How to be an exceptional mentor

I sometimes get asked, “What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?”

My answer is usually something along the lines of, “a lot and they can both be really helpful.”

What is a coach?

If you read this blog regularly, you probably have a pretty good sense of what a coach is.

We help leaders (and up and coming leaders), figure out how to be their very best — in a way that works for them.

We use provocative questions (open-ended, bigger than everyday questions) and we use techniques like appreciative enquiry to imagine the desired future and figure out what’s in the way — drawing-out where they want to be and, most importantly, how to get there.

Good coaches are highly trained, experienced, and certified by the International Coach Federation.

They use their training, continuing education and deep knowledge to help you achieve things you might have thought impossible.

So, what is a mentor?

Mentors, on the other hand, are generally folks who have been there before you.

They’ve likely succeeded in a role similar to yours and have their own experience that they can share with you.

Sometimes their experience may have been difficult or unsuccessful and there is much to learn from that.

Or, their experience may have been wonderful and highly successful and, if you can emulate them while remaining true to yourself, you too may have success.

You can probably see why both coaching and mentoring would be helpful. You already know we can offer you a great coaching experience.

So today we wanted to give some ideas on how to be a good mentor and things to think about if you’re setting up a mentoring program in your organization.

What EXACTLY makes a great mentor?

First, if you’re going to be a mentor, think of yourself as a “learning facilitator” rather than a problem solver.

Help your protégé find people and other resources outside of your own experience and knowledge.

Emphasize questions over advice. This is a coaching technique that works well for mentors too.

Ask about what’s being said and what’s not. If they talk only about facts, ask about feelings. If they’re focused on feelings, ask him or her to review the facts.

If they’re stuck on an immediate crisis, ask some genuinely curious, open-ended questions about the big picture. This helps them see alternative interpretations and approaches.

Don’t hesitate to share your own experiences, lessons learned, and advice, but emphasize that your experiences could be different from theirs and so should be thought of only as examples, and food for thought.

Limit your urge to solve the problem for them.

Resist the temptation to control the relationship and steer its outcomes; your protégé is responsible for their own success.

Know that your role is not just to help them build skills — it’s also to help them build confidence. You can help with that through supportive feedback and by helping them see what they do well.

Help them reflect on successful strategies they’ve used in the past that could apply to new challenges.

“In your last role, can you think of a time something like this happened to you?”

Be spontaneous now and then.

Beyond your planned conversations, call or e-mail “out of the blue” just to leave an encouraging word or something you’ve been reflecting on in your own role that might be helpful for them too.

Reflect on your role as mentor and ask them for feedback. Talk to other mentors too.

Enjoy your time as a mentor, knowing that this opportunity will undoubtedly boost your own awareness and success just as it helps your colleague.

Coach’s Question:

Who already sees you as a mentor? Or who do you see as your mentor? And how could you establish a more successful mentoring relationship?

If you’re already a formal mentor, what could you be more purposeful about? Which of the ideas above are you going to start using?

5 daily habits of effective leaders

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
– Will Durant paraphrasing Aristotle

We are what we consistently do.

Great leadership is made up of the small habits that we foster and the small habits we’re unaware of.

It’s made up of a lot of little things done consistently over time and one of the big keys to success is being mindful and purposeful about what we do day over day.

In the same way we can’t go to the gym once and get fit, drink a single green smoothie and stay healthy for a year, we can’t have one good conversation with a member of our team and call ourselves Leader of the Year.

So what then, are the small daily habits of effective leaders?

What are the things that when done earnestly create a great culture, supportive environments, and effective fulfillment of organizational vision?

Here are 5 habits that we here at Padraig have found to be particularly important – not to be done as one-offs but as a PRACTISE.

1. Ask for help

Sometimes, as leaders, we feel like we have to have all the answers and it’s simply not true. Maybe you already know this but what about asking for help as a practise, as a habit?

What about building in soliciting input as a part of your organization’s culture? Making, “So, what would you do?” a daily question to staff and peers.

One of the things we’re finding with a large organizational clients right now is that their leadership teams don’t see themselves as a team — not because they don’t want to and not because they don’t trust each other, but because they seldom have occasion to offer and ask for input and collaboration between themselves.

As they’ve started doing this their trust levels have increased, their successes are building and overall they’re becoming cohesive teams.

