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.

CONSIDER THIS SCENARIO

ACME Corporation is implementing a new technology. 

  • Executive Eric exclaims, “We need this new technology to remain competitive!  Why is it taking so long?  Why aren’t my managers getting their people on board?”
  • Middle Manager Mary laments, “I’ve been directed to implement this new technology when we haven’t even finished our last major roll-out.  My staff just rolled their eyes at me when I announced the change, complaining about how they don’t have time to learn the new process with everything else on their plates.” 
  • Employee Eddie complains, “Here we go again. Another program of the year. We’ll outlive this change, just like the last one corporate tried to shove down our throats!'”

DOES THAT SOUND FAMILIAR?

Change challenges vary by organizational level. Those at the top, like Executive Eric, usually set the direction of the change and are most convinced of the need for it, but they tend to be isolated from many of the change’s direct impacts. Staff on the front lines, like Employee Eddie, are most removed from the rationale behind the change, but are often most directly impacted by it; an alteration in their behavior is usually a significant part of the change initiative, and they can thus appear most resistant to it. That means that managers like Mary – and perhaps you too – typically find themselves stuck in the middle, squeezed between these two levels, sandwiched between the edicts of their bosses and pushback from their staff.

WHAT CAN A MIDDLE MANAGER DO?

Managers can play a mission-critical role in leading change by helping their organizations overcome these all-too-common disconnects across organizational levels, which result in over 70% of major organizational changes failing to achieve their objectives. Here are ways to exert your influence and emerge as a powerful voice in leading change, which is a pivotal capability for a leader at any level across all industries today:

INFLUENCE UP

What you see depends on where you sit.  It can be easy to vilify senior leaders above you in the hierarchy, but they don’t know what they don’t know – and it’s your job to tell them. Why is the TV show Undercover Boss so popular? Because in every episode a CEO masquerades as a frontline employee and experiences how hard it is for good people to comply with the changes they must wrestle with. How can you step up to help your executives see that sometimes the emperor has no clothes, and that they may benefit from a new way to engage people in and equip people for new directions?

ALSO, INFLUENCE DOWN

At times managers can be as in the dark about the changes they are supposed to drive as their staff! Take control by proactively obtaining the information you need about the ‘they, why, what, who, and how of the change,’ so you are armed to deliver the message to your people. It can be tempting to join the naysayers, especially when you have so many legitimate concerns and such limited information. Remember that behind every complaint is a request, and strive to tease out the wants and needs, communicate what you unearth in a business language that can be acted upon, and challenge your team to step-up and be part of the solution versus the problem.

HERE’S THE BOTTOM LINE

The most important change leadership competency is courage – the courage to say what needs to be said in an authentic, transparent, professional and respectful way to help others up and down the organization appreciate the need for change, understand the barriers in the current state, and collaborate to invent a new path forward.

ABOUT BARBARA TRAUTLEIN, PHD

Barbara is the principal and founder of Change Catalysts, the author of the best-selling book Change Intelligence: Use the Power of CQ to Lead Change that Sticks, and the originator of the CQ® System for Developing Change Intelligence®. For over 25 years, she has coached executives, trained leaders at all levels, certified change agents, and facilitated mission-critical transformations – achieving bottom-line business and powerful leadership results for clients. She is gifted at sharing strategies and tactics that are accessible, actionable, and immediately applicable.

Dr. Trautein will be delivering 11 IMS programs on Developing Your Change Intelligence to Lead Critical Initiatives in 2020. To learn more about Barbara and her IMS programs CLICK HERE.

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.

It begins simple enough.  You have a mountain you dream of climbing.  It might be climbing an actual mountain, writing a book, changing careers, or maybe going to graduate school – who knows.  The goal seems possible, but terribly challenging. 

The weight of the goal makes you hesitate.  You delay.  The monster is born.  It dwells under your bed, watching you, waiting for the opportunity to maul your dreams. 

Your life continues and to the typical observer, all is well, but you know better.  The monster breathes so loud, you can’t ignore it.  You try to deal with it by saying that soon you’ll be ready to commit to the goal.  As soon as you finish that one thing!  It becomes clear you’re just delaying.  The monster continues to grow. 

The noise under the bed cripples your ability to sleep.  Fine!  You get up in the middle of the night and resolve to get it done.  You write the first draft of the first chapter or fill out the first few applications for graduate school.  The monster falls silent, watching to see what you’ll do.  You feel triumphant!

Quickly life encroaches, and you lose focus.  Every day at work there are endless fires to fight.  At home, a family who rightfully needs your attention.  You don’t actually write chapter one, let alone a second or third chapter.  The applications are never mailed.  The monster howls, relishing its victory.  It’s mocking you. 

The truth is that in life it’s far easier to make excuses, than to work extra hard for an extended period of time.  Your choice:  make excuses or make progress.  The trouble with excuses is that they are addicting.  Like drugs, they are an easy answer.  They might distract you, but they never solve the problem.

Here’s your call to action. 

Realize that most of your constraints are imagined.  They might pose a real challenge, but how you choose to view that challenge is entirely up to you.  Whether or not the glass is half full is your call to make. 

Next, realize that all big accomplishments are predicated on trying and failing.  Any learning curve will result in mistakes, setbacks, and screw-ups.  That’s just the natural process of learning.  It’s time to stop living in fear of other people knowing you’ve failed or that you’re imperfect.  Wear your learning moments like the badges of honor they are.

Be honest – what kind of life do you want to live?  When you’re in your last year and looking back on life, how would you like to summarize the journey?  There are two main choices.  You can say, “Hey, I avoided risks, was always careful, and never really failed in any significant way.  I survived.”  Or, you can say, “I tried a lot of things.  I enjoyed a few huge victories, and many defeats, but mostly I’m just happy I tried to chase my dreams.  I survived.”

What kind of survivor do you want to be?

Here’s how to arm yourself to slay the monster.  It starts with team planning.  If you have significant others, they need to know about your intentions, support you, and accept a plan moving forward that allows you to be dedicated to the goal (financially and logistically).  Very often, it takes a team to propel you forward.

Before you launch the plan, be sure you don’t try to re-invent the wheel.  Use your network, a coach, a mentor.  Go find people who have done what you’re dreaming of doing, or something similar.  Ask them what they wish they would have known before they began.  Ask for their wisdom. 

Plan for failure. 

If setbacks and mistakes are inevitable, plan for them.  For example, when a difficult unexpected moment happens during the journey, it helps to have a go-to routine.  Try some version of this:  spend a little time alone, choose not to make fast rash decisions unless utterly necessary, say to yourself that you knew this would happen – that it’s normal, and that it will fuel learning once you check the emotions and get focused on learning. 

Okay.  Now you’re ready.  It’s time to slay the monster.

Dr. Dewett is one of the world’s leading leadership personalities. Authenticity expert. Killer keynotes. TEDx speaker. Inc. Magazine Top 100 leadership speaker. Bestselling author at LinkedIn Learning. Over twenty million professionals can’t be wrong. Find out what all the fuss is about: www.drdewett.com.

Dr. Dewett is presenting five programs for IMS in June in Chicago, San Francisco, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Toronto. Sign up to experience these terrific, interactive sessions.