Mentoring – A Leader’s Investment in the Future

Most leaders have a concern about the future. In fact, if they don’t have a concern for the future, I would really hesitate to call them a leader. If a leader is trying to uphold the status quo, then I seriously doubt they are worth following.

With an eye on the future, a leader will also come to some sobering truths, one being that he or she can’t do this leading responsibility alone. It’s an “all hands on deck” kind of thing. Of course, not “all hands” will be leading in the same capacity. But teamwork is essential for the ship to move forward.

With this in mind, a leader should be on the alert for opportunities to serve his or her fellow shipmates. A team consists of individuals, each who have, in addition to a loyalty to the vision and mission of their organization (or at least we hope,) aspirations and dreams of their own. Your fellow ship hands won’t be on your ship all their lives. Some of them will move on to other endeavors. Some will stay and serve faithfully for many years. Regardless, it is your responsibility as a leader to help them navigate their lives. Not only are you navigating for your organization, you are assisting others in their growth.

Having said this, it is not your responsibility to chart a course out for every detail of their lives. Nor do you invade their sense of autonomy, offering unwanted counsel. But, in the context of a relationship of trust, respect, and love, be aware of those moments when your colleagues are open to encouragement. Look for ways you can offer assistance. Humbly ask them if you can show them some guidance. If they are willing, then share, and then pay attention. If they respond with openness and appreciation, take that as a signal of them being available for further discussions down the road. If you sense they are closed, then you are better off waiting for other signals later on. Let them take the initiative in approaching you. In fact, anytime a constituent comes to you for assistance, that is a great opportunity to begin planting the seeds of a mentoring relationship. Just don’t make this “mentoring” relationship an “official” thing.

It’s also important to note that you do not navigate for others in arenas in which you have no competence. Help them find the appropriate resources, then point the way. But steer clear of rocky areas where you have no experience.

It’s also necessary to point out that you do have authority to discuss with your people matters to which they are directly responsible for in the organization in which you are their superior. This is not an option for them. Of course, you do it with kindness and respect, but firmness. Even in these moments you have great opportunities to invest in their lives.

All of this also depends on the idea that you are a growing individual yourself. If you are not pouring fresh water into yourself every day, then you have nothing of value to offer others. You need to develop your own inner resources, and have a collection of external resources to offer as well.

The people you lead are your future. You need to help shape the next generation to take the helm once you move on. This is part of the legacy of a leader. Navigate the ship’s mission, and your crew. Help them find the North Star.

The Leader’s Posture of Understanding

I wrote in an earlier post about Stephen Covey’s habit, Seek First to Understand, then be Understood. Taking the time to understand another party is so important in setting the stage of building trust. If I don’t show any interest or effort in trying to understand you, why should you trust me? Especially if I am someone in a leadership position who will be attempting to move you in a agreed upon direction.

If we have a difference of opinion or perspective that is causing friction and inhibiting progress and momentum, then this difference needs to be addressed. Maybe the incorrect position is mine, maybe it’s not. Regardless, to reach an agreement, the differences must be discussed, and I need to hear you out, and you need to hear me out. As a leader, I should defer and make every attempt to understand your position first. To understand you requires, once again, some vulnerability and proximity. I will be “standing under” you. This requires a moment of submission, while I put my preconceived notions aside and listen without prejudice. I can’t do this at a distance. I must let you in, and you must let me in. But the leader takes the initiative in vulnerability.

Understanding means taking the time to seeing the matter at hand from the perspective of the other. I have to get into their context. “I see where you’re coming from.” It involves walking a mile in their moccasins. It requires some humility. Only once you have given your position and I have made every attempt to see it as you do, can I then give my perspective. By truly listening and understanding you, hopefully I have purchased the right for my perspective to be listened to and understood by you. Then, and only then, can a proper resolution be made. This resolution has a higher potential to be a win-win, rather than a one sided victory.

Empathy also comes into play. Not only must I see your perspective, I must feel it as well. In fact, one might venture to say that I can’t really see your perspective until I feel it. This takes much discipline, because empathy is a scarce tool in people’s emotional toolbox these days. Patience comes into play, as also the idea of being present in the moment. This can’t be rushed.

