Want To Grow? Get A Mentor!

Homer, the Ancient Greek legendary author of two epic poems Iliad and Odyssey tells a story of War of Troy. When Odysseus, one of the Greek kings, set sails for Troy he wanted to ensure his young son Telemachus gets a solid education and his palace is in a good hands. He asked a friend, whose name was Mentor, to get his son education necessary for a long successful life. Thus the first mentorship took place. It was based on sympathetic relationship between two people of different levels of experience without any formal relationship or family and organizational structure.

So how do you define mentoring today? What about: a process of informal transmission of knowledge, psychological support and even social capital that enables the recipient to increase his professional success, being it both the work related tasks as well as personal development. The mentor is someone significantly more experienced in the area of interest and should be a level or two above the mentee. The mentee is someone who wants to receive a professional mentoring in the effort to accelerate his or her growth.

Goals of mentoring

The basis of mentoring is the professional, direct and partnership-based relationship between a mentor and a mentee. At high-level the main aim is to promote the professional and personal development of the mentee. The actual goals may cover wider area of topics:

  • Providing advice for further personal development – mentee and mentor meet and reflect together on the mentee‘s experiences. This serves to foster the skills and personality of the mentee on an individual level and enables him to be a better person.
  • Providing advice on professional questions and decisions – depending on mentor’s experience they both engage in an exchange of experiences, and the mentor passes on his own experiences and information in effort to enable the mentee to make better decisions.
  • Discussing difficult management situations – assuming the mentee is being mentored on management and leadership topics the mentor can act as a sounding board and provide points of view based on his or her vast experience with managing people.
  • Help establishing a feedback culture – it is a great way to build a feedback culture through working with emerging leaders and experts.
  • Spreading understanding of company strategy and business – especially when the relationship crosses several management levels it helps to provide insights into company strategy that may be otherwise diluted.
  • Networking within and outside the organization – when the mentorship spreads across different departments or the mentor is even outside the company it grants the mentee access to a professional circles otherwise inaccessible.
  • Increasing self-confidence and professionalism of mentee – as the person works with significantly more senior mentor it gives him or her a new perspective on how to conduct business and by learning new skills will also build a self-confidence.

I listed just some of the most obvious benefits of mentoring. Depending on the needs of the mentee these can be of course expanded.

Requirements for both roles

The mentor is someone who the mentee trusts or can build trust quickly. He doesn’t have any management responsibility for the mentee. It is a purely supporting and advisory role that brings new ideas and perspectives to the relationship. The requirements for this role may vary depending on area of mentoring required, but there are couple of basic ones. The mentor should be:

  • A person at least one hierarchical level above the mentee
  • In possession of both the technical and social skills to play to role
  • With ability to teach and impart knowledge
  • With ability to motivate others
  • With interest in helping others grow
  • With a network of formal and informal contacts within the company
  • And of course trustworthy with high ethical standards

The mentee is on the receiving end of this relationship. He is personally responsible for all his decisions and the mentor is there in advisory capacity only. The requirements of the mentee are not as broad as of the mentor but are equally as important. The mentee must be someone who:

  • Shows initiative to be able to maintain the contact
  • Possesses good social skills to provide mentor with honest feedback
  • Is committed to learning and able to put discussed measures into practice
  • Has ability to handle criticism
  • Has a capacity, both intellectual and emotional to reflect and learn

Advantages for mentor, mentee, and organization

How does the mentor, the mentee, and the organization benefit from the relationship? It always depends on individuals but in broad terms the mentee is getting the most of it. As indicated above the whole point is to enable him or her to perform better today and accelerate growth to the future.

For mentor the benefits can be in a form of enhancing his own skills when explaining topics, sharing knowledge, or providing feedback. He can also get a different perspective on the world from someone who is several levels below them, most likely different age, and even different department, culture or country. It enables mentor to expand his social network within the company, and build a reputation of someone who cares and is willing to help.

And lastly for the company it is all about building a culture of feedback, mutual respect and collaboration. A culture where people are willing to help others and work towards a common goal to enable the future of the company. If done right, the mentoring relationships can help to promote culture of inclusion and diversity.

How to set up a mentoring relationship

How do you find the right mentor and setup the relationship? In any bigger organization you may need help of HR department who should have access to data to help you find the right mentor. If there is no formal process, then just working with your boss or even directly approaching someone senior who you see as a role model in the area you want to improve is definitely an option. In all cases you need to be able to explain what you expect to get from the relationship and also what the mentor can expect in return, as discussed above. When having the right mentor the process is then rather straightforward:

  • Upon meeting for the first time, the mentor and the mentee should discuss expectations of both partners in relation to a mentoring relationship. You may want to talk about some of the rules outlined below to make sure both sides are comfortable with them.
  • They should agree on the frequency of meetings, duration and high-level topics. I would suggest at first to meet on monthly basis and even though most of the conversations can be done over phone or video conferencing I would strongly encourage to meet at least twice a year face to face to build stronger relationship.
  • It is responsibility of the mentee to organize the meetings and bring topics. The mentor can also bring topics that he sees as important for personal development of the mentee but he is not “the owner” of the initiative, even though he is the senior partner in the relationship.

