The Mentors Way Rule #7: Fill the Toolkit

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

Up until now, many of the Rules of Mentoring have focused on building the relationship between the mentor and protégé and giving direction to the mentoring process. Mentors who have been following these rules have built trusting partnerships where they are able to both show empathy for a protégé and create accountability for progress. As you will see, these mentors are just getting started. In fact, it is by widening the mentoring lens beyond the relationship is when the power of mentoring multiplies.

While mentors and protégés may spend a long time working together without running out of topics to discuss, it can be useful to Fill the Toolkit and add to the mentoring mix with some Catalysts and Accelerants. As their names imply, Catalysts help spark a mentoring dialogue, while Accelerants propel the conversation (and, often the relationship) further.

Catalysts are meant to jump-start a conversation between mentor and mentee. They create energy to the mentoring conversation and can start the mentoring partners in a new direction. Some Catalysts to consider include the following:

  • Personality Assessment: Each of us has a distinctive character that influences how we think, feel, and act. There are many instruments that you can take to better understand a protégé’s personality, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Clifton Strengths Finder, or the DiSC. Using one of these instruments can help you understand how your protégé’s tendencies can create strengths or weaknesses (which can inform mentoring goals) as well as help you get to know your protégé better. In fact, you may consider completing the instrument yourself as a way to help your protégé get to know you as well.
  • Career Values: You can take your protégé through a career values exercise, which asks your protégé to examine a larger list of career values and select six to eight values that are currently important in this state of the protégé’s career and life (you can find an inexpensive deck of career cards here). The results can be enlightening for both you and your mentoring partner, and lead to some productive conversations. You can discuss whether or how those values align with the protégé’s career goals. You might also ask your protégé to rate how well the values are being met by her or his current role.
  • Personal SWOT Analysis: This step can be useful during the goal-setting phase of mentoring (see Rule #1: Chart a Course). The idea, drawn from strategic management, is for the protégé think of him or herself as a small company planning its strategy. Using the protégé’s goals like a vision statement, the protégé examines his or her current situation strategically, cataloging strengths and weaknesses about him or herself, as well as opportunities and threats (although, I usually think of these as barriers rather than threats). The components of the SWOT analysis are generated relative to the future state the protégé wants to achieve.
  • Multi-Rater Feedback: If your protégé has leadership responsibility, she or he may consider initiating a multi-rater (also called 360°) feedback process, which collects feedback from the protégé’s subordinates, peers, boss, as well as other parties. Such an examination can be very useful for understanding the protégé’s current reality and can reveal some areas that need to be addressed when pursuing the mentoring goals.

If Catalysts are meant to start a conversation, Accelerants are activities that take the conversation to another level.They can add information or perspective to the discussion, and can be useful for expanding knowledge on topics where the mentor is not expert. Consider the following activities:

  • Reading Assignments: There are countless articles, blog posts, videos, and even books written on topics that would help your protégé expand her or his thinking on a topic. In fact, your own inbox and bookshelf may hold the key to unlock a new world for your protégé. Together, select a reading source that would be useful, and make an agreement to read it (or several chapters if it is a book) before your next mentoring session. You will be surprised how much you learn yourself.
  • Informational Interviews: A useful tool for Explorers and some Scouts is to conduct an informational interview with someone in your network. You might ask your protégé to scan your social media profile and pick out a few interview targets. Discuss what questions the protégé might ask and make the connection. Then, after the meeting, spend time talking about what was learned.
  • Job Shadowing: Your protégé can take the interview a step further by asking to shadow someone to observe his or her working environment. You may even offer to let your protégé observe you in action, or at least tour your working world with you. So much can be learned through observation. Your protégé may learn things you did not even intend to teach.
  • Education/Training: Sometimes the things a protégé needs to learn are best taught in formal education or training programs. Such programs can help close knowledge gaps, as well as shore up gaps holding a protégé back from attaining her or his goals. Many interpersonal skills (for example, influence or conflict management skills) can be learned through training.
  • Stretch Assignments: While a lot can be learned through training, reading, and observation, the richest adult learning takes place by stretching a protégé’s capabilities, often on the job. Taking on stretch assignments in a protégé’s current role can help extend learning as well as signal to bosses and others the protégé’s interest in other roles.

Both the Catalysts and Accelerants are meant to supplement the mentoring process and can help jump start a new relationship as well as rejuvenate one that has stalled. You will find that you can take mentoring to new and interesting places with the addition of some additional activities.