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.


Why You Need a Mentor

I am darn near perfect. The only thing that keeps me from just outright declaring my perfection is that I am also very humble. If other people could see my perfection the world would indeed be a better place!

I remain perfect pretty much right up to the time someone who cares about me talks some sense into me… then I see a little different me.

You don’t see yourself the way others see you. You may not think you’re perfect but because you’re human you likely hold yourself to a somewhat different standard than you hold others. It is much easier to state your principles than it is to live them.

The person that talks some sense into me is called a mentor. (or my wife but that’s a different post) They are a truth teller. They see my world from the outside, without the fog of ego, defensiveness, shame, and the need to be liked.

They see me the way others see me and they paint me a picture so I can see it too. 

That helps me be a better me. If you want to be a better you then you need a mentor. If you don’t want to call them a mentor then call them a coach. You can call them whatever you like but they need to care enough about you to invest in your growth by being honest with you. Even when “honest” hurts. It’s okay to be friendly with them but they don’t necessarily have to be a friend, it might be better if they weren’t. 

You can hire a professional coach or select someone that you admire and that most people see as successful… however you define successful. Whether your coach/mentor is paid or not that best way to repay them is by following their advice. Listen, REALLY LISTEN, to what they have to say, linger on their words until they sink in. If you’ve picked the right mentor then they are telling you the truth. If they are telling you the truth then you NEED to listen. 

Regardless of your current level of success you will be better off with a mentor. Even if you’ve reached the pinnacle of your career you will be better off with a trusted sounding board. 

A coach or mentor will not tell you what your principles are, they just help you live them.

Feedback is Required

Are you a leader who struggles to provide your people with feedback? Providing feedback can be a challenge for many reasons. Some leaders think that feedback means having a conversation after a negative event and since they don’t like confrontation they just remain silent. 

Some leaders believe feedback is provided once a year during the dreaded annual review process. Some just believe that somehow, their people magically “know” how they are doing. 

But here’s the deal…. you’re actually providing feedback all the time! 

Each time you speak or listen to one of your people, in your tone of voice, in the words you use, in the silences which you allow, you provide feedback. You demonstrate how far you trust, how much you respect, how much you like or even dislike the person in front of you. 

You cannot not give feedback. If you’re not aware that everything you say and do provides some type of feedback then you’re probably leading (or not) by accident instead of providing your people with purposeful leadership.

That’s a problem.

Intentional, purposeful, specific, timely and meaningful feedback is a powerful motivator. Well timed feedback can put your people on the path to success or help keep them there on challenging days.

By the way, I get that you’re paying people to do a job but also saying thank you for doing that job does not make you a weak leader. A thoughtful “thank you” or “well done” can go a long way towards continued employee engagement.

If you want your people to improve then you must know that feedback is the fuel that fires improvement. Authentic Servant Leaders know that feedback is not just criticizing, it is insightful coaching designed to constructively deal with under-performance. It also will help push high-performing team members to an even higher level.  

The ability to provide intentional feedback is a skill. As with any skill it can be developed through practice; it is best developed through practice with a coach or mentor. 

As a leader it’s likely you often say that your people are your greatest asset. Providing feedback is an excellent way to show that your people are your greatest asset. It gives an Authentic Servant Leader the opportunity to show that they really care about their people.

Here’s a sad leadership reality, too many people in leadership positions are just too lazy to really lead. I call them lazy leaders. Lazy leaders don’t provide their people with feedback because they see it as work. Too much work. They don’t care enough about their people to invest themselves in their people’s development. Feedback is not work, it’s just leading. 

If you’re calling yourself a leader then providing a constant stream of feedback to your people is a must. Don’t wait for the next annual review, don’t even wait for tomorrow, provide feedback to a member of your team today.

How Leaders Think

First a couple of qualifiers: not all leaders think the same and not all leaders are always thinking about the things discussed in this post. But generally speaking, all successful leaders think in these terms and while they have many other thoughts, at one time or another these things are top of mind. So here we go….