Rules to follow

To have a successful and friction less working relationship both the mentor and the mentee needs to agree on some basic rules they will follow. These rules should cover at least these aspects:

  • Confidentiality – everything that is said between the mentor and the mentee remains confidential and shouldn’t be shared or worse used to gain some advantage over the other person.
  • Consistency – to build a solid relationship it is important to keep a regular contact and ensure continuous free flowing feedback in both directions.
  • Openness – keeping an open mind and understanding the other party’s world view is important to ensure willingness to receive feedback and for growth in general.
  • Honesty – again very important for good quality feedback and the ability to have a difficult conversations that enable both sides to learn.
  • Maturity – both sides needs to be mature enough to provide and accept feedback even when it is critical; they also need to be reliable to follow the agreed rules.

When you put all this together you can see that building a strong mentoring relationship can help you significantly to accelerate your personal growth and meet your career aspirations.

 

What is your experience with mentoring? Do you feel it has place in today’s corporate world and what approach to mentoring would you take?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

For more read my blog about management, leadership, communication, coaching, software development and career TheGeekyLeader or follow me on Twitter: @GeekyLeader

The Puzzle Of Performance Goals

Over the years managing people I have frequently encountered confusion about what the goals for a particular individual should be. Some people pushed for purely performance based goals like “Ship product xyz on February 2nd,” or “Write an article about performance goals that is 500 words long by the end of the week.” Some people pushed more for developmental goals like “Improve your language skills,” or “Learn how to use MS Excel.”

How do you approach setting goals for your team? What is the right mix of these goals and why are they important? In my mind you can divide the goals or objectives into three categories

  • Performance goals (things you need to get done to fulfil the scope of your job)
  • Professional developmental goals (things you need to learn to be able to do your job; usually more so called hard-skills, depending on the job)
  • Personal developmental goals (things you want to learn to be a better person; usually more focused on soft-skills and dealing with others)

Performance Goals

These are the things you need to achieve as a part of your job. Why are they important? Well, without clear goals you don’t know what to do and you have no way of knowing how you will be evaluated. It is important to set these goals regularly for yourself and your team to set expectations. Do this and that by this time. It is important to say not just what needs to be done but how it will be measured or what will be the criteria telling you whether you succeeded. “Hire the team of developers by the end of the month,” sounds reasonable until the end of the month comes and you have five people on board feeling happy while your boss frowns and tells you he expected at least twice as many.

But the performance goals are just the beginning. The one thing you need in pretty much any job is a trust. You need to trust your team that they will do a good job. You need to trust to your boss that he knows what he is doing when tasking you. Trust depends on two principal items: competency and character. Competency tells you whether someone has the knowledge to do the job. Whether he is “technical” enough. Character tells you whether he will do the job to the best of his abilities, whether he will do it the right way, and whether he will strive to be better and better at what he does. These two aspect needs to be addressed by professional (competency) and personal (character) developmental goals.

Professional Developmental Goals

Many of us need to learn new skills to be able to get our job done or even more often to prepare for the next job. We need to constantly use new tools, new technologies and techniques. There are always ways how to be more productive, get more things done and do them better than in the past.

Are you aspiring to lead a team? There are tons of skills you need to learn to be successful at that job. Some of them are more “technical” and some of them more “soft”. How do you hire people? How do you set the tasks? How do you evaluate the results? How do you provide feedback, perform one-on-one’s, or direct meetings? These are goals that are a bit trickier to evaluate but are important developmental steps to get to the next level. If you don’t discuss with your team their developmental goals you are most likely not providing feedback that would help them grow in their careers.

Personal Developmental Goals

Then come objectives like learn to listen, accept feedback and act on it. Things like being able to make tough decisions, being able to coach and mentor people around you. You may want to push the limits of your own abilities, you want to see the world around you, get new experiences to enrich yourself, or you want to get more comfortable in standing by your own values and opinions. You need to have solid values and live them, and you need to play nice with others. These are usually very “soft” things that are very personal. To learn them usually means changing a bit who you are. These are things that no external observer can evaluate, or at least not easily. It is usually only you to decide what you need to work on and whether you are succeeding.

