Author and Mentoring Expert Dr. Wendy Axelrod

I often hear from people who want to deepen their mentoring skills, and are surprised when I suggest that cultivating the best possible relationship is a skill in itself. Masterful mentors know how to foster qualities that are most central for a career-expanding mentoring relationship. Acceptance, mutual respect, conversational safety, and transparency are all part of it. As the mentor, you have the lead in observing how the relationship is going and taking steps to ensure its vitality.

Here are three actions to consider

OBSERVE WHAT IS HAPPENING IN THE DYNAMICS OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Each of your meetings has the potential to be a gem of a conversation, taking the mentee to new places and new insights. 

  • Assess the flow of your conversations and how it contributes to the forward progress of your mentee’s goals. Time spent together should be purposeful, yet flexible enough to include ad hoc discussions. Allow yourselves to delve into some areas more deeply, especially when those discussions have discovery potential.
  • Take note of whether there is enough trust for them to share what concerns (or even embarrasses) them most, whether a lack of confidence or competence, or a troubling interaction. If they are holding back, think through how you can make the conversational environment safer for them.
  • Consider a wonderful barometer of the atmosphere between you as to whether you are each eager for your next meeting. If so, identify the positive underpinnings of the relationship and discuss those. If not, jointly envision what needs to be addressed, which might include: expectations not being met, lack of accountability to the process, or maybe spending too much time on topics that are not goal-oriented.

ESTABLISH REGULAR CHECK-INS TO DISCUSS THE PROCESS

As part of setting expectations for your work together, advocate regular check-ins to ensure the health of the process. This opens the door for the mentee to speak up to someone with much greater experience. And, it avoids suddenly bringing up negative news when your process is not going well. Select from a variety of ways to tuck this into the mentoring conversation:

  • Ask questions that are specific and require a thoughtful response on their part, e.g., “In what ways is our process supporting your mentoring goals?”  “What two things would take this mentoring process to the next level?” If they are cautious about responding, remind them that this is good practice for questions they get at work about improving their functions.
  • Reserve five minutes at the end of the meeting for each to describe your favorite part of the meeting, and what you believe was accomplished. Then identify what you want to be included in your next meeting.
  • Suggest that each of you take accountability, in advance of the next meeting, to propose useful questions to help address a knotty part of your process (e.g., the mentee feels too directed by the mentor, or the mentor is not seeing anticipated follow-through)

WELCOME FEEDBACK FROM YOUR MENTEE

Many people believe the normal flow of feedback in mentoring is what the mentor offers the mentee. Inviting feedback from your mentee is an act of trust and respect. Though they may not provide much substance the first time you ask, they will appreciate your openness and be more likely to speak up when it really counts. Consider these three actions:

  • Prime this conversation by giving a lead-in, stating the purpose of this discussion.  Invite the feedback with a non-threatening question that allows them to suggest future behaviors rather than evaluate your performance. e.g., “What could I do in our conversation next time, that would make us even more productive?”
  • Be mindful that the way you receive the feedback is modeling how they could take in feedback from others. Plus, importantly, it sets the tone for true give-and-take in your ongoing relationship.
  • Take an inquiring stance, using an open, curious tone of voice. Ask for details. I once had a mentee whose feedback to me was, “Wendy, when I come to you with a problem, you ask too many questions. I wish you’d just give me straight-forward answers.”  I asked her for examples and that helped me understand her frustration with my approach. Just as important, the open tone of the conversation led to a discussion about how well-formulated questions can spur deeper and actionable learning.

Ready to take your mentoring even further? Become a master at cultivating a deeper relationship; one that is open to questions, feedback and purposeful modifications in how you work together. This is bound to both increase your capacity as a mentor, and achieve more impactful and lasting results.

ABOUT DR. WENDY AXELROD

Wendy Axelrod is an Executive Coach, former HR executive, mentor, author, and speaker. For three decades, Wendy has helped organizations to achieve extraordinary results with their leader and professional development efforts. She is particularly sought out for helping mentors and leaders become exceptional at growing the talent of others. She is the co-author of Make Talent Your Business and the author of 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring. Learn about Wendy’s IMS program.

