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February 24th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Waiting List Sign Up   

The Mentor’s Way Rule #1: Lead by Following

February 16th, 2012   •   Comments Off on The Mentor’s Way Rule #1: Lead by Following   

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

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

The old aphorism, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink,” is the foundation of the second rule of mentoring. Many a mentor has fallen into the subtle trap of driving the mentoring process, only to reach a point of disappointment and frustration when the protégé’s energy and enthusiasm begins to wane. The drive that was there at the beginning starts to give way to other demands in the protégé’s world. For some, the newness of mentoring wears off, sapping some enthusiasm. For others, day-to-day responsibilities begin to take over, and mentoring becomes a luxury the protégé cannot afford. In any case, mentoring meetings become less frequent and tangible progress on mentoring goals slows.

When the drive fades, many mentors see a vacuum that they are tempted to fill. The temptation is palpable, since the mentor is losing the connection that had been built early in the process. They see the progress slowing and want to step in to get it back. There is also a self-esteem component at work: is my protégé losing interest because I’m not a good mentor? Some mentors step into the gap by driving the meeting schedule. Others begin to take over on the protégés goals, giving more advice and taking a more active role in the steps the protégé is taking. Both of these actions can lead to either a protégé disengaging from a mentor entirely or, worse, a protégé being dragged along by an enthusiastic mentor who has taken the wheel.

Unfortunately, driving the mentoring process generally backfires on the most well intentioned mentor. The fact is that mentoring isn’t for everyone at all times. There are some protégés who are attracted to the idea of mentoring, but really don’t have the time to devote to it. They have other pressing issues that take up more of their time and attention, making mentoring a tertiary priority at best. This protégé may start working with a mentor with the best intentions, only to disappear two or three months in, leaving the mentor wondering what went wrong.

There are some simple things a mentor and protégé can do early in the process to help keep the mentor out of the driver’s seat.

  1. Agree on a meeting schedule early in the process and turn over responsibility for the schedule to the protégé.
  2. Let the protégé know the best way to get on your schedule and give her or him permission to book meetings. If you have an administrative assistant, tell him or her that the protégé is allowed priority access to your schedule.
  3. Protect meetings with your protégé. When you have other priorities that compete with your meeting schedule, set a higher bar for what would cause you to reschedule.
  4. Promise to respond to requests from your protégé within a short timeframe (e.g., one or two business days). Too many protégés are left hanging by busy mentors.
  5. Don’t chase the disengaged protégé. If it has been a while since you have met, send a gentle reminder. You can open the door to reconnecting periodically, but don’t start chasing the protégé.

These deceptively simple logistics guidelines will help you transfer ownership of the mentoring process to the protégé, which is where it belongs. The next post will focus on Rule #2: Chart a Course.

To comment on this article or to learn more about mentoring, contact Rik Nemanick at nemanick@leadership-effect.com

Using a Coach to Bring Out Your Leadership Best

February 10th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Using a Coach to Bring Out Your Leadership Best   

by Bob Grace, Ph.D., and Rik Nemanick, Ph.D.

Look at your calendar. When during the last few months did you take time to think about the following:

  • What can I do to better motivate my team? How can I challenge them to keep them at their peak?
  • How can I recognize and develop my top performers? How do I work with my stragglers?
  • What challenges will my business face over the next six months to a year? How do I get ready for them?
  • Where do I see my career going? Where will I be in five years?  What will I need to do differently to succeed?

These issues are only a few of the things you can discuss with an executive coach. Leaders from every industry and every size company have profited from the time they have spent with coaches. In a 2004 survey conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 78% of 500 respondents reported that coaching was part of their organizations’ learning and development activities. Just as professional sports teams have trainers and coaches that assess the strengths and weaknesses of every player and work to build their skills to maximize their team’s performance, companies use coaches to become more successful by enhancing the skills of their leaders.

Coaches help leaders in many ways, from providing a sounding board for confidential conversations, to giving the leader a third party perspective, to holding the leader accountable for accomplishing her or his goals. These functions of a coach help leaders more effectively deliver results for the organization. A 2001 study in The Manchester Review found that coaching recipients estimated the return on investment (ROI) from coaching to be about 5.7 times.

Coaching is generally used to address one of two business needs:  developing leaders to meet the challenges of the future, or helping leaders who have gotten off track in their current roles.  In either case, organizations and coaches recognize that leaders are the critical lynch pin in executing the strategy of the organization.  They fill the space where the rubber meets the road, and have the difficult job of engaging and energizing others to move the organization toward success.

