How to Become a Better Mentor

“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” — John C. Maxwell

Tamra asks: When I asked my direct reports for feedback on my own performance recently, I was surprised by the answer one of them gave. He said he’d love more mentoring to help him get to the next level in his career. I feel like I always take time to check in about how my staff can improve. We have frequent one-on-ones, and I’m told I’m very approachable. How can I become a better mentor? What am I missing when it comes to mentoring them to the next level?

Joel answers: Mentoring has many dimensions, so it’s really not surprising that you’re excelling in some key ways but have room to improve in others.

Here’s what it sounds like the core issue is: It’s time to take the mystery out of the promotion process. Your people are getting a lot of support from you in their growth, but they need to know how to channel that growth into new opportunities. To become a better mentor, focus on how to provide that guidance.

Have you ever had a job in which you had no real idea of what it would take to get to the next level? If you’re now a boss, some of your people may be feeling the exact same way. Now that the tables have turned, it’s time to give them the clarity about the career advancement process that you always wanted from your own boss.

Here are three steps you can take to promote your star performers:

  1. Tell your employees exactly what you plan to do in order to help them get promoted.
  2. Give them action steps, and follow up on their progress in weekly or biweekly check-ins.
  3. Get proactive about promoting your people to your peers and those above you in the organization.
  • Know your messaging strategy around the promotion of your employees.
    To proactively share positive messages about your employees, clarify your messaging strategy. What three key traits do you want them to associate with the employee you’re promoting? Ask for her input on this, helping her to create a clear brand for herself. Consider the areas in which that person excels, as well as her goals. Consistent messaging about that employee’s brand will help her develop a strong reputation for those qualities.
  • Share impactful stories showing the value of that employee to the company.
    Think of examples of situations in which that individual has demonstrated those key qualities. Think of your favorite stories of how she saved the day or made your own life easier. Being able to tell a vivid story when you introduce her to a higher-level leader will make the intro far more memorable than “This is Jane from accounting. She does great work.” Jot down a list of favorite stories that put a spotlight on each employee’s best qualities, and keep it in the employee’s file for quick reference. If you’re sitting around the board room discussing that person’s qualifications, you’ll be prepared to eloquently explain why she’s the best candidate for promotion.
  • Set work performance goals with your employee.
    Make sure you prioritized setting work performance goals with your employees. Now, raise awareness about what your people have accomplished. Send out a monthly update to other leaders on what your team has achieved, describing what star performers have done to reach their goals. If they’ve taken important steps toward self-improvement, mention that too!
  • Introduce your employee to the key stakeholders.
    In regard to their own action steps, networking is a major priority. Come up with a list of key players across the organization for your employee to develop a rapport with. Give tips on how to approach them and where.
  • Give them detailed action steps to help improve their reputation.
    Give them homework, too, like creating a compelling elevator speech about their accomplishments. Have them rehearse it with you. Encourage them to take steps to promote their personal brand. Ask them to send you a succinct and persuasive list of major accomplishments they’ve achieved over the past year. Give them tips on how to take credit for their work, too, so it never goes unseen.
  • Find additional mentors to help them get to where they want to go.
    Employees may also need additional mentors to get to where they want to go. Connect them with mentors who can give them more guidance on their chosen path.

Even if you’re already doing some of these things, your people need to know it. When they know the specific steps you’re taking to promote them to other leaders, they’ll feel you’re part of a team that’s committed to their growth. As you learn how to be a better mentor, you’ll become a stronger leader who will motivate your people to go the extra mile to promote themselves, too.

Joel is an expert in helping bosses become better leaders who provide quality mentoring for their people. Contact him today to improve both relationships and results.

Instill Confidence in Employees

“Trust is a core currency of any relationship. Sometimes our need to control and micromanage everything erodes our confidence in ourselves and others. The truth: People are much more capable than we think. A  hearty dose of trust is often what’s needed to unlock the magic. Go ahead, have faith.”
~Kris Carr~

Client Gerald asks: Some of the employees I supervise really seem to self-sabotage at work a lot. It’s clearly coming from a lack of belief in themselves. How can I instill confidence in my employees to get the best results from my team?

