Any successful person will tell you that having one or more mentors was key to their success. Because they know the value of mentors, many successful people are willing to serve as mentors to others. Good intentions and a track record of success, however, do not necessarily translate into impactful mentoring. If you truly want to have a significant positive impact on the lives of those you mentor, we suggest that you adopt some tools and techniques often used in coaching and add them to your mentoring toolkit.
Ask, don't tell
Perhaps the biggest difference between a traditional mentor and a mentor/coach is the difference between telling and asking. Mentors have knowledge and wisdom that can be useful to their mentees. It’s only natural that mentors want to share that expertise, and mentees certainly want to receive that "inside scoop." But what is the most effective way for the mentor to impart this knowledge?
Typically, mentors give advice to their mentees and use examples from their own life to illustrate why their advice is correct. That approach can be effective if the mentee has the same values, strengths and goals as the mentor. Of course, that is almost never the case.
By applying coaching techniques, a mentor can help the mentee define their goals in a way that aligns with the mentee's values and strengths. The mentor can and should impart their wisdom and knowledge but as guide, not a guru.
A mentor/coach will ask powerful open-ended questions, listen carefully and guide the mentee to action. The questions will help the mentee recognize their strengths and weaknesses, decode the behavior of others in the workplace and identify opportunities. The chart below gives some examples of the types of questions a mentor can ask to begin this process. Note the contrast between a mentor and a mentor/coach.
Mentor // Mentor/coach
What's new? // What do you want to accomplish in our time together?
Here's what I think you should do. // What do you see as your options? What do you think is the best option?
When I was in your position, this is what I did… // How else could you have handled that situation?
See you soon. // What do you want your homework to be?
Let's celebrate your success. // Let's celebrate your success.
Emotional Intelligence is a key success factor
Emotional intelligence is highly correlated to success—both professional and personal. Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, refers to the ability to understand and manage one's own emotions and the ability to understand and navigate the emotions of others. EQ is often described in four quadrants: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. Self-awareness refers to the ability to understand your own emotions and how you are perceived by others. Self-management includes adaptability, resiliency and drive. Social awareness includes empathy and understanding group dynamics. Relationship management includes the ability to persuade, to manage conflict constructively and to be an inspirational leader.
Unlike IQ, we can improve our emotional intelligence at any point in our lives if we are willing to work at it. A mentor can help a mentee elevate their emotional intelligence. By giving honest, constructive feedback and encouragement, mentors can help their mentees see themselves as others see them and better understand social and political dynamics at work. When a mentor reviews with a mentee why a particular conversation or situation did not go as the mentee had planned and helps the mentee to understand the perspective of the other people involved, the mentor is providing invaluable insight that can raise the emotional intelligence of the mentee.
Ambitious people set big goals for themselves. Achieving success in a highly competitive work environment is difficult and it's easy to find reasons for failing to accomplish goals or for letting setbacks take you off track. A mentor/coach can support the mentee in successfully working toward goals by holding the mentee accountable for following through on the steps needed to reach the goals that the mentee has set.
A mentor knows that there is an accountability issue if:
- The mentee uses their time with to complain;
- At every meeting, the mentee is talking about the same things without making progress; or
- The mentee demonstrates a victim mentality.
To instill a sense of accountability, the mentor should assign the mentee specific homework to be done or goals to be accomplished between sessions to keep things moving. If the mentee is not able or willing to do the homework, it may mean that they are not fully committed to their goal. To combat a victim mentality, the mentor can help the mentee identify things within their control that they can do to improve their situation.
There is no question that mentors can serve an important role. Motivated by a desire to help others, mentors want to make the biggest positive impact possible on the lives of their mentees. By becoming mentor/coaches, they combine the wisdom of mentoring with the powerful tools of coaching for maximum effect.
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Barrett Avigdor is Managing Director for Latin America, a member of Major, Lindsey & Africa's In-House Practice Group, and based in the firm's San Diego office. A certified executive coach and trainer, Barrett has worked with attorneys around the world to help them enhance their professional performance and create a life they enjoy by utilizing emotional intelligence and their individual strengths. She is the co-author of the best-seller "What Happy Working Mothers Know" (Wiley 2009).