Professional coaching relationships follow a generally accepted format: Assessment, Goal Setting, Development Meetings, and Application of learning.

The coaching engagement begins with some form of assessment, which can come from a variety of sources (personality tools, feedback from direct reports and co-workers, work sample exercises, etc.) but they all serve the same purpose: to increase the leader’s self-awareness and to provide a foundation from which goals can be developed.

Goal setting is the next phase in the coaching relationship.  The leader and the coach work together to set goals for the engagement and work to make sure the goals align with the needs of the client organization.  In combination the assessment and the goals provide the baseline against which progress can be judged.

The third phase in the coaching relationship involves regular development meetings between the coach and the leader.  In these meetings, the coach and the leader, identify opportunities and means to develop specific skills and knowledge.  The coach may provide tactical and conceptual suggestions regarding how to develop skills.  The coach may also provide additional feedback and perspectives about how the leader is impacting the business and the people around them.  The coach provides time and space for reflective learning, time and space to think about what has been learned or improved.

In the final phase of the coaching relationship, the coach will challenge the leader to apply and solidify the things they have learned though the coaching engagement to new challenges and situations.

When searching for a coach, look for a personal connection, someone whom you can trust.  An effective coach is also willing to modify his or her approach to meet your needs and your organizations specific challenges. Finally, make sure you are able to articulate the outcomes you are looking for.  This will help you and your coach determine how best to address your particular needs. 

Developing Talent Through Mundane Assignments

February 7th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Developing Talent Through Mundane Assignments   

A recent Harvard Business Review blog post offered the idea of developing your talent by having them work on your most boring processes. The thinking behind this proposition is that these mundane processes never get much scrutiny because they are boring, and that there are significant efficiencies to be gained by improving them. While the ideas are intriguing and provocative, the author stops short of telling leaders how to make these assignments. After you read the original post, read the ideas below for implementing the proposition:

  • Pay attention to change management. If the assignment is to work on a truly boring task, realize that there are incumbents who have been working that task for some time and have established (if inefficient) ways of doing their work. Having a hot-shot come in to tell them they are inefficient and redesign their process for them may come across as insulting. Help your high potential recognize that change management skills will be needed to engage those performing the process so that they feel ownership of the new process and are willing to do it the new way once the high potential has moved on.
  • Design for “mere mortals”. Another potential flaw of having your best and brightest tackle the mundane challenges is that they may design solutions only they can implement. Steve Jobs built Apple around the idea of simplifying technology “for the rest of us”. Make sure the solutions designed are both elegant and simple. The result will both be an elevating development experience for the high potential and a redesigned process that truly realizes efficiency for the organization.
  • Articulate resource constraints. Many high potentials live in worlds of plenty. Organizations expend significant capital investing in their development. When working the “boring” processes, they may approach the challenge with the expectation that they will have access to large resource pools to throw at the problem. They may come up with solutions that call for redesign of software platforms or investments in expensive equipment or technology. While you want them improving these processes, the capital investment should still be strategic; don’t go broke fixing your mundane processes and leave your strategic priorities starving.
  • Chart a path back. When doling out the “stultifying” work, make sure the high potential sees a path back to the more cutting edge work that is more intrinsically motivating. It would be easy to misinterpret these assignments as dead ends, leading to exit behaviors as they start to chart their own course out of the organization. Be mindful of the message the assignment is sending, and clearly communicate expectations for the work and for the next steps after the work is complete.

These guidelines are meant to supplement the advice in the original blog post. The idea of making these sorts of development assignments for your future leaders is intriguing and may generate gains for both the organization and the individuals involved.

Mentoring Shrinks the Organization

February 6th, 2012   •   Comments Off on Mentoring Shrinks the Organization   

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch had a nice article on mentoring in a recent issue (click here to read it). In it, I’m quoted at saying that mentoring “shrinks the big organizations.” This quote means that a mentoring program has the power to cross boundaries within organizations, creating connections across silos and building the organization’s social capital. When links across functions are stronger, the complexity of the organization seems more understandable to both mentors and protégés. When we conduct surveys of mentoring program participants, we often hear the growth of social capital as a great benefit to the program. An example quote from a mentor is, ” I have a better contact in another division, and have learned more business aspects of that organization.”

The focus of mentoring is usually on the development of the protégé. The added bonus of a formal mentoring program with thoughtful matching is the potential to cut across organizational walls and “shrink” the organization.