Coach Joel answers: Glad you reached out for support, Gerald. Employees who feel confident about their abilities will drive an organization’s success. Meanwhile, those who don’t believe in themselves will settle for the safety of mediocrity. By instilling confidence, you’ll prime your employees to take worthwhile risks, thereby growing into even better performers.

  1. Focus on strengths
    Focusing on strengths doesn’t just make employees feel good—it’s far more effective than targeting weaknesses, according to Gallup’s research. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give feedback about areas for improvement, but don’t fixate on them too much. When employees use their areas of strength, they’re six times more likely to be engaged at work as those who don’t, Gallup emphasizes.
  2. Be specific with your praise
    When you give praise, make it abundantly clear what behavior you’re praising. Highlight key strengths that led to a project’s success, or observations about things that employees consistently do well. Better yet, give this praise in front of others so employees feel their visibility growing.
  3. Reduce stress in the workplace
    As Chris Adalikwu says in How to Build Self Confidence, Happiness, and Health, stress can make people feel less capable, even if they’re fully equipped to handle the situation at hand. Lowering workplace stress will thus bolster employees’ confidence. Being more flexible about deadlines if need be, encouraging employees to leave work at work, and ensuring they have all the tools they need to get the job done are just a few ways to reduce workplace stress.
  4. Have a plan for building skills
    Develop a plan for how to help employees reach the goals you’ve set together during your performance reviews. Otherwise, they may feel daunted about how to get there. Focus on incremental growth, helping them build skills gradually over a series of projects rather than all at once. Small successes will give them the courage to persevere.
  5. Coach them from the sidelines
    If an employee feels daunted about taking on a challenging project, don’t just throw her into it and hope for the best. Instead, coach her from the sidelines. Check in often (but without micromanaging how she does things). Ask if she has questions or needs advice, so she knows it’s okay to feel confused or want feedback.
  6. Ask them for help
    The four most powerful words you can use as a leader are “I need your help.” Say them often, whether you need help with a task, developing a new strategy, or helping the company through a transition.
  7. Model confident behavior
    Some leaders strive to appear invulnerable, but that sets a poor example for everyone. Show your people that strong leaders have questions, need support from others, and solicit others’ advice. Ask for their opinions, and for their feedback on how you can be a better boss. In doing so, you’ll instill self-confidence in your employees and improve communication in the workplace.

As you implement these tips for building people’s confidence, you’ll see your team blossom. To further enhance their growth, consider hiring a motivational trainer who will work to thoroughly understand and address the challenges your people face.

Contact executive coach Joel for more support in growing as a leader so you’ll get the most from your people.

Celebrate Failure

“I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
~Thomas Edison~

Trevor wanted his people to be pillars of innovation and creativity. When he came to me for coaching around innovation, he mentioned how fearful his team was in taking risks and possibly touching failure. I asked him, “What are you doing to celebrate failures?” Like many leaders, he had no answer. We then looked at some fun ways that corporate leaders have learned to take their failures and celebrate them. In doing so, they help their most creative people to develop exciting new ideas.

Celebrating your failures is just as important as celebrating your success. Here’s some ideas for you.