Great leaders focus on the mission. Leaders are frequently pulled toward unusual and urgent events that force them in different directions. While these often require the attention of the leader they don’t lose sight of the higher intent of the organization. When the challenge has been dealt with they return their focus to the mission and purpose of the organization. They know where they need to go and they have an actionable plan to get there. They think mission first!

Great leaders are great coaches. They actively look for opportunities to coach their people with the goal of growing more leaders. They coach for corrective action and they coach for positive reinforcement. They delegate to grow their people knowing full well that mistakes might be made. Great leaders also know that those mistakes provide highly valued learning opportunities. Great leaders think coaching, coaching, coaching. 

Great leaders are great examples. They know that people will do what they see their leaders doing. They know that they are the example of successful behavior for their people. They understand that they set the example of good character, knowing their job and doing what matters. They preform as they would have their people perform and they do not expect more from their people then they expect of themselves. Great leaders know the way, go the way and lead the way. Great leaders think in terms of setting an example as much or more than they think of anything else.

Great leaders value and leverage diversity. They know that true diversity goes beyond Equal Employment and Affirmative Action laws. True diversity is understanding, valuing, and leveraging the differences in every person. They seek out differing opinions from people with different backgrounds and demonstrate that people are valued for their uniqueness. Great leaders know that to continue their personal growth they must interact with people who have opinions different from their own and who feel empowered to express them. Great leaders think about broadening the diversity of their organizations. 

Great leaders accept risk. They accept well considered, well calculated risks. They don’t act with reckless abandon, they gather facts, they measure, they ask for advice and then they decide. They decide. They decide, that means that they make a decision. Great leaders know that all the facts, all the advice and all the opinions in the world don’t amount to much if a decision is never made. They think risk and they think about when and why to take them.

The simple truth is that leaders think differently than followers. Leaders see a bigger picture and they see farther into the future. Leadership is as much about mindset as it is anything, if you want to lead then start thinking (and acting) like a leader. 

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! 

Why 360 Reviews Seldom Work

imageFor those of you unfamiliar with the term “360 Review” let me explain. A 360 review is a tool that companies use to evaluate their employees at various levels of the organization. A mid-level manager for instance will be provided feedback from their own direct reports, from colleagues at a similar level within the organization and from their direct supervisor. They may or may not receive feedback from others higher within the organization as well.

The idea is to get a well rounded “picture” of the person from different levels of the organization. A person who interacts well with people above them in an organization may be a horrible boss to those below them. That’s why a review from just one part of an organization provides an incomplete view. You need feedback from all around an organization, hence the term “360.”

Once this complete picture is developed the individual being reviewed should have a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses, other people’s perception of them, and a good understanding of where their developmental opportunities are.

The key words in that previous sentence are “should have.” The concept of 360 reviews is great, the execution seldom is. In fact, the execution of these types of reviews is almost always lacking. They nearly always fail to accomplish the intended objective. 

They fail for two primary reasons. First, many people will not provide honest, open, and sincere feedback. While nearly every company claims that the feedback is anonymous it too often isn’t. Either the person being reviewed figures out where the feedback came from by what was written or the review is so bad that the Human Relations Department gets involved and inadvertently “exposes” the reviewers. 

When word gets around that one person’s feedback wasn’t in fact anonymous then it is assumed that nobody’s feedback is anonymous. From that point forward all 360 feedback is tainted… and far less valuable. 

In a very unscientific survey I asked about 30 people from a dozen or so companies if they believed the 360 review process was truly anonymous in their organization. The answers ranged from “they hope so” to “absolutely not.” Not one could say with certainty that their name wouldn’t eventually be attached to the feedback they provided. Not one said they would provide completely open and honest feedback either.

The other primary reason 360 reviews fail is that way too often the person being reviewed has no real interest in getting better. They claim to want to get better and are even willing to get better so long as they don’t actually have to change any of their behaviors. Unfortunately getting better means something must change and if it is you who needs to get better then you MUST accept some change in your life.