It’s also helpful that I, as the leader, approach the issue with an optimistic mindset, rather than a cynical one. I should give the you the benefit of the doubt. I should believe that you have the best interests of both parties at heart. Being shrewd is always recommended, (Jesus told his followers to be shrewd as serpents AND gentle as doves,) but a gentle hope in the other party complements any caution one might have coming to the table. Do your homework, be mindful, alert and aware, and take the time to be discerning. If any pretension is truly present, it will come to light .

Taking the time to understand the other is one of the best investments in fostering trust. Trust still remains one of the three core values needed to influence others. Take the time to stand under your people. This is the true posture of servant leadership.

The Absolute Necessity of Trust and Faith

I have mentioned three important values many times in my posts. What are they?

Trust. Respect. Love. All three of them are essentials if you want to influence people. Today we are going to focus on trust, and trustworthiness. Trust is defined as the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something. When you are placing your trust in someone, you are placing a little bit of yourself into them. It’s an investment. There’s some risk involved. You are being vulnerable. But when it pays off, the payoff has a synchronistic effect. The sum is greater than its parts. The relationship is strengthened mightily. You now deem that individual as trustworthy, or able to be relied on as honest, truthful, reliable, dependable.

It is important to have faith in the people you are working with. If you are responsible for the development of your constituents, then at some point in time, you are going to have to release them. You give them responsibilities, you let them go to do their work, and you trust them to get it done. (Of course, this assumes they have been properly trained to do those responsibilities.) Once you let them go, keep your hands off. Otherwise, you are betraying your trust. If by chance they fail, unless it is a moral failure, don’t sweep your trust under a rug. Provide the constructive criticism they need in a respectful and kind way. Help them fail forward. Evaluate where they went wrong. Help them discover their strengths so they can develop them properly and put those strengths to work. Help them leverage their weaknesses. And let them try again. Do all of this feedback in a corroborative way. Ask questions and listen. Get their take on what happened. Guide them to the best solutions and course of actions after they have learned from their mistakes.

At the outset of a working relationship, instill confidence in your people. Help them envision their future optimistically. And help them develop a growth mindset, a mindset that says, “I can do this. I can adapt. I can hustle and work hard until this is accomplished.” Also, help them see their past wins, and work on some smaller wins together.

In the religious arena, specifically Christianity, there is an acronym used to explain faith…

Forsaking
All
I
Trust
Him

….the idea that you repent and turn away from everything you used to depend on for salvation, and entirely trust in Jesus for that salvation. Not intending this to be a Sunday school lesson, I think this is a beautiful picture of how it works in the realm of influence, too. You have to let go of controlling your people, let go of trying to micro-manage them, let go of trying to force their work into your preconceived notions of how things must be done, and trust them for the results. You do that when you get on a plane –  you let the pilot fly it, and navigate it, and all those other elements of what’s involved in getting from here to there at 25,000 feet in the air. You do it when you elect to have surgery – you let the surgeon cut you up in unforeseen ways and then patch you up and let you walk out of the hospital in the same day, (quite miraculous these days, if you ask me.) So, let you your people go to do awesome, miraculous things. And when they succeed, they will return the trust to you. And when this happens consistently, you will be building influence in your people.

Equipping and Nurturing your People

One of the marks of a good leader is that he or she develops others into leaders. They take the time to equip others. According to John Maxwell, if you leave your organization to pursue other endeavors, and your organization falls apart, then you didn’t do your job.

Most, if not all, lofty endeavors require teamwork to render them successful. Relationships within an organization, especially those of individual teams, are key to its success. And the leaders within the organization, from the top CEO to individual team leaders have responsibilities to create a leadership culture. Relationships will be the foundation of this culture.

It is important for the individual members of the teams and organization to know that their leaders have a genuine concern for them. That they are thought highly of. That their well being is considered. Nurturing others is a significant part of this process. Respect, love, and trust are key values here. People just want to know that their leaders have their back. They don’t want to feel a knife in it later.

