The Mentor’s Way Rule #2: Chart a Course

January 27th, 2012   •   Comments Off on The Mentor’s Way Rule #2: Chart a Course   

Chart a Course

Chart a Course

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

This post is the second in the series The Mentor’s Way, a set of guides for mentors who want to bring out the best in others.

One of the things that separates mentoring from coaching is the time scale in which the two operate. Coaching tends to be focused on the here and now, closing immediate gaps and accomplishing short term goals. Mentoring is focused on the long term, the protégé’s journey that may last years. Understanding a protégé’s goals and aspirations will help create a context for more meaningful conversations. Spending the time up front to explore these goals will guide the mentoring interaction, helping the mentor to ask better questions, give better advice, and create an overall direction for the partnership.

One thing mentors learn is that protégés come to mentoring at very different stages of career exploration. Some will approach mentoring with very clear goals for their career (“I want to be the vice president of sales for the company’s South American region in five years”), while others have no idea what is possible for them or where they are going to be in five years. Both of these protégés are on a journey, but they are at different points on different paths. They can both benefit from mentoring, but their mentoring will look very different if their mentors take the time to learn where they are and where they are trying to go.

Below is a brief description of four phases of career exploration. At the beginning of the mentoring process, spend time finding out where your protégé is in terms of these phases to help establish where you want to take mentoring. Use the phase to set a one year mentoring goal that will guide your conversations.

  1. The Explorer. The first phase is the protégé who has a drive for something, he just isn’t sure what he wants. He may not be sure what is possible or where he should take his interests and talents for a satisfying career. For this protégé, the focus of mentoring is on Exploring, looking at the larger map of available career choices and finding out more about the possible destinations. The goal for this protégé is to spend a year exploring and finding a destination that will be satisfying.
  2. The Scout. This protégé has a good idea where she wants to go, but isn’t sure how to get there. She wants her mentor to work with her constructing a plan for the future that will be motivating and achievable. She may need to test out a few different paths to see which one works for her. The Scout’s goal is to spend a year building and testing a plan, perhaps taking the first few steps on the plan by the end of the year.
  3. The Navigator. This protégé enters mentoring with a destination in mind and a plan on how to get there. He wants a mentor to help him test his plan to see if it is sound and realistic. He also wants someone to hold him accountable for making progress down the plan and provide encouragement along the way. The Navigator looks at his path and decides how far down it he and the mentor will get in a year.
  4. The Homesteader. The fourth phase of exploration is the protégé who will be in her current role for the foreseeable future. She may be newer to the role and is just learning it, or may have arrived at role that is a great fit for her current needs. For her, mentoring is about growing within a role, keeping from getting stagnant and complacent. She wants to challenge herself to grow and keep her skills fresh, since she doesn’t know when she might want to start exploring again. Her goal for mentoring is to expand her skills and her roles over the course of the year to ensure she continues to learn and engage.

While these phases are presented as a logical sequence, most protégés do not experience them that way. As they learn and experience more, they change their understanding of where they want to go and what it takes to get there. And, circumstances may change around them that may reshuffle their priorities. A strident navigator may get transferred within her company, derailing her plans and forcing her to reassess her goals and path. An Explorer may spend a year exploring options, only to find that he had the ideal job the whole time and switches to becoming a Homesteader.

Spend the time at the beginning of the process finding out where your protégé is and where he or she wants to go. Then, check in every three to six months to see how things have progressed. After that, enjoy the ride with your protégé. Remember, your protégé is in the driver’s seat (see the first rule). The next rule will focus on how mentors Create a Safe Place.

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at

Thank Your Mentors

January 26th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Thank Your Mentors   

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

 January continues National Mentoring Month, with the 26th being set aside as “Thank Your Mentor Day.” I encourage you to think about the mentors you have had to this point in your career. They may be old bosses with whom you keep in touch. They may be coaches, teachers, or professors who inspired you. Find an opportunity to thank your mentors for what they have meant to you.

When I work with formal mentoring programs, I find that feedback from protégés to mentors is often lacking. As a result, protégés are often much more satisfied with mentoring than the mentors are. I call this the “feedback gap”. The protégé knows how she has benefitted from mentoring because she sees it firsthand. Her mentor, on the other hand, may have no idea what is (or isn’t) working for the protégé. To close the gap, I tell protégés that they should not just express appreciation; they should tell their mentors what impact they have had.

There are lots of ways to thank your mentors. You can send them a quick e-mail letting them know what you’ve been up to lately. Better yet, send a hand written note expressing your appreciation. Even better, schedule a lunch to catch up and share what you’ve gotten from their mentoring (there is a nice Harvard Business Review blog post on thanking people that I encourage you to check out). You might even thank some of your mentors through a blog post, like this:

  • Dave Munz, who shepherded me through Saint Louis University’s doctoral program and helped me make decisions about my career along the way.
  • Jerry Katz, who gave me good advice about both teaching and consulting.
  • Bob Vecchiotti, who encouraged me during the early years of my consulting and helped me figure out what I was doing.
  • Marvin McMillan, who was a great role model at Laclede Gas and encouraged me to go back to graduate school.
  • Bro. Eugene Feld, my junior and senior year calculus teacher who challenged me to raise my academic game.
  • Rich Nemanick and Coke Hennessy, my parents, both of whom were small business owners for their examples, their encouragement, and their love.

I appreciate all of the mentoring and guidance I have received, and I know I’m not done learning yet. The list will continue to grow through the years. What does your list look like?

