Management Matters: Mentoring for Success

I spoke about delegation in my last post. And this post is on mentoring because it is the other side of the coin. You cannot delegate effectively unless you have taken the time to mentor your employees. You cannot have a successful organization unless you are able to bring out the best in your team members.

Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”  This can be a good way to think of mentoring. It is more than merely pointing out the process to a new employee and it is more than giving a list of expectations. It is about making sure that you take the time to make sure that the employee feels engaged with the process. It is about acknowledging that mistakes may happen and that these should be seen as learning opportunities.  Mentoring is like being a teacher and coach to your employees.  If you make mentoring a cornerstone of your management philosophy, you’ll be able to build an organization that is resilient in times of growth or change.

Oftentimes, there is some confusion between managing and mentoring. Managing, to present it simplistically, can be a matter of setting targets and goals and finding ways to accomplish these with your resources. Mentoring is a little more complex in that this also involves communicating your values and standards; it means moving beyond the metrics. Mentoring involves more investment in building the strengths of all your employees. Your job as owner/manager is to help your employees help the company and take care your customers. People who are mentored tend to do well as they are motivated by the need to live up to the expectations of their mentors. They also want to do it as a sign of appreciation for the time their mentors invest in the relationship.

I believe that being a mentor means stepping outside the boss box. So, you’ll not just say “This is your job,” but also ask, “How can I help you achieve these goals.” A mentor has to be supportive but this does not mean that you should be uncritical. It is not productive to say “Good job” to people when they are not doing such good jobs!  Mentoring also means having tough conversation when things are not going well. Here are some pointers on how to handle these mentoring challenges:

  • Always stay respectful in handling difficult feedback.
  • Make sure that your feedback is one-on-one wherever possible and always in private.
  • Keep the focus on the performance and not on the person.
  • Do not frame your feedback as “Here are the things you are doing wrong.” Instead frame it as “The performance is not reaching the standards we need.”
  • Focus on the performance and break it up in such a way that you can tackle the problematic issues. Help your employee identify and understand the problem areas.

It is important to keep track of the fact that mentoring doesn’t mean that you become a non-critical friend; accountability can co-exist with the mentor role.  You should never let standards slide or quality take a back-seat even when helping your employee grow.

Mentoring is ultimately about building trust;  it says that you care about the people working for you and that you’re there to help them even as you look to them for help in achieving your goals. At the end of the day, we all want to same thing, which is to be loved and respected. We want to know that we matter and that people care about our feelings, that what we think and who we are is important. Mentoring is a way of acknowledging this human need and giving it a professional context. Mentoring is about seeing that personal growth and professional fulfillment are interlinked.

Written by:  Shirley Tan


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