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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.
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 #3: Creating a Safe Place.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.