The Limits of Good Mentoring

I’ve been truly blessed throughout my life to have great mentors. I knew they were great mentors because every now and then they would say “I don’t know, you should probably ask someone else.” 

 

I’ve written several times on the importance of having a mentor. No matter your age, your current level of success, your title or your position within your organization, you will do better tomorrow if you have a mentor today. What’s more you’ll be even better off if you have multiple mentors. 

 

Here’s why. 

 

One of the things that make a great mentor is that they know what they don’t know and they didn’t pretend that they know it. 

 

You can have a mentor who is a brilliant business strategist but not so capable with their people skills. You can have a managerial genius as a mentor but that doesn’t mean they are great leadership coaches. 

 

Those “gaps” don’t mean they are a bad mentor. It’s when they attempt to fill those gaps with guesses, rumors, and plain old BS that they become a poor mentor. I suppose there are mentors who do have a vast amount of knowledge across a very wide spectrum of skill sets and situations…..I just haven’t found one.

 

I’d much rather have a mentor, and much much rather be a mentor, who occasionally has the confidence to say “I just don’t know,” and “I don’t want to steer you wrong so I can’t answer that.” 

 

This may sound a bit counterintuitive but if you have a mentor that has an answer for every question and advice for every single situation then it is very likely you don’t have the right mentor for you. 

 

Having more than one mentor helps overcome the limits that all truly good mentors have. When you have multiple mentors you are more likely to have a mentor with deeper experience in the area(s) where you need help. When you have mentors who look at the same situation but view it from different angles you’re provided with a deeper understanding of what you’re dealing with and that makes a successful outcome much more likely.

 

If you don’t have a mentor today then find one today. Find someone who you feel is successful, someone who cares enough about people to share their “library of experience,” and someone who is willing to invest a part of themselves in your success. 


When you find someone with those characteristics then you have found a mentor and when you’ve found a mentor you’re that much closer to finding an even greater level of success.


When to Hold Your People to Account

Most people preform better when they are held accountable for their effort and results. Unfortunately the term “accountability” carries with it a negative connotation. It is assumed that we hold someone “accountable” for their mistakes or actions. While that is true we can also hold people “accountable” for the things they do right.

Accountability is not about blaming or judging someone. It is absolutely not about punishing someone for a mistake or lack of effort. True accountability is about coaching. 

Accountability can fail for a variety of reasons, the most common is that for many leaders accountability is just an off the cuff hallway conversation about “doing better” or “getting on the ball.” 

Effective accountability requires a bit of planning and strategy to ensure that the “accountable person” understands what they are accountable for. 

Accountability coaching must be clear and concise. An accountability discussion must be just the facts, certainly no exaggeration should be included. The discussion must include exactly what is expected of the person being held to account. It must include exactly when it is expected as well. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to help your people succeed. If they don’t have what they need to succeed then all the coaching in the world won’t make a difference. You must ensure that they have the required training, resources and feedback required to succeed. If you can’t, or won’t, provide the tools they need to succeed then you can’t ethically hold them accountable either. 

As a leader you should remember that you are their “model” for success.If you’re trying to hold them accountable to a standard that you fail to meet you’re just wasting their time and yours. 

You cannot let your emotions disrupt the accountability discussion. The more emotion you display the more emotion the recipient of your coaching will display. When emotions become involved things tend to slide downhill quickly. Deliver your comments in a caring, empathetic way, but keep your emotions in check.

If you’re coaching for improvement then address the issue early, waiting almost always allows the issue to grow. It’s easy to just “let it go” when it’s small but ignoring problems seldom accomplishes anything. 

Above all remember to also coach for positive reinforcement. Hold people to account for the good things they do, let them know they have been “caught” performing well and that their efforts are appreciated. 

If you coach only for improvement you’re likely negatively affecting the morale of your team. They will get the feeling that they can’t do anything right and soon enough that will be the case. Accountability coaching will require an investment of time on the part of the leader but it is an incredible tool for building future leaders when it’s done well. 

 

Do it well! 

What Your People Need to Know

I’ve been pretty fortunate throughout my career; I’ve never been fired from a job and I’ve had to fire very few people. I don’t like firing people, it is not only a very unpleasant experience it is a failure of my leadership as well.

As bad as firing someone is, being fired is far worse, research says it is one of the most disruptive and stressful events that can happen during a person’s lifetime.

So firing somebody is a VERY big deal. It should only be done as a last resort; considered only after every attempt has been made to help the person become a valuable member of the organization.

If you’ve hired someone who you later are forced to fire there are really only two possibilities; you either hired the wrong person for the job or you failed to provide them with the tools they needed to perform.

I know there are leaders out there who are freaking out at that last paragraph and to you I say this: Step up and accept responsibility for your decisions. It’s okay to screw up, it happens, it shows you’re human. Not accepting your role in the failure of one of your people diminishes your credibility as a leader.

As bad as having to fire someone is here’s what’s worse: firing someone who had no idea it was coming.

That is about as huge a leadership failure as you can find and sadly, it is very common.

As terrible and as stressful as being fired is no one should be surprised when they hear the words, “you’re fired.”

Your people need to know, clearly know, what is expected of them. Research done across a variety of industries and professions indicted that fewer than 35% of employees say they do. If my math is correct that means that over 65% of employees do NOT have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Your people also need to know, with as much precision as possible, how their results will be measured. Leaders who leave “gray areas” when measuring results create stress and lower productivity in their workplace.

If you think you’re “covered” because you conduct annual reviews with your people you’re just kidding yourself. Or, you’re like me, and a lot of others, in that you just don’t like those “performance” conversations. Well tough, you accepted your leadership role so start leading.

Effective leadership requires consistent, somewhat frequent “updates” that are two-way conversations where ideas are exchanged and expectations are discussed and managed.

Most people will either try to meet or exceed your expectations of them. If they are not meeting your expectations then you need to carefully consider whether you have clearly communicated those expectations to them… recently. When your people clearly know what you need from them and they see you as a leader they WILL find a way to deliver.

Your success depends on the success of your people, make sure you give them the chance at success that they deserve.