Thankfully there are some people who really do want to improve themselves and they will use what they can from the feedback to actually try to improve. But in an environment where the quality of the feedback is suspect even they will take it with a rather large grain of salt.

All change is hard but personal change is the hardest of all. When the change is driven by perceived negative feedback it can be nearly impossible to change. That’s why feedback from a 360 review so seldom leads to real change; the person being reviewed too often perceives even well-intended comments on improvement opportunities to be negative feedback. 

There are certainly other issues with the 360 review process but those are the big ones. Once broken the 360 review process can be nearly impossible to fix.

Just so we’re clear, I am most certainly NOT an HR professional. I can’t say with certainty that there are better developmental tools available than the 360 review. I just know that without a doubt that there needs to be. 

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Once upon a time there lived a lovely princess named Snow White. Her vain and wicked stepmother, the Queen, feared that some day Snow White’s beauty would surpass her own. So she dressed the princess in rags and forced her to work as a maid. Each day the vain queen consulted her magic mirror, “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”… and as long as the mirror answered, “You are the fairest of them all,” Snow White was safe from the Queen’s cruel jealousy.

Wouldn’t we all like a mirror that would tell us each day just how great we are. The thing is, some people really do seem to have one. They look in the mirror and the image they see is far different than the image they project to other people.

When we see ourselves we are most often crystal clear on exactly what we meant to say. We make good, appropriate decisions and when we look in the mirror we see somebody worth far more than they are being paid and someone not fully appreciated for the greatness they bring into the world everyday. We know precisely how to leverage our strengths and how to eliminate our weaknesses.

Or perhaps you look into the mirror and the person who looks back adds no value to their world, they are misunderstood and are destined to just wander through life until their time on earth is done.

It’s very likely that neither of those “reflections” is accurate. They are not accurate because hardly anyone sees themselves in the same way others see them. Their mirrors are not providing a reflection that truly shows the reality of their life.

So as we near the end of 2014 here is the best advice I could ever give anyone for a better 2015: get yourself an accurate mirror.

That “mirror” I’m talking about is actually a mentor or coach. Your mentor should be someone who cares about you enough to be open and honest with you about your strengths and weaknesses.

Your mentor needs to be self-reflective because if you want someone to share their wisdom with you, they need to have wisdom to share. Some people simply don’t spend much time thinking about their own experience. You’ll want a mentor that can explain what worked in their life AND why it worked. Your mentor can’t pass along what they don’t know so self-reflection is a key.

If you want a mentor that trusts you then you must be able to trust your mentor. In a good mentor relationship, you need to be able to be honest about your own life and circumstances – and you need to be certain that what you share won’t go beyond your mentor. If they can’t be trusted to keep confidences, your relationship will be superficial at best – actually damaging at worst.

If you’re brave enough to ask your mentor for advice then your mentor needs to be brave enough to give you a straight answer. Don’t look for a mentor who will sugar-coat the truth. Take your advice straight-up, with no sweetness and no politically correct wishy-washy coaching added.
Look for a generous, giving mentor, a mentor who truly wants the best for you. A true mentor will never feel threatened by your success. A generous mentor will invest the time required to help you become your very best. Your success will actually be a priority for them.

Some individuals may choose to hire a coach or a mentor. The same requirements apply; the one big difference is a professional coach may work with you for a predetermined amount of time, on one area of your life in particular or to help you achieve one big goal. Hiring a professional coach is not an expense, it is one of the best investments you can make, it’s an investment in yourself.

Either way you should know this: you will be more successful with someone to help you smooth out life’s bumps then you will ever be by going it alone.

I’m not sure I was clear enough with that so let me repeat it: you WILL be more successful with a coach or a mentor in your life than you will be without one. No matter how successful you are today you WILL be more successful when you add a coach or mentor to your life.

Got it? Then get one!