It would appear that day to day line management has changed over the past few years and trends these days are for organisations to provide mentors or coaches alongside or in place of traditional line management. Here at Nine Feet Tall we’ve embrace these evolving ways of nurturing employees and have been using mentoring and coaching freely throughout our organisation for a number of years. Here are our 9 quick tips on how to be an effective mentor based on the lessons we’ve learnt…
Tip One – Listen
It sounds basic but the number one thing that a mentor or coach needs to do is listen. There is a quote currently doing the rounds on LinkedIn that says “the biggest problem today is that we listen to respond, not listen to understand” and an effective mentor does just that, listens, understands, listens some more and only responds when the time is right. Effective mentorship or coaching is as much about allowing people the time and freedom to get things off their chest as much as it is about helping them find a solution to their problem.
Tip Two – Make Yourself Available
Like most items that you will see in this blog, it seems pretty basic but it’s amazing how easy it is for people to sign up to mentoring or coaching and then fail to make themselves available to do the actual task itself. Making time for your mentee is essential and you never quite know when they will need you most. Having time regularly in the diary is a great start but being flexible to make ad hoc “check-in” calls or emergency “troubleshooting sessions” can be the difference between someone excelling in their role and them sinking faster than you can blink an eye.
Tip Three – Be Consistent
Great mentors are nothing but consistent in their mentoring, being consistent in regularly making time for mentoring, consistent in checking in on how things have progressed from the last topics you discussed with your mentee and consistent in being focused on the person you are mentoring at that specific moment in time. There is nothing worse for a mentee than never quite being sure when you will get mentored next, that the mentor never checks back in to see if past problems have been overcome and that their mentor is sometimes “in the room” and focussing on their needs or simply lost in their own train of thoughts and detached from conversation and the mentees needs.
Tip Four – Bring New Things to the Table
Mentoring isn’t easy and it’s also not for everyone. Some of the best leaders are poor mentors and some of the best mentors are poor leaders. Nine Feet Tall has learnt over the years we’ve used mentoring is that coming up with a format for mentoring and simply sticking to a tried and trusted approach quickly gets stale and the mentee / mentorship eventually breaks down. A great mentor will find exciting and interesting new things to bring to the table to discuss with their mentee, be it an interesting article they found online / in the press or to new ways of working or thinking that the mentee might want to try out.
Tip Five – Seek Feedback
Great mentors aren’t great mentors simply because they know how to do it, they become great by consistently seeking feedback from their mentee on what is working, what more they could be doing to help and by seeking advice from other mentors / coaches around them to bring new ideas to the table.
Tip Six – Hierarchies Don’t Matter
Great mentors don’t necessarily have to be Managers. In today’s race to get up the career ladder, too much importance can be placed on getting to a managerial position but coaching is a skill that can be applied at any level of an organisation. Here at Nine Feet Tall we actively run coaching sessions where the person being coached is more senior than the coach itself, the key to good coaching is the ability to listen, question effectively and ultimately help a coachee come to a solution they couldn’t have reached on their own.
Tip Seven – Troubleshoot, Don’t Solve
The role of a coach (and of a mentor) is not to solve problems, an all too common mistake made in mentoring and coaching. The role of the coach / mentor is simply to understand the problem and through questioning, help the individual come to their own conclusion as to what the solution should be. This may seem like a slow and laborious activity when the coach / mentor already knows the answer to the challenge being faced but allowing the coachee / mentee to find the solution in their own time ensures far greater buy-in and commitment to action rather than simply being told the answer. It also allows the mentor / mentee (coach / coachee) the necessary time to explore whether the problem they are discussing, is in fact, the true problem in the first place.
Tip Eight – Probe
It’s been mentioned already under one of the other tips but actively probing an issue being raised by a mentee takes skill and is something that develops with practise. Often what is being raised by a mentee is the problem at face value but the real issue lies much deeper and needs to be discovered to ensure the trouble goes away and isn’t just glossed over by tackling part of the problem. Open questions are key to effective probing but challenging the mentee on what you believe to be the real problem can be equally effective in making the mentee focus and wake up to the underlying issues they may not have considered.
Tip Nine – LISTEN!
This isn’t a cheap way of achieving nine top tips, we started with it and we need to finish with it too. Listening is so key effective mentoring / coaching it deserves to be on here twice!