconds.”

Teaching must cover all aspects of leadership. Modeling the way, as well as doing formal training, is the balanced approach that pays off. I always considered leadership training a great way to engage in serious dialog with my team about things that really mattered. I would always come away with new insights. Frequently, it felt like I was receiving more than giving. It is a way to “sharpen your own saw” while you mentor others, a real win-win.

As you use this technique, keep notes on what works best and what you are learning about leadership. Keep a file and develop your own trajectory of leadership. Share this with your team and gain further insight through the dialog. Try different situations and reactions, keeping track of your success. In other words, manage your own leadership progress. You will become fascinated with this and gain much from it.

If you are a young leader, you may not feel qualified to mentor others. My advice is to start as soon as possible anyway. Since this is part of your lifelong pursuit of leadership, the sooner you begin teaching, the more you will know. Teaching is the best way to learn something. I suggest you teach what you already know and seek to learn what you need to know. Don’t come across as a know-it-all in your mentoring, especially if you are inexperienced. Rather, ask people to go on an exciting journey with you toward more effective leadership.

I hope you have enjoyed this series on “The Successful Supervisor.” I have tried to cover topics that would be helpful for incumbent or aspiring leaders at the supervisor level. I am not inclined to compress this series into a book or video series. I think it is best left to posterity as a blog series of articles that can be read and re-read and passed around to others at no cost to you. Best of luck to you on this wonderful journey called leadership.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on 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, or 585.392.7763

Enjoy Your Wiggle

March 2, 2013

Wiggle croppedHow do you feel about being you? Be truthful with yourself, and think about how much you like yourself right this moment. This article, hopefully, will shock you into a different frame of mind relative to your happiness and the quality of your life.

I teach many online courses, and deal with students from all over the world. I recall one interchange between a student living in a frigid part of the USA and another student in Hawaii.

At one point, the student who lived in Detroit was lamenting another dreary day, and he had reached the breaking point. His comment to the student in Hawaii was, “Well, I have to take responsibility for my own misery. After all, I chose not to live in paradise.” I immediately wrote to the complaining student reminding him that “paradise” is a state of mind rather than a state of the Union.

There are numerous things that gauge the level of satisfaction and happiness we milk out of living. This article focuses on one’s perception of self. Most of us are in the middle of a long progression of the days of our lives. It feels like we have been around forever, and we have a long way to go before somebody puts us in a pine box. We live each day reacting to the forces and challenges that hit us. Some days are good, and others are bad.

We are what we are because that is what we have chosen to be. Many people go through life being unhappy with themselves and blaming others or circumstances (like if I only had a smaller nose). We have such a short time on this planet, and it would be smart to be happy with ourselves first and foremost.

Nobody else has to wake up with you and be with you 100% of the time, so if you are not happy with yourself, the quality of your precious life is diminished. Who would be to blame for that? Hmmm…let me think.

My observation of our lives in the grand scheme of the universe and the ages is that human beings are all like little worms. You have to go up only a few miles and look down through a telescope, and you can observe us all wiggling around all over the world as we move through our day.

We show up and wiggle around for a fleeting 80 or so years, and then we are gone. Eighty years in celestial time is hardly a blink. Better make sure you are enjoying your wiggle. Our possessions that we covet, our money that we lust after make very little difference in the end. All that matters is how much of an impact we have managed to have on others, how much love we have generated, and how much we have enjoyed our wiggle.

What are some of the things that contribute to enjoying your wiggle? Here are a few examples. (Note, this list is not exhaustive.)

Making a contribution: We all make contributions, both good and bad. If you have provided one shred of thought that has been recorded and provided value to other people, you have made a contribution. Two shreds counts for double that value, so provide many shreds of value to the advancement of society.

Finding honest love: If we feel deeply in our soul that we have loved the people in our lives, then we go to our grave reflecting on a life well lived. This, of course, includes family, but it also includes heroes, mentors, classmates, pets, friends, grocers, ducks, lamps, books, and any other person or thing that we truly love.

Believing in an Infinite Power: Many people think of this as religion, but it really covers the entire realm of spiritual awareness. I do not know about you, but I really do believe that something is guiding my steps at times, and it is not just me. There have been too many remarkable surprises handed to me in life for me to take credit for thinking them up or for them to be just random coincidences. You can call it what you wish, but there is an Infinite Presence there somehow.

Helping others: Whenever you give of yourself to help another, you feel great about yourself. That effort is a really good wiggle in your daily routine. The help can come in any form, and the only criterion is that at that time you were thinking more about the other person’s situation than your own. The help could be financial, physical, emotional, or even comical.

Making something: To create a thing of beauty, or even ugliness since beauty is subject to interpretation, is a good wiggle. Some people are really good at this, like my father, who painted over 2000 fine watercolor paintings after the age of 55. Some people create great food or fine woodwork. To shape the elements into a new configuration that has never been done is intrinsically rewarding. Most creations are not marketable, but they are physical evidence that we were around and wiggling happily.

Teaching or mentoring: As we seek to impart some of our wisdom onto other people, we give the gift of knowledge. It is a subset of helping others, but this one is special, because we target the help on an individual who benefits from it. For a person with great insight and knowledge to keep it to himself really wastes his wiggle time. I think it is really difficult to mentor from the grave, although some people do believe strongly in doing it or receiving it, which is part of their own wiggle.

Appreciating what you experience: This attitude is all about not being numb to the beauty all around us every day. Seeing the small acts of kindness of one person toward another brings us joy. Marveling at the beauty of a flower, the taste of raspberry Jello, or the Bach B Minor Mass provides deep joy, but only if you are awake and paying attention.

Loving what you do: The ability to look at each day as an adventure into the possible instead of a drudgery of our current agony is what lifts us up. Hope is there when you enjoy your work and your play. There is a choice you make every day as you wiggle through it.

Those are just eight examples from the top of my head of how to make the most out of your 80-year wiggle. Who knows, you might beat the odds and wiggle until you are older than 100, or you might check out in your 20s. You will notice the absence of wealth or possessions on my list, because I think those things dry up and blow away very quickly after we stop wiggling. In the grand scheme of the world and the eons of time, the only thing that really matters is what you did with your opportunity to wiggle, not how big a pile of clutter you were able to generate.