It would be accurate to say that because of uncertainty in today’s world, most workers face a lot of anxiety in the workplace. A leader has an opportunity to build trust by taking the time to encourage his or her constituents, as a whole and individually. There is potential in all people, it might need some prompting, shining, nudging, uncovering, refining, and aligning to reveal it. This takes real effort on the leader’s behalf, and even the willingness to be vulnerable at the times. A healthy self esteem is essential in the leader’s life in order to get their hands dirty in people work. When people feel safe around their leader, they are in a prime position to take on the tough challenges that a leader sets forth, as long as the leader also gives good direction, clarity in vision and goals, constructive feedback and accountability.

The idea of equipping comes from the idea of a fisherman repairing his net. A leader is in the business of evaluating his people, and seeing where they can grow, and then nurturing that growth. Giving your folks the resources they need is essential for them to grow in their day to day challenges. One on one mentoring and quality group training must not be neglected. Emphasis on quality. I know that in my current work endeavors, training has been reduced to sitting at a computer terminal for 30 minutes at a time attempting to digest rehashed material every 6 months. There is virtually no coaching in a positive light. When you are coached, it is because you’ve messed up. It is a reprimand, not an attempt to equip the individual for success. I could go on, but digress. An investment in quality training for your people will show them that you are concerned for how they do their work.

Empower your people. Give them the power to make decisions on how to do their work, as long as it gets the job done. Set some boundaries, of course, but let them do their work. If they are coming to you to get permission to do their work, then something is wrong. If they need to take care of a customer or client issue, let them do it. This is, of course, assuming that the customer/client is indeed important to the organization.

These are just a few ideas on how a leader can invest into the well being and success of his or her people entrusted to them. People don’t necessarily want a best friend as a leader. They do want someone who is generally likable, trustworthy, respectful, and considerate of their well being. Not a nice guy or gal. But a good guy or gal. There’s a difference.

Amazing You

My post yesterday was kind of harsh. I flat out said that you suck.

Well, it’s true. Think about it. You goof up a lot, don’t you? I’m not trying to make light of that, I’m right there in the same boat with you. A lot of times, we think it’s healthy to suppress the idea of our mistakes, flaws, and transgressions, as if hiding them or not acknowledging them makes them magically go away. I’ve written more in detail on this subject in other posts on another blog, you can read about that here. But for now, just take me at face value when I say that looking your flaws straight in the eye and admitting them is beneficial.

Let me also, in the same breath as I say, “You suck!” say, “You’re amazing!”

I hold to some not so fashionable beliefs. I believe in God. I believe in a Creator. (Exactly how he created and or creates is hotly debated and beyond the scope of what I’m trying to accomplish in my writing, we’ll leave that for another, time, okay? Ok.) Because I believe in a Creator, I believe He created you and me in the image of himself. Page after page in the holy writings of Jewish and Christian traditions, God is described as beautiful. (Again, there are arguments here, that’s for another time.) During the passages of Genesis, It is said that God created the world, and all that is in it, and declared it Good. He then created humanity, and declared it Very Good. As in Good to a Superlative degree.

Granted, because we suck, it’s sometimes hard to see that Very Goodness in ourselves and others. But it’s there. But the sucky part overshadows it. (Let’s get this out of the way right here — that sucky part of ourselves is called sin, and that simply means “missing the Mark”. Sin is a word that carries a lot of drama with it, and is sometimes misused, but it’s necessary to use it because it’s fundamental in how we describe our nature before God and how he resolves that nature.)

The sucky part and the amazing parts live side by side in ourselves simultaneously, and that’s kind of a mystery. But I wholeheartedly believe that we don’t have to let the sucky part reign over our lives. As I have written in other writings on other blogposts, the sucky part can be and should be, and, if one wants to live a life of clear conscience, must be dealt with. Without turning this into a preaching session or Sunday school lesson, faith, belief, and trust are central in how we view ourselves and this world. Our worldview and mindsets matter.

I’m not speaking of a Pollyanna, do-gooder mindset, nor a television-evangelist name-it-and-claim-it mindset. But a mindset that is realistic and optimistic, full of faith, believing the true and best things about ourselves. It’s ok and imperative that you believe that you are amazing.

