The role of leader as mentor is one that is often overlooked as leaders scurry from fire to fire and task to task. But an effective leader-mentor is one of the clear keys to success of followers. Our employees and colleagues expect that we are there to provide input to problems big and small. Cicero said, "Advice is judged by results, not by intentions," and your success as a mentor will ultimately be determined by the results of your followers.
"Mentoring" sounds like a complicated activity. In fact many leaders avoid the act of mentoring others because they are sure they are unable to be effective. Here are six tips that will help you not only provide solid advice to your proteges, but help them to develop the self-sufficiency and skills to solve issues more effectively on their own in the future.
1. If you don't have expertise in the area where advice is being sought, take the time to help the person find the right resource. As a leader, it is likely that your pool of contacts is greater than that of your follower.
2. Listen closely to the problem being expressed and ask questions for depth and clarity. Often, the issue being pursued is not the actual issue needing to be resolved. By asking questions, you may find that you help most by clarifying the problem.
3. Remember that advice-seeking is often actually validation-seeking. Before you rattle off a recommendation, ask "What do you think?"
4. Don't take ownership of the problem away from the person seeking help. Make sure your suggestions are seen as suggestions and reinforce the idea that the final decision (and accountability) is still held by the one doing the asking. Many leaders will turn in the middle of the discussion and pick up the telephone to solve the problem. While this may be a good short-term fix, your employee will learn nothing but helplessness in the process.
5. Don't be offended if your advice is not taken exactly as you offer it. If you are sincere about allowing the individual to learn and be accountable for the solution, you have to be willing to let go of the ownership of the action. Offer your advice with no strings attached.
6. Offer your opinion, not your judgment. Help your followers understand how to think about the problem, but don't be dismissive or patronizing. Offer to follow-up afterward and discuss how they came to their own judgment and decision in the process.