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at

The Mentor’s Way: An Introduction to the Eight Rules of Mentoring

January 24th, 2012   •   Comments Off on The Mentor’s Way: An Introduction to the Eight Rules of Mentoring   

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

The Mentor's Way Book CoverIt has been eleven years since I started working on my first mentoring program at Anheuser-Busch. It was a modest program (twelve mentoring pairs) for the IT organization, and it started me on a course of learning more about mentoring. Over that time, I have trained over 2,000 mentors and have observed what works and what doesn’t in mentoring. Over the next few weeks, I am going to share these this learning here.

About two years ago, I took up running. I started running casually with a friend, two to three miles at a time. It wasn’t long before I was signing up for 5k’s and 10k’s, leading to my running two half marathons in 2011. Along the way, I sought out advice and mentoring about running. One piece of advice stuck with me about long distance running was this rule: run within your heart rate. The rule means that if you run too fast at the beginning of the race (pushing your heart rate too high), you won’t have enough energy in the last few miles to keep up your pace. While the rule seems simple, it is a powerful tool when running long distances and gets you into trouble when you break it (as I found out both times).

I have organized my learning about mentoring into rules that are intended to do the same thing: give mentors simple guides for approaching their mentoring partnerships. These rules are written for mentors who are in mentoring partnerships that will last a year or longer. Like a marathon (or, in my case, a half marathon), what you do in the beginning will have an impact later in the relationship. Following these rules early will help mentors establish productive, trusting partnerships that will benefit themselves and their protégés over time.

UPDATE: The eight rules of mentoring have been turned into a book, which is available from the publisher’s website (use discount code FLR40 for 20% off) or from Amazon.

Here is a preview of the eight rules:

  • Rule 1: Lead by Following: Mentoring should be led by the protégé. Mentors need to let the protégé know it is her or his job to drive the partnership.
  • Rule 2: Chart a Course. Good mentoring starts with an exploration of where the protégé wants to end up. These goals become the foundation of the partnership.
  • Rule 3: Create a Safe Place. Trust is the key to mentoring. Mentors need to focus on developing trust with a protégé so that the true benefits of mentoring can be realized.
  • Rule 4: Good Questions Beat Good Advice. The best mentors challenge us to think. A mentor who only dispenses advice misses opportunities to expand a protégé’s thinking.
  • Rule 5: Balance Empathy and Action. Part of being a trusted advisor is giving the protégé a place to vent frustrations, but not allowing them to consume the protégé. Good mentors find the balance between showing empathy and encouraging the protégé to take action.
  • Rule 6: Foster Accountability. One of the hidden powers of mentoring is the accountability that it creates for the protégé to take action. Mentors can create a subtle accountability that encourages action while still offering support.
  • Rule 7: Fill the Toolkit. Many potential mentors do not step up to the role because they fear that they have to have all the answers. Great mentors know when to reach out and help a protégé find the answers by tapping into other resources that can help.
  • Rule 8: Honor the Journey. Mentoring has a natural life cycle, and there will come a time in most partnerships when the mentor needs to step back and play a less active role with the protégé. Good mentors recognize this transition as a sign of a protégé’s growth and use it as a time of reflection, celebration, and transition.

Over the next few months, I will explore each of these rules. I welcome your comments and thoughts on the rules.

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at

Three Keys to Mentoring Program Training

January 17th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Three Keys to Mentoring Program Training   

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

Over the last ten years, I have trained over 2,000 mentors in formal mentoring programs. In that time, I have tried to understand what keys mentors and protégés need to successfully initiate their partnerships. While there is a lot to cover to help mentoring pairs get off to a good start, there are three key points that need to be covered:

 Logistics: When I started working with mentoring programs, I interviewed dozens of participants in formal mentoring programs. The biggest predictor of whether an individual had a successful experience was whether they agreed on logistics up front. By logistics, I mean frequency of meeting, common meeting venue, means to quickly get onto each other’s schedule, etc. While these may seem like minor points, if they are not shared, they can derail a mentoring partnership before it gets started.

 Roles: After logistics, mentors and protégé need to understand their respective roles, meaning who is responsible for what. Without that clarity, you end up with frustration on both sides. You have protégés waiting for a mentor’s call and mentors leaving their protégés hanging. The two basic role tenets I share with participants in our mentoring programs are the following:

  • The protégé’s primary job is to drive the partnership.
  • The mentor’s primary job is to be as available as is reasonable.

Goals: The final piece that needs to be addressed during a kick-off to a mentoring program is to focus the protégés on their goals. A protégé with goals for the mentoring partnership gives direction and a sense of purpose to mentoring meetings. The goals will help the mentor and protégé have constructive, meaningful conversations that are beneficial to both parties.

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at

Best Practices for Mentoring Programs

January 5th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Best Practices for Mentoring Programs   

One of the best ways to help develop and retain your valued employees is by having them work with a skilled mentor. Many organizations have created programs to facilitate the creation and maintenance of mentoring partnerships. But, some programs have not delivered the desired results. Our experience shows that for mentoring programs to deliver the most return on investment, they need to be designed well from the start.

Join Rik Nemanick and Bob Grace, principals of The Leadership Effect, as they look at the current research on mentoring programs and share learning from eleven years of helping organizations like Boeing, Covidien, Monsanto, Nestlé Purina, and Pfizer get the most out of their mentoring programs.

Date & Time
March 8, 2012– 7:30 to 9:30 AM

No Cost
The Leadership Effect is making this program available at no cost, but seating is limited.

HRCI Credit
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National Mentoring Month

January 4th, 2012   •   Comments Off on National Mentoring Month   

The President has declared January as National Mentoring Month. While the mentoring we deal with at The Leadership Effect is more focused on workplace mentoring, it is worth noting that mentoring takes many forms, and is instrumental in the lives of many people. I encourage everyone who has benefited from mentoring in any form to consider becoming a mentor yourself. Look for opportunities around you and make yourself available to be a mentor. The National Mentoring Month website has resources for finding opportunities to be a mentor in your own community.