Make asking for help from staff and peers a habit and you’ll be surprised not only at the collaboration environment it creates but also the quality of ideas and solutions that you receive.

2. Connect with the big picture

How often do you find yourself bogged down with day-to-day tasks? Or even saying to yourself, “Once I get through this task or this list, I’ll be able to focus on direction, vision, and higher level work”?

We see this in our clients and, I’ll let you in on one of my little secrets — I do this too. FAR too often.

To help keep the horizon in focus, we encourage our clients to set time aside every single week to connect with their big picture.

I’ve found if I set time aside each week to reflect on my own WHY and the organization’s WHY, you’ll find that it creates more time and space than it takes.

Back to our health metaphor, just like going to the gym doesn’t increase your well-being only during the time you’re actually in the gym – there are ripple effects that go on for hours and cumulatively, you can change your life and body with consistent gym sessions over time.

Connecting with your big picture is no different – you’ll feel more inspired, you’ll find more clarity and focus, and decisions become easier, faster, and more effective.

A few ways you can connect with your big picture each day are:

  • Have a sticky or a quote or a reminder somewhere clearly in sight of both your why and your organization’s why. If you don’t know what I mean by “your why” or “your organization’s why”, click here to read our blog on that topic.
  • Have a Monday morning or Friday afternoon coffee date with yourself where you review your goals, why they’re important, and set three actions you’ll take the following week to work toward those goals — then post them in a place you view daily.
  • Start a journaling practice where you brainstorm ideas on your vision and your why at the same time each day — some clients like doing this at the start of the day, some at the end of the work day and some as they wind-down for the night. The key, like all habits, it to just do it.

3. Over communicate the vision

It kind of sounds annoying, doesn’t it? Like being pestered with emails all day? That’s definitely not the kind of over communication that I’m talking about.

Here I’m talking particularly about over communicating the big picture.

Not in a brain-washy way but in a way that makes certain that everyone knows what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and why it’s important.

This isn’t about more broadcast-style announcements and communications but engagement.

Find creative ways to check in with your team daily and see where they’re at with their understanding of your purpose as an organization such as:

  • Don’t be afraid of repetition when it comes to ensuring your staff is on board with the organizational vision – repeat it daily in staff meetings, emails, and one-on-one conversations.
  • Mentioning to your team members and peers how you see their tasks — X, Y or Z, fitting into the big picture of A or B or C. Why is it important that we do X?
  • When staff come to you with questions – unsure how to prioritize an overwhelming number of tasks, ask them which ones link most critically to the big goal of A or B or C.

4. Celebrate mistakes

We can’t fully know what works without figuring out what doesn’t.

Mistakes can guide us. Testing new things and learning from the results is one of the best and fastest ways to find the best way of doing things.

Some of the best lessons come from mistakes and if you’re making some mistakes, it means you’re pushing your boundaries/limits — if you’re never making a mistake, you’re probably playing it too safe.

How can you make celebrating mistakes part of your daily culture?

  • Develop a risk-managed culture — talk about what could go wrong, acknowledge if that would be manageable and/or how would you make it manageable? What risk mitigation will you take to let you try this new idea?
  • Change the language around mistakes and failures, consider them “learning opportunities” or some other euphemism that doesn’t draw eye-rolls but makes it ok to make a mistake — as long as we acknowledge the mistake and the lesson(s) we learned from it.
  • Have an acknowledgment system for when teams make a mistake and learn something.
  • Track all new initiatives and celebrate the outcome – success or something learned.

5. Embrace different perspectives

As objective as we like to think we are – we always have blind spots.

We always have a biased lens through which we view all things. And that very lens is what makes us great in a lot of ways.

But, knowing that we can’t possibly see all the angles at any given time is just as important.

There are many viewpoints, perspectives, and takes on each and every issue we face in a day. Effective leaders figure out their bias and know their blind spots and truly embrace when others bring them a fresh perspective.

Maybe this isn’t foreign to you. Maybe you do this sometimes.

But, taking this from a once-in-awhile leadership concept to a deliberate and daily practice creates not only an environment where you’re proactively seeking out blind spots but one where the team feels valued and heard, as well.

Coach’s Questions

How can you shift leadership concepts from once-in-a-while to a daily practice? What is the next action you’re going to take to implement one of these habits into your day?