Looking back, the eye rolling was inevitable. Everyone on the leadership team knew the idea was unlikely to work.
Our boss had sparked the doubts. “We need to initiate a mentoring program. The Human Resources department can work on developing a program we can roll out in the fourth quarter.”
We were all thinking one thing: “Oh no. Another program.”
“Another well intentioned but way too detailed program run out of headquarters. More things to track. More reports to fill out. More things on my to-do list that will fade away when the next program “de jour” comes along.”
We all knew something more needed to be done to grow our bench strength. We had new people wanting to grow and get promoted, and we had experienced people who wanted to grow and stay where they were. But, a mentoring program was not going to be received well by the leadership team or the prospective mentors.
The Downside of Mentoring Programs
Too many great ideas get watered down and fade away when they are institutionalized. The desire for the people who are furthest away from the action to have too detailed a role in the mentoring process would cause the bureaucracy that every frontline leader hates.
Programs run from afar usually include the tracking and documenting of activities for reporting up the chain of command. As a result, the good intentions usually create exasperated leaders who enforce a program instead of instilling an attitude.
A Mentor Attitude
The true character of any team is displayed through its demonstrated values. Instead of developing a mentoring program, what about developing a culture where mentoring was part of everyone’s attitude?
It’s easy to say that people need to have a mentor attitude but what does that look like? How do we train that? How do we make sure it is actually happening? Be careful asking those questions or you may end up with another program to deal with!
Three Questions For Individuals and Teams
I believe an individual and a team can develop a mentor attitude by asking three simple questions:
1. Is that person better off now, after they spent time with me?
- Individual: If I begin to look at every interaction as a chance to serve others, I am more likely to act that way. When I act that way over time, then I will be in the habit of serving through mentoring.
- Team: Imagine a team of people who were in the habit of acting this way!
2. Who did I make better today?
- Individual: If I strive to make someone better each day, then I have a mentor attitude. When I look back on my day ask myself, “Who did I help grow today?”
- Team: Imagine a team where one component of a successful day was based upon who everyone helped grow that day!
3. Who’s growth did I invest in this year?
- Individual: I invest time when I mentor. If I pick one person to intentionally invest in throughout the year, I am more likely to be a mentor as opposed to being someone who just talks about mentoring. Mentoring rarely takes a formal plan. The plan usually emerges when I decide to invest my time first.
- Team: Imagine a team where each person chose one other person to invest in for twelve months!
Accountability for mentoring should be kept at the lowest level possible. Bureaucracy believes accountability means generating reports. Accountability does not take reports, but it does take reinforcement.
This reinforcement is especially important if mentoring is a new attitude within the team or an attitude that is being renewed. The old saying, “Inspect what you expect.” is key.
Again, this is not a reporting process. This is a coaching opportunity that can revolve around the same three questions.
1. Is that person better off now, after they spent time with you?
- Coaching: This is a great question to ask someone after I witness a conversation between two teammates.
2. Who did you make better today?
- Coaching: This is a great question to ask someone before they leave my office or at the end of a phone call to reinforce the importance of daily mentoring.
3. Who’s growth did you invest in this year?
- Coaching: This is a critical question to be sure mentoring is part of each individual’s personal plan for growth. It also allows me to document progress in this area during performance reviews.
The Bottom Line:
A leader would be foolish not to want every person on her team to be invested in the growth and success of others on the team. A team with a mentor attitude will take responsibility for it’s own growth.
By creating a culture that includes a mentor attitude, the leader has actually developed something that will have more impact and last longer than any well – designed program could.
People invest in people much more readily than they invest in programs. It is up to the leader to create the environment where the mentor attitude will thrive.
Who did you invest in this past year? Who will you invest in this year?
Dave Anderson is coauthor of the Amazon Best-Seller Becoming a Leader of Character – Six Habits that Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home with his father General James L. Anderson (USA Retired).
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