Author Hendrie Weisinger

These days, I often think of one of one of my graduate school professors. His name was CR Snyder and I doubt you know the name unless you are schooled in positive psychology.  Through long discussions and being under his supervision, I got to know him well and when I graduated, my impression was he was an arrogant guy.  Forty years later, I think of him as a brilliant guy.

Hope Theory

Rick, as his students called him, was the creator of “Hope Theory” and if you asked him to explain he’d answer, “the perceived capability to create pathways to desired goals and to motivate oneself while thinking about those pathways.”   His three main concepts were goals, agency, and pathways. The goals represented approaching life in a goal-oriented way. The pathways were finding different ways to achieve the goals that someone creates. The agency was the actual act of believing that a person can prompt change and achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. “I know I can do this!” is a high will power belief.  Dr. Snyder basically characterizes the hopeful thinkers as people who can form goals and work towards them. 

Rick, who is recognized as one of the three founders of the Positive Psychology field, went on to do over two hundred studies that show hope has served man well.  “Hopeful” individuals show higher self-esteem, more meaning in life and happiness, cope better with injuries, disease, and physical pain, excel in academics from elementary to graduate school perform better in sports and are more productive in work.

I can list dozens of management and leadership skills but I believe the importance of all of them pale in comparison to the skill of creating hope.  If you can’t make yourself hopeful, you lack resiliency and if you can’t make your team hopeful, you can count on the fact they will come in last.

Building Resilience

So, the next time you feel down and out or your team suffers a setback and things look glum, apply these two tips and you ‘ll find yourself bouncing back, or as some say, resilient.

  1. Create  “will power” by establishing goals that provide purpose and meaning.  These type of goals are physically arousing and translate into directed energy. After a setback or in times of adversity, reiterate your meaningful goals, purpose and meaning and you will begin to feel resilient. 
  2. Create Pathways.  Brainstorm and problem solve obstacles away by creating and innovating new routes that can help you achieve your goal.  Break each down into a simple step and each one taken, will increase the individual’s will power to continue.  The individual becomes resilient because he or she is hopeful they will make it.

Remember, as Andy Dufrense told Red, “Hope is the best of all possible things.”

The Snyder Hope Framework

This is something new that I found when I was researching rainbows. Something called the “hope theory” exists, where the word rainbow is used as a symbol for representing a theory. The hope theory is defined as the perceived capability to create pathways to desired goals and to motivate oneself while thinking about those pathways (1 Snyder).

Snyder was fascinated by the concepts of hope and forgiveness. Throughout his career, he published six books about Hope Theory, and 262 articles about the impact that hope can have on aspects of life such as health, work, education, and personal meaning. His theory had three main points to it. The three main concepts he discussed through it was goals, agency, and pathways. The goals represented approaching life in a goal-oriented way. The pathways were finding different ways to achieve the goals that someone creates. The agency was the actual act of believing that a person can prompt change and achieve the goals that they set out for themselves. Snyder basically characterizes the hopeful thinkers as people who can form goals and work towards them.

About Dr. Hendrie Weisinger

Dr. Hendrie Weisinger is a celebrated, influential, world renowned psychologist. A New York Times bestselling author, he is a leading authority in the application of Emotional Intelligence, an expert in Anger management, and the originator of the highly regarded techniques of Criticism Training, and the originator of the emerging new field, pressure management. Dr. Weisinger is the author of many successful books, including: Nobody’s Perfect, Anger Workout, Anger at Work, Emotional Intelligence at Work,The Power of Positive Criticism and the New York Times best-selling book Performing Under Pressure. Dr. Weisinger’s latest book, The Genius of Instinct introduces the principles of evolutionary psychology to everyday life.

References:
Snyder, C. R. “Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind.” Psychological Inquiry 13.4 (2002): 249-75.