by Judy Ryan
“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off”
In our company’s culture transformation model, a key concept involves offering ongoing, monthly mentoring to develop staff at every level with no exceptions. Here are questions that one new mentor asked as she was learning about our mentoring guidelines.
Client: I’m struggling with fully understanding why we do NOT allow individuals to share their personal stories during mentoring sessions. What if we shut down their stories and there is a key part of their history that would help us better understand so we can show them how to overcome something?
Me: Part of your reasoning is the idea that a mentor is supposed to understand and show people how to overcome their problems. Our mentoring approach has an opposite intention. We focus on asking questions to help people gain self-discovery, and to recognize and act to manage their own challenges. With your approach, the mentor serves as a counselor or advisor. We do NOT recommend this method as it opposes our primary goal: transferring responsibility to the one being mentored. In asking questions as laid out in our templates, you facilitate the other person’s awareness and application of how they will resolve their issues and accomplish their goals. Transfer of responsibility encourages mentees to master accepting responsibility and solving their own challenges. Such an approach results in task ownership, full engagement, and self-direction. Only then do you provide support without undue influence, guidance, and counsel. You teach then to fish rather than feeding them fish.
Client: As a person who has a deep history in why I am who I am, I could see that shutting me and my stories down would hurt. How do we avoid this?
Me: You can encourage people to share their stories, but NOT during mentoring sessions as we have designed them. Our mentoring methods represent the difference between a Freudian approach (talk therapy + analysis) vs. an Adlerian approach (personal power + purposeful intention). Both methods are helpful. Ours is focused on training and helping people to recognize their individual choices and ways to use their power with intention and skill. When mentees realize the purposes and pitfalls of our mentoring, they will have no expectations that our sessions provide them with talk therapy, advice, or counseling. Most importantly, when people are in mentoring sessions, telling their stories frequently delays the ability to respond (response-ability). It prevents people from quickly seeing both where they are challenged and how to move into managing themselves, their relationships, their productivity, etc., without unnecessary delays and unconscious avoidance.
In our mentoring, using simple questions and specific structures helps mentees recognize what they need to identify for resolution or improvement, including their life and work tasks. They learn how to self-assess and then manage their lives, work challenges, goals, and relationships. Using our approach, self- and social awareness -- two of the four emotional intelligence competencies -- are brought to light with Socratic questions.
Client: Don’t people just need to vent sometimes?
Me: We acknowledge in our culture model that people DO need to vent, and we have a healthy process for doing so outside of mentoring. However, most people “vent” by gossiping or blaming others, which are both toxic responses that keep them from resolving challenges, encourage them to “feel like a victim,” or think they are “doing something constructive” when they haven’t committed to resolving anything. Managing oneself and one’s interpersonal relationships are two of the remaining four emotional intelligence competencies referenced above.
Developing your people requires educating and provide them with opportunities to apply multiple, specific emotional intelligence tools, then supporting them in confidently using those tools. Mentoring is just one way to help your staff develop into people who feel empowered, lovable, and connected – and who are contributing. Using this mentoring approach, you develop not only amazing individuals in your business, but also a mature and caring workforce.
Judy Ryan (judy@LifeworkSystems.com), human systems specialist, is owner of LifeWork Systems. Join her in her mission to create a world in which all people love their lives. She can also be reached at 314-239-4727.
People hire LifeWork Systems because we help businesses become agile and manage their priority system: their human system. I hope this article helps you make sense of what’s most crucial to your evolving organization!