  1. Hold an Idea Funeral
    Holding an idea funeral is a fun way to learn from the failure as a group, as Annabel Acton says in an Inc. article. Take turns eulogizing the idea or project you’re “burying,” sharing lessons learned. Focus on its merits as well as the reasons it ultimately failed. This creates a culture of trying out new ideas and learning from the results. “Startup funerals” have taken off as well, as budding entrepreneurs are increasingly embracing failure as a stepping-stone to success.
  2. Create a Fail Wall
    The finance website NerdWallet creates a “Fail Wall” where mistakes are posted, emphasizing that everyone fails and honoring outside-the-box thinking. Why not set up a “Fail Wall” in your own workplace? Give it a brightly colored banner and encourage people to write down their failures on post-it notes and stick them on the wall.
  3. Give a Heroic Failure award
    Advertising company Grey gives a “Heroic Failure” award to employees who take ambitious risks and go down in flames. Giving this award changes the culture of feeling shame or humiliation if a risk doesn’t pan out. Rather than letting failure become part of people’s identity, they become branded as risk-takers.
  4. Hold a “F— Up Night”
    In a popular social meetup event called “F— Up Nights,” a handful of entrepreneurs tell their stories about failure, followed by a Q&A session. These events been held in over 250 cities across 80 countries. Hold a similar event with your own people, encouraging everyone to take a turn at the mic. If it’s a hit, hold a series of them so everyone gets time to share and ask questions. Find a fun way to host the event outside of the office, like reserving a large room at a restaurant or finding a community space that hosts performances.
  5. Record What You’ve Tried
    Keep a track record of failures, with detailed information about what people tried. Just as a failed cancer drug proved incredibly useful for managing the AIDS virus, a past failure can become a wild success in a different context. Take notes on why the idea failed—it might succeed under the right conditions, or if certain aspects of it are revamped.

It’s most fitting to celebrate failures related to innovation, rather than execution, Harvard Business Review points out. You want to celebrate the failures that show you took a leap. If someone failed to follow through on a task, you obviously won’t want to throw a party. If she gave her all in a new project and it just didn’t achieve the desired results, that’s different. Celebrating those kinds of failures will help your people learn to fail gracefully, growing from the experience.

Most importantly, stop thinking—and talking—in terms of “win/lose.” When you eliminate the shame around failure, and show it’s okay to be vulnerable, people can talk about it. That means they can learn from it, finding the germ of a great idea within it.

Want more advice on boosting creativity and innovation in your company? Hire leadership coach Joel Garfinkle so he can help you develop and implement ideas that get results.

5 Tips on How to become a Better Boss

“The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”
~Lee Iacocca~

Tom had been working as a manager for almost a year. He was good at evaluating people’s performance, pointing out areas for improvement, and saying “thank you” often. To him, those were the things that a good boss did.

However, when Tom sat down with his mentor to talk about his progress, his mentor told him that those things are just the tip of the iceberg. “One of the hallmark qualities of a great boss is that he’s always striving to improve,” said his mentor. “Here are 5 tips on how to become a better boss. You’ll be the kind of boss who inspires tremendous loyalty, innovation, and respect from his people.”

  1. Inspires a Shared Vision
    Hone your understanding of your organization’s vision. Talking in-depth about vision with company leaders will give you a better grasp of it. Even if you’re not a high-level leader, understanding how your department fits into the big picture will help you and your people excel. Then instill the vision in your people. At the beginning of a meeting, talk about how the project you’re presenting furthers the organization’s vision and mission. People will have a stronger grasp of their importance, and in turn, greater motivation, when they share the vision and goals.
  2. Be a Great PR Agent
    To be a better boss, show how much you care about your people’s success. Sing your people’s praises in front of colleagues and superiors. This shows you’re committed to their advancement. Let them hear you giving praise, but don’t hold back if they’re out of earshot, either. If you speak highly of them in a private meeting with your own boss, mention it to them later. Your loyalty to them will increase their loyalty to you.
  3. Have Difficult Conversations
    Embrace difficult conversations, seeing them as an opportunity for growth. A great boss is a pro at conflict resolution, and puts his mediation skills to the test if coworkers have a problem to resolve. When he’s talking to people about improving their performance, he keeps a positive focus. His coaching skills guide them toward a better understanding of how they can strengthen their work.Next time you see a difficult conversation on the horizon, ask yourself how you can make it a positive experience. Seize upon the opportunities for growth, and reflect on how you can act as a supportive coach rather than just calling out mistakes. If you want to learn more, read Practical Tactics for Crucial Communication.
  4. Help People Envision Their Future
    Help your employees craft their career plans, envisioning the future of their dreams. An outstanding boss asks plenty of questions that help people figure out where they want to go in their careers. She shows she’s invested in her employee’s happiness. Her people look at her as a wise mentor rather than someone who’s there to criticize them.
  5. Focus on Work/Life Balance
    Don’t assume that people will come to you to talk about problems with work/life balance. They may feel ashamed that they’re feeling burned out and stressed, or worried about your response. Check in with employees about their work/life balance regularly. If they’re having an issue, brainstorm solutions with them, being as accommodating as you can reasonably be.

