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When you find yourself struggling with a challenge you often turn to someone you perceive as being able to give you the advice you need. This is true in business as well as personal life. Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are not immune to needing to seek out experienced advisers. Challenges may be the need to develop a new business strategy, new leadership styles, leadership development, improving corporate finance growth or even prepping for a critical meeting. This is when I generally come in as a mentor.
One of my first steps is to assess the situation - a kind of triage that will tell us what the immediate issues are and how we can best approach generating solutions to them. Often times a potential client has developed a form of blinders that hinder them seeing a simple and efficient method of dealing with a problem. At other times, they need to grow personally and professionally in order to deal with the increasing complexity brought on by their own success. Is it my job to help clients lift the blinders, make the leap forward - develop and implement a plan of action that will meet and master the challenges that they are facing.
As a mentor, I often work with my clients on leadership development. Sometimes I feel like an artist molding a clay pot. The correct amount of pressure helps create a fine work of art, but the incorrect method will cave it in and make for more work. Nevertheless, I always remember that change comes primarily through the efforts of the client - I am only an experienced guide. Many mentors miss this reality and assume an imperious attitude towards clients. I am always amazed at what mine accomplish and humbled to have played my role in helping them achieve it.
One of my first contributions to any mentoring engagement is the assessment of the situation. By performing a leadership assessment, I develop the data that helps us to plan a strategy - to frame the coaching engagement - to develop a plan of action that draws on the client’s strengths and bolsters their weak points to become.
Here are some thoughts on how I approach mentoring engagements:
- Examining the talents and strength of a team and corporate context, CEO, Chairman, HR department and the culture or work ethics of those involved - team is only as good as its leaders, and it is not only fair to put some of the blame on those that are leading and not just on those that are under you
- A mentoring engagement lasts until the mentor and client agree that its objectives have been met - as a mentor, I help my clients find the problems in the current leadership styles and how to improve them from the top down - I like to celebrate victory as much as the next person - and endings of engagements are causes for celebrations
- Most often, when I am approached by a potential client looking for coaching support it indicates that their company, its leadership or they themselves have realized there is an issue and they are trying to improve team performance and the individual performance of the team members - an executive after learning these new skills from the coach will then take the next step to becoming a better leader
Here are six things that I think a mentor must posses to guarantee success are:
Unshakable Confidence Based Solidly on Deep Experience: A mentor should have a personal belief of success, a cheerful approach to problem solving and deep rooted personal confidence - have all the skills and knowledge that will be needed to be passed on - belief and confidence alone is not enough - without the experience, a mentor is simply an consultant who has never done what they are purporting to teach you
Steady Optimism: Without this skill, a leader is finished before they start any project. An effective mentor must have a steady, stable approach to even the most difficult crisis. One of the most important things I teach my clients is to maintain that steady and quiet mindset in the face of challenges. It is pure Zen - and it works. I have seen mentors charging around, changing course, modifying recommendations and generally churning up the waters. The most remarkable thing about them is that they generate a lot of heat but almost no progress. I teach my clients how to approach their challenges with this steady optimism - and it has made tremendous differences in many of their lives.
Quiet Courage: Courage in business is neither brashness nor bullying. Risk is an essential part of business - if there were none, as the saying goes, everybody would be doing it and succeeding. Courage translates into quiet and focused determination. It balances the need for action with the need for reflection. Early in the engagements, most of my clients remark on this part of my approach to business. Later on they find themselves developing the same capability. A good mentor should teach the personal virtues which will make a client more effective - and those include courage, determination and reflection. Help a client develop quite courage, they will not to be able to conquer the fears. Fear is the mind killer.
Collaboration: A good mentoring engagement is inherently collaborative. I build every engagement on a partnership between a client and me as their mentor. Many mentors have a different attitude - the client is the student and they are the teacher. I have never had much use for the presumptuousness. I learn constantly from my clients. What I know and have experienced is useful to them in their efforts to grow personally and professionally. I always remember that when one we are working together to can change the client’s future and to accomplish greater goals than demonstrating my superior knowledge and experience.
Open, Direct and Honest Communication: I will admit to being considerably less solicitous than most mentors are. I prefer direct and open communication. An old black comedian - Moms Mabley - used to put it well when she said “I’d rather pay a young man’s airfare from New York to Los Angeles than tell an old man the distance”. Personally, I do not much care for nibbling around the edges of important issues or challenges. If a client and mentor cannot communicate openly, directly and honestly, then how can they expect to achieve significant results?
Preparation Through Experience: I have saved the most important for last. Without lots of relevant experience - with having actually successfully done what the clients is trying to master - a mentor is just an intellectual in search of a consulting fee. Every great monument, work of art or great accomplishment did not just happen overnight. It took careful and deliberate planning, research and execution by the leaders of the projects. Very good mentors are the same. Judgment is not refined by reading about judgment - management skills are not gained by reading about them - success is not gained by reading or talking about success - and good mentors are not made by reading about mentoring. Never hire a mentor who has not been where you are trying to go - never, never, never.
Recognizing the need for mentoring support is the first step along the path. A second one is deciding what king of mentor you need and finding one that meets those needs. Like anything else in life, if the process is well done the experience and results will be optimal. If the process is casual and without focus, it will be a waste of money and time. Prudence mitigates towards care and focus. If you are thinking about looking for a mentor and would like to know more about how to select a good one, send me an e-mail and we will arrange a time to talk.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II
Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur,
Mentoring Client, NPI Team Lead,
Mentoring Client, Deloitte,
CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’,
Partner, IT & Telecom, Defense Solutions,