A mentor can provide a huge advantage to any business person, especially a new manager or supervisor. Fortunately, you’re not out of luck if your organization doesn’t automatically set you up with one. We had the opportunity to talk with Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half Management Resources. He provided some great insight and advice about both the benefits and the logistics of getting an informal mentor.
Why should a new manager or new supervisor want a mentor?
Paul McDonald: A good mentor provides a valuable viewpoint. They’ve already faced pitfalls and road blocks and can teach their mentees how to navigate those challenges to success. They can also be the voice of reason and experience. Their advice allows you to anticipate obstacles.
Assuming there is no formal mentorship program, how does a person find one? And how should he or she approach the potential mentor about it?
McDonald: Well, you have two choices when seeking an informal mentor: You can find one internally at your organization or externally through leadership and trade groups.
If you go the internal route, develop relationships with bosses or peers with more experience. Before you approach a potential mentor, though, I would float the idea by your direct supervisor. Ask “What’s the stance within the organization regarding mentorship programs?” If the supervisor asks why you’re asking, emphasize that you’re interested in being the best employee you can be. Ask for permission. Your supervisor might even have recommendations.
If you want to find a mentor externally, look into your professional network: leadership groups, trade organizations, professional groups and so on. Look for people with whom you have pre-existing relationships.
What can one reasonably expect from a mentor?
McDonald: Guidelines should come out of the initial meeting. Clarify what you’re looking for and be direct and upfront. It can be as simple as meeting for coffee once a month for an hour. Or maybe you want to be able to call the mentor once or twice a month with a business-related question. Of course, respect the person’s time. Busy leaders admire efficiency, and by presenting your proposal that succinct way, you could attract a mentor.
How does one make the most of a mentor/mentee relationship?
McDonald: Respect their time. Keep it professional. Be solutions-oriented. Present the issue you’re facing: “This is what I’m thinking. Am I on the right track? Tell me what you’re thinking.” Remember that you don’t have to be best friends. Keep it business-related and professional.
How can a mentee give back to their mentor?
McDonald: A mentor/mentee relationship is a two-way street. The return for the mentor is a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction. Plus, it keeps the mentor sharp. He might not have had a particular problem in a while, so discussing it allows him to keep his business problem-solving tools sharp.
Much thanks to Paul for answering my questions! You can find out more about Robert Half Management Resources on their website.
[Photo credit: www.flickr.com/jlfc25.]
This quote from Ira Glass, the host and producer of NPR’s This American Life, has been embraced by many in the creative fields. I’ve seen it pop up on a number of design and photography blogs I read for fun, but I think it’s just as relevant to those of us in the business world if you replace “good taste” with “vision.”
Your “creative work” probably has more to do with creative problem-solving than illustrating or novel writing, but the advice still applies to you as a new supervisor.
At the beginning you’re bound to make some mistakes, disappoint yourself and sometimes feel like you’re not good enough, but it’s part of the process. Just keep working on it and you’ll “close that gap.”
What are your favorite inspirational quotes?
No matter how great a manager you are, bad things will happen at work: not every day, but occasionally. It’s how you handle those incidents—the ones that fill you with frustration, anger and dread—that determine what kind of leader you are. If you respond to those occasions aggressively (outwardly or passively), you’ll undermine your team, spread fear and start the rumor mill. If, on the other hand, you respond assertively, you’ll keep your team on track when things go wrong, and you’ll gain their confidence and admiration. Which do you choose?
You’re explaining an organizationwide initiative in a meeting with your staff. It’s a big shift, and many of your employees are unhappy with the change. You’re midsentence, discussing the rationale and objectives when Justin interrupts you, saying “This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard! Management is going to run this place into the ground. Pretty soon we’re all going to be looking for new jobs!”
How do you respond?
Aggressive response: “No, Justin. With that attitude, you’re the only one who’s going to be looking for a job. I’m sick of your insolence. If you cut me off one more time …”
Passive-aggressive response: “Somebody’s a little paranoid.”
Assertive response: “Just a minute, Justin. I understand your concerns, and I’ll get to those, but first I’m going to finish explaining the plan. When I’m done, we can discuss any specific concerns I don’t address.”