Tom agreed to work on growing in these ways over the next several months. As time went on, people stopped seeing him as just a supervisor and started seeing him as a valued mentor and coach. Their trust and loyalty skyrocketed, and they felt encouraged to think creatively and take risks. Knowing they had a great boss behind them, they felt there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish together. With these tips on how to become a better boss, you’ll get there soon too, even if you’re not well on your way already!

Whether you’re an experienced boss or an aspiring one, reach out to Joel for Leadership Coaching Program.

6 Tips for New Managers

“Corporate culture matters. How management chooses to treat its people impacts everything—for better or for worse.”
~Simon Sinek~

Client Julie says: I’ve just accepted a job as manager of my department. I want to successfully navigate this new leadership role. What mistakes should I make sure to avoid?

Coach Joel answers: Becoming a manager probably marks a dramatic shift from your previous role. It may feel overwhelming. You’re being asked to apply a new skill set, and everyone is gaging your ability to handle the role. But avoid these 6 classic mistakes, and you’ll be on your way to becoming a great boss.

    1. Ignoring the Big Picture
      New managers might be tempted to dive into the daily grind before fully educating themselves on organizational vision, mission, and strategy. To guide and inspire their team, however, they need a strong grasp of these concepts. Thus, they should meet with leaders of the organization early on to get briefed on strategy and understand their perspective on these issues. Creating an action plan is important when starting a new role.
    2. Presuming They Know Their Employees
      You might have worked alongside your direct reports for years, but you don’t know them as their manager. Taking time for one-on-ones with each of them is vital to understanding their work performance goals, concerns, and job roles. Communicating that you want their ideas about how your department can improve will also convey that you value them.
    3. Micromanaging Employees
      Because your success depends on theirs, you might be tempted to micromanage the nitty gritty details of your direct reports’ days. Here’s an important tip for every new manager: Relinquish total control. Trying to maintain that level of control signifies mistrust, which is especially harmful to a new manager who might be supervising former coworkers. (They’d be sure to see you as too big for your britches!) After you delegate tasks, let employees handle them.
    4. Assuming Executive Presence Develops Naturally
      Executive presence doesn’t just develop on its own—at least, not for most people. New managers should consciously work to cultivate charisma (because yes, that’s something you can develop). They should also practice regulating their emotions, keeping a couple of stress-reducing exercises in their pocket for critical moments. New managers must show they’re calm and in control in order for others to trust and take them seriously.
    5. Choosing a Leadership Style That Doesn’t Feel Right
      You might gravitate toward a leadership style that your previous boss used. However, if it’s not the best fit for your personality, it will probably feel awkward or ineffective. Read up on leadership styles—such as visionary, democratic, and affiliative leadership—to determine which style or combination is right for you. Then, find a mentor who models that style.
    6. Brushing Off Awkward Feelings
      If you sense any tension from direct reports who used to be your coworkers, don’t ignore it. That will only cause it to fester. Bring it up during your one-on-one meetings, talking about how you can reduce the awkwardness together. Even if you don’t sense hostility or hurt feelings, acknowledging the shift fosters openness that will help you navigate any awkwardness that arises.

If you’re a new manager, you’re sure to make mistakes. After all, you are a rookie, and everyone starts somewhere. For all new managers, tips and advice from a trusted mentor are priceless. Have regular one-on-ones with your mentor to talk through the inevitable questions and hurdles that arise.

Help the newly promoted succeed with an Executive Coaching Program by Joel Garfinkle.