Tag Archives: coaching.

Stop trying to find a great mentor.  Do this instead to advance your career and life.

What’s your question?

I can tell within 2 seconds of asking that question whether our mentoring session will be of any use to me or the mentee.

“Find a mentor. Find a mentor!”

The mantra of those who give great advice on how to advance, improve, get anywhere in life. And it is great advice. Otherwise, why would the same advice be dispended over and over again on blog  after blog after article  after article ?

“Ladies, find a mentor who will help you know how to navigate being a women in the work place. “

“Entrepreneur, find someone who has walked before you and lived to tell the story.”

All wonderful advice but then what?

Imagine you meet the mentor of your dreams. (Bill Gates, Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, you make your own list) That person agrees to mentor you. You show up, all nervous for your session. You are warmly welcomed in, share personal anecdotes, your newly minted mentor looks at you and asks

“So what do you want to talk about?”

And then it dawns on you. You know less about being a mentee than the mentor knows about being a mentor. Because let’s be honest, you chose the mentor for their awesomeness in some area. Business, leadership, marriage, finances, whatever. You might have gotten lucky and accidentally chosen a mentor who has a history of mentoring. 

You know less about being a mentee than the mentor knows about being a mentor.

The odds are though that your mentor might not be an expert at mentoring. And you walk out of your mentoring sessions disappointed, with maybe a book to talk about together.  Three sessions later, you find yourself dreading the mentoring sessions and wondering why you asked in the first place. You begin to sense your mentor may have the same feeling.

How then should one approach a mentor, particularly someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience mentoring but is excellent in his or her field?

I’m sure the first year was pretty much a waste of their time.

For the last three years, I’ve been privileged to have a couple dozen young people sit in my office and ask for mentoring. I’m sure the first year was pretty much a waste of their time. Until I discovered this tool. I ask everyone to come with a question. The question can be about anything of interest to them. The question must be something they genuinely want to learn.

Our mentoring sessions now begin with “What’s your question?” I know we are in for a particularly dynamic session when the mentee shows up and pre-empts my introduction with “Ok, so here’s my question.”

If my mentee comes with a question I don’t have the answer to, I can hopefully refer them to books or articles to read. Walking out of my office without a reading list is pretty much impossible. Because I’m generally not the expert, but I can point you in the right direction.

By framing your mentoring experience about real, relevant questions that are of interest to the mentee, the mentor feels like they are truly adding value. The mentee in turn walks away more engaged.

What kind of questions should you ask a mentor?

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Ask specific questions.

    1. “Tell me about life” is too vague.
    2. “What steps did you take during the recession in 2008 to secure your assets?” Much better.
  2. Ask interesting questions

    1. “I’ve heard you say this a million times. Repeat that for me and explain it would you?” No, I’d rather not. If it’s in the public domain repeatedly, odds are I wont be adding anything new to your database by repeating myself. Rather ask
    2. “I’ve heard you talk about X. What haven’t you shared, either for time, or that you are still researching?“
  3. Ask questions above your learning level.

    1. “What would you do in my position?” is a question that will only get you information about being on the level you are at. A mentor hopefully operates at a higher “level” whatever that means to you.
    2. Ask questions that reflect thinking to the point where you no longer know the answers and need genuinely new thoughts, not opinions that confirm your thinking.
  4. Ask unexpected questions.

    1. “What do you think about the Facebook scandal?” Everyone is talking about that, the opinions are all over, the ground is burned over. This isn’t a place to spend your valuable mentoring time touching on. Rather…
    2. “I saw company Q has 2 CEOs. Have you run into this, and how do you make it work?”Leveraging the Mentor’s expertise will gain you the most benefit from the relationship.

      Oftentimes the key to finding a good mentor is being a prepared mentee.

Doing your homework as a mentee will show the mentor that you value the investment of time. Consider the profession of the mentor. Would you pay their hourly rate to have the same conversation?

Oftentimes the key to finding a good mentor is being a prepared mentee.

This is part 1 of MENTORING, a new series on Lifecartography.net

What questions would you bring to a mentoring session?

When the obvious leadership call is the wrong one.

“Management rounded on the nurses and saw they were all tired looking. Their response? Cut the over time rate. “

I had no idea what that last sentence meant when I heard it the first time too…

I was sitting with a friend who told me about his wife’s working situation at a hospital.

“What do you mean?”

For the last few months, management had put in a special overtime rate for the nurses at their hospital. When they walked around the building, they found that the nurses looked tired. Discerning eyes decided that they couldn’t have tired nurses because of patient safety. The added pay for overtime was then canceled.

Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Great leadership decision, right?

Except, maybe not. Here’s why.

Maybe the nurses are tired from working too much overtime because they aren’t making enough.

Maybe your base salary isn’t sufficient to meet their needs.

Maybe by cancelling the overtime bonus, nurses will actually work more hours, not less.

Leadership isn’t about solving obvious problems. Leadership is about big picture perspective to get to the root of a problem.

So the next time you see an obvious problem with a quick solution, so what my boss used to tell us.

“Measure Twice, Saw once.” That’s what a leader does.