The sad thing is that these are usually the most important goals because they set the foundations of who you are and how you act. They are also most often overlooked in performance discussions because of their inherent touchy-feely nature and difficult measurement. If you want to help your team members with these goals you need to be a coach or a guide who will show them the journey so they can identify these needs for themselves and then be the mentor who will help them work on improving and be better human beings.

In a correctly set performance management you need to deal with all three types of goals. If you overlook one part you will struggle in the other two areas too. So next time you have your performance evaluation or you talk with your boss or your team about the goals make sure you discuss not just what needs to be done to fulfil your job duties but also what needs to be done for you to become better at your job and at the end also a better person.

More on topic of goals and productivity:

Delete Your Calendar At Least Twice A Year

How To Make SMART Goals Smarter

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Attitude

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Priorities

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Tactics

 

How do you set your own goals and the goals for your team? Do you make a clear distinction between them? Along what lines?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Coaching tools: Life balance wheel

Life balance wheelWhen having a new client for your coaching sessions you are often presented with a challenge to figure out where to start. Sometimes the client comes and has a very clear idea on what he wants to work on, but sometimes the problem is defined more general. “I just want to feel happy,” or “Something is missing from my life and I’m not really sure what.” When this happens you can use this handy tool called “Life balance wheel” to help you decode the priorities and find out where to start with the coaching sessions.

Why to use it

This tool can be used for various purposes, but the basic one is to identify areas of client’s life where he feels low satisfaction. By using this tool you are trying to establish a balance in client’s life. Of course, the tool itself will not solve all the problems, but it can provide the initial insight into what needs to be done and when used regularly it can measure progress.

Steps to follow

  • Draw a wheel – most often is used a simple pie chart with eight pieces, but you and your client can be more creative and add more sectors as needed.
  • Identify significant areas of client’s life – the most common are:
    • Work – anything related to your work, career, colleagues, boss
    • Development – professional and personal growth
    • Money – your income, but also your expenditures
    • Home – your family, parents, kids, your free time, hobbies
    • Health – your physical and mental condition
    • Friends – your friends, past and present, social life
    • Romance – your love, spouse, matters of heart
    • Life Purpose – your mission in this life
  • Go through individual areas and ask:
    • How satisfied are you with this part of your life?
  • Evaluate individual areas on a scale from 1 to 10 where 1 means “Unsatisfied” and 10 means “Completely satisfied”. Keep in mind we don’t talk about how much of that particular activity is in your client’s life, but how satisfied he is with it. So for example, he may have really low income but his satisfaction in “Money” will be high simply because what he is getting is fine for his needs.
  • Connect the dots in the pie chart to show more visually the areas of high and low satisfaction
  • Let client reflect on the picture and ask:
    • What does this mean for you?
  • Pick up an area to focus on by asking:
    • Where do you want to start?
    • What is the most important for you?

It is important to realize and mention to the client that this is a complex system. Change in one area will most likely affect the other areas too. For example, if the client says he has low satisfaction at “Money” so he is going to fully focus on it and will do whatever it takes to get more of them, it may easily happen that the next time you meet he pushes his “Money” satisfaction higher, but his satisfaction with “Work and Home” will go down. So always consider all the aspects and better work on things that have synergetic effect on the others. Ideally, find something that when increased will also increase satisfaction in several other areas.

Where to use it

I described the most common use of the life balance wheel but there are others and it is just on your creativity to decide when it can help. Let me just provide some inspiration:

  • When defining new contract with a client (based on results you decide on priorities)
  • When trying to measure a progress (try to use it the same way as in the initial session every fifth or sixth session to measure how is the satisfaction increasing, it will help to further accelerate the progress)
  • When collecting thoughts about a topic and deciding which one to work on (you may need to ask not about satisfaction but about importance)
  • When deciding between 2 options (drawing a wheel for each option and imagining what the results would be when the option was implemented and then measure satisfaction for each final state)
  • To answer the question: I generally don’t feel happy but I don’t know where to start
  • To identify key aspects of a project and what to focus on (you won’t ask about satisfaction but about complexity or priorities for customers)
  • To facilitate feedback (you may put in different aspects of leadership and ask the team to evaluate each of these aspects; or you can use it to measure alignment of the team by putting in values and asking each team member to rank priorities, then overlay all the feedback and discuss with the team what does it mean for them)

Questions to ask

It is never easy to find the right words so let me give you some thoughts on what questions to ask to make the client think:

  • How satisfied are you with this part of your life?
  • Are the activities you do in this area fulfilling?
  • Think about this part of your life, how much energy are you prepared to put in? (1-10)
  • What could you do to have more satisfaction and fulfillment in this area?
  • What could stop you to make it work? How would you recognize/mitigate that?
  • Who could help you to make it work?
  • Who could remind you, help to keep you on track?

Have you ever used life balance wheel? For what purpose and how did it work? Do you have a tool that can provide similar results?