In a fast changing business environment do “I remember when” or “when I was your age” stories have value? My twenty something year old children listen to my stories – sometimes. My twenty something year old direct reports listen. Of course I also do their performance reviews, so they might feel compelled to do so. Do you think these less senior people are occasionally tempted to roll their eyes during some of those stories? Actually, I’d be surprised if they weren’t because I know I was when I was their age.
I’m not put off by an occasional eye roll. For me it signals that the message has been received, and in truth I probably told that story knowing that would be the reaction. Besides, time goes by fast, meaning it won’t be long before today’s less senior people have eyes rolling at them. That’s the way it’s supposed to work when you’re mentoring the next in line.
If you have direct reports what are you doing to mentor them? Mentoring is one of the oldest and most powerful training methods, and is an essential leadership skill. In addition to managing and coaching people, it’s important that you can help others learn, grow and become more effective during their professional development. Here’s what I loved about some of my past mentors:
1. They didn’t provide all the answers. They listened first, and then asked questions while weaving in stories to help me see options without choosing one for me. Yes, sometimes I was tempted to roll my eyes because I just wanted the right answers now and didn’t want to figure out the moral of the story.
2. They weren’t afraid to let me learn through failure. I can still remember hearing “Alan, sometimes you just have to let people do stupid stuff.” Now don’t get me wrong. I know for a fact that my mentor carefully examined the pros and cons of certain failure. And he wasn’t really calling me stupid. He took stock of the risk and was OK with letting me learn through failure. And learn I did.
3. Coach + Mentor equal an added bonus. Work often has two dimensions. The task at hand (how the job should be performed) for which coaching was just fine. But there can be political elements (how to work with people and functional areas impacted by an assignment) as well. My coach/mentor’s insight on interpersonal dimensions was extra valuable.
4. They were lifelong learners and inspirational individuals because they led by example. They had a passion for learning and sharing knowledge and their attitude of “the more you give the more you get” was infectious.
My hat is off to our next leaders, and to their mentors. Now, let the story telling and eye rolling begin.