You and your team have been working long and hard on a particularly ambitious project. It’s a reach, but if you succeed, you’ll grow your organization and earn a great deal of respect from your superiors. With only a few days to go, it comes to your attention that the person to whom you delegated one component misread a form and as a result, set an incorrect “due date.” Now, for the project even to be considered, your team must submit it by tomorrow. What before seemed ambitious now seems impossible.
How to you respond?
Aggressive response: In front of the whole team, you explode “Helen, in my office now! Your incompetence may just have cost us the biggest payoff this office has ever gone after!”
Passive-aggressive response: Without explaining the actual issue, you say to a few members of your team in the break room “Sorry all your hard work was for nothing. Unfortunately, somebody never learned how to use a calendar …”
Assertive response: You meet privately with Helen, and then address your team, saying “I know you’re frustrated. I’m frustrated. It’s a frustrating situation. It’s not, however, an insurmountable situation. If we all buckle down today and reprioritize a bit, we can still make this happen.”
Neither assertive nor aggressive people ignore problems. Employees don’t think of either as “pushovers” or “weak.” However, the assertive boss earns his or her employees’ respect and trust, whereas the aggressive boss forfeits them. Assertive bosses become angry and frustrated—and even scared—but unlike aggressive bosses, they know how to calm themselves and bring their emotions in check so they can respond rationally and intelligently.
How do you behave assertively?
- Understand what team members want. Not everyone longs for large salaries and outrageous benefits. Smaller organizations offer significant advantages, such as proximity to the owner and to the action, the ability to make an impact, personal recognition, and personal support.
Strategy: Discover what your team members want other than cash, and then develop strategies to offer them those things. Examples include family-friendly workplaces, flexible work arrangements, opportunities to grow and learn, and being part of a tight-knit community.
- Keep your team focused on your organization’s real purpose—what you are trying to achieve and why. Most people want to feel a part of “something bigger,” so give them a meaningful role to play. Example: A team of hospital orderlies doesn’t “just” empty bedpans. Team members work together to make patients more comfortable and to enable other medical professionals to do their own jobs more easily and efficiently.
— Adapted from “Engaging Your Team—With Currencies Other Than Cash,” Catherine Matson, The Courier-Mail, www.couriermail.news.com.au.
[Photo credit: www.flickr.com/photos/24328644@N08.]
As 2013 draws to an end and we all prepare to welcome the New Year, we’d like to offer you these words of advice. May they serve you well in 2014.
- Quit sweating the small stuff. Nitpicking over the smallest details or micromanaging every aspect on every project will only lead to stress and—eventually—burnout. Keep things in perspective. Accept that some things will go wrong. Always have a backup plan. When you do that, the inevitable small setbacks won’t seem so bad.
- Show your appreciation more. Think about it: How often do you take time to express your thanks for day-to-day things? We expect the waiter to provide good service. We expect the mail service to deliver our mail on time. We expect the person at the cash register to ring our orders up correctly. We expect our employees to do their jobs and meet—or in some cases exceed—expectations. And we often do all that without truly showing our appreciation for what the person is doing for us. Yes, having expectations is natural and necessary, especially when we are managing people. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t regularly and genuinely acknowledge our employees’ efforts. Everyone wants to be validated, and you can do for that your employees simply by saying “Thanks for doing ___________________” and “Excellent work on ___________________.”
- Keep educating yourself. It’s easy to reach a certain level and feel you’ve learned enough. Don’t fall into that trap. Make it a point to take advantage of any training your organization offers. Request to attend a workshop or purchase a training program. Or learn without spending a dime: Shadow your employees to discover what they really do each day. Attend free webinars. Follow your competitors and industry-specific periodicals and websites on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Use Google Reader to check your favorite blogs and news sites. You’ll receive a wealth of information with little effort on your part. Then you can spend some time each day reading the materials and sharing what you learn with your team.
- Grow leaders. So many managers, especially new ones, are afraid to groom leaders on their teams for fear of being replaced. However, you will be much more successful if you oversee a group of leaders than if you are responsible for a group of followers.
Delegate challenging tasks and offer training opportunities that increase employees’ knowledge and skills. Let them take the lead on a project or during a meeting. Seek their input on decisions and when you are problem solving. Empower them to meet your goals the way they see fit. Every day you have the opportunity to help your employees become stronger employees. Don’t waste it.
[Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nanagyei.]