Just think of all the gifts and talents and dreams and hopes and skills and that are within you. If you can’t see any of that, that’s where faith comes in. If you say that none of that exists within you, it’s never been there, well the I call B.S.. Are you saying that every day you’ve been alive, there’s not been one good day, not one good moment, not one good instance where you’ve shined ever so slightly, even if for a brief moment? Not one pleasant thought, not one exciting dream, not one uplifting hope? Even as a child? So you’re childhood was a nightmare? Every day? Not one isolated moment when you saw or read something that made you temporarily happy, if even it lasted a few seconds? Are you saying you’ve never been kind, never been a friend, never been reliable, never been creative, not once? You can think of something. And whatever that something is, take hold of it, grasp it for dear life, and never let it go. Ponder it wholeheartedly, stake your claim on it. And, with faith, multiply it. Know that because of this one morsel of goodness within, that you have within yourself a sliver of Goodness that can be declared the Image of God. Small as it may be, that is what you have to work with. And just like a mustard seed, faith even that size can move mountains.

I declare you amazing.

a·maz·ing

əˈmāziNG/

adjective

causing great surprise or wonder;

astonishing.

synonyms: astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning, staggering, shocking, startling, stupefying, breathtaking, awesome, awe-inspiring, sensational, remarkable, spectacular, stupendous, phenomenal, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable, mind-blowing,
jaw-dropping, wondrous, startlingly impressive.

People…geesh.

“This job would be okay, if it weren’t for the customers!” says just about every retail worker on the planet. Well, maybe they never say it. But they do think it. Maybe not just retail workers. If you bleed and/or breathe or perform a combination of the two on a regular basis, then I bet you’ve thought it. Maybe you thoroughly love your job now and people are just wonderful. But at one time, you, too, were a card carrying member of the “I hate dealing with stupid people” club. If you never have been issued your card, just wait.

The point is, people can suck. Dealing with people can suck. Sure, there can be blessings, and lots of them. Usually it takes some years of suffering and some miles on the maturity gauge to get to a point where card carrying members  don’t need their card renewed because they have learned a few tricks. I’m not sure I have enough punches on my card to redeem it for the prize yet, but I’m learning a few things.

1.) On this side of eternity, it’s always going to suck. Two things about this. #1, A good chunk (notice I did not say majority) of people are always going to be selfish, needy, conniving, bitter, difficult and/or any combination of the aforementioned. We will always have difficult people with us. We can’t really fix them ourselves. #2, I kinda suck myself. And guess what? You kinda do, too. We all have our moments. Hopefully as we get some mileage, we have fewer sucky moments that we’re responsible for. But, if you’re breathing or bleeding, guess what? You’re also in the “I suck” club.

2.) Part of the reason people suck is that they live unmotivated lives. I used to think that these kind of people were lazy and entitled. (Some of them are.) Now I see that they just don’t have a big enough “Why” in their lives. Along the same vein, people who are born with the potential to be creative are not exercising their creative muscles. All folks are creative. ALL. Capital A Capital L Capital L Period. But fear, insecurity, and low self esteems prevent folks from exploring their creativity. Non existent creativity results in folks not solving problems. Including their day to day problems that put them in that sucky state of mind.

3.) You can’t change people. People have to want to change themselves. We’ve heard that so many times it’s almost cliché. But it’s true. Believe me, I’ve wanted to change so many lousy customers so badly, I could’ve throat punched them. But coercion never works. You may think coercion changes people, but it’s only temporary. Only influence from a safe relationship built on trust and respect, and yes, love, can begin to plant seeds of change, but it’s a interdependent relationship. Not a lot of folks want to invest that kind of emotional capital. That’s unfortunate, because it seems to me that a lot of these folks, especially the younger generation, need mentors in their lives.

So there are three things for now. We all suck. We’re unmotivated. We can’t change people.
Are there solutions or alternatives? I think there are. But my 500 words are up, and this is definitely a good intro to a “To be continued” kind of series. So for now…

Suck it up, buttercup!