Overcoming Ego Obstacles to Mentoring Others

iStock_000014335566_ExtraSmallI’ve coached hundreds of leaders, almost all of whom tell me they need to do a better job mentoring and developing the people who work for them. The problem is, that despite their desire to mentor, they often don’t feel they can invest the time it takes to cultivate the people below them. They’re so focused on the urgent goal of getting the work in front of them done (ahem, i.e. their own success) that they put the longer-term, bigger-picture goal of developing talent on the back burner. Obviously this can take a huge toll on employee morale, succession planning and the long-term sustainability of any organization.

In this series on mentoring others, I will cover various ways leaders may be unconsciously sabotaging themselves when it comes to developing people, and offer tips for how to be a mentor that your employees will clamor for.

#1. Commit to being a mentor. Whether it is developing your employees or others around you, mentoring is one of the most powerful gifts you can give another in terms of helping them learn and grow. Think for a moment of the people in your life who supported you along the way. I know I’ve had powerful mentors and would not be who or where I am without them. If you wished you had wise mentors, but did not, then whom do you want to emulate? How can you be for others the person you always wanted to have guiding you?

#2. Invest the time. Mentoring takes time. It takes listening. It takes focusing on someone OTHER than yourself. More than giving good counsel, a mentor listens and helps others hear themselves. I believe the growth in the coaching industry is in large part because people are paid to listen, to reflect back what they hear and to help us look deeper inside. Be the person others thank for helping them hear their own inner whispers. It’s incredibly rewarding when they thank you in the end, knowing their lives were made better by you investing time in their future.

In addition to giving the time, it’s important to keep your time commitments. So many people I coach do not honor 1-1 time that they blocked in their calendars. It seems as if that slot that we set aside to give to others becomes an opening for the last-minute things we can cram in there. Honor the times you set aside for your employees. Taking the time to meet with a direct report and coach them is as crucial to the bottom line of the business as any other task you might be tempted to replace it with.

#3. Make your mentoring time meaningful. Often we lose interest in 1-1 conversations because both sides can fall into ego-traps. The employee can tend to protect their ego by treating this time as a chance to showcase themselves by giving a report out, an update of all they are doing and how well they are performing vs. an opportunity to learn and grow. The mentor may be in their own ego by avoiding conflict, wanting to be nice and not really putting more challenging issues on the table.

In other words, both parties settle for a superficial discussion. As a mentor it’s important to find out where your direct report is struggling, where they are challenged and what the gaps are between their performance goals and current state.

So the key is to not only make and honor the time to sit down with your staff but to make sure the conversation is conducted in a mentoring fashion.

#4. Have an agreed-upon vision for the other person.  Real mentorship happens when a leader puts aside their own ego to focus on the needs of the other person. Take the time to reflect on the following questions: Who is this person? Where do I see them going? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How can I best support them? Many times we can’t see for ourselves what our possibilities are, so a mentor’s job is to help us see and embrace possibilities that we can’t even imagine for ourselves.

#5. Identify the gaps.  Once you have a shared vision of what’s possible for the person you are mentoring, the next step is to identify what their gaps are. By determining their current strengths and weaknesses and holding those up against the vision that you’ve agreed on, you can begin to define the skills they need to fill in that gap. This may include an initial 360-feedback assessment, determining classes they might take, projects to develop the needed skills and items you can delegate to help fill in some of those learning gaps. If you’re in the role of mentoring one of your direct reports, it helps to see everything you delegate to that person as a mentoring opportunity. By continually keeping top of mind the vision and their skill gaps, you can create challenges within the tasks you delegate to incorporate the needed learning into the process.

Try these out and stay tuned for the next installment on mentoring.

  1. Jon Davis says:

    Laura, I really enjoyed this piece. I actually saw myself in some of those ego traps. Sometimes when I meet with direct reports I even try to “report” to them on what I have been doing for them. Sometimes it is ok, but I realized just now that sometimes I am just reporting to pad my ego. Thanks for keeping up my self awareness around this issue.

  2. Laura – “I believe the growth in the coaching industry is in large part because people are paid to listen, to reflect back what they hear and to help us look deeper inside.” this has been critical, too in my creative company. Many times I’m not only creating a brand presence but also helping my clients figure out what that brand looks deeper inside them and then verbalizing it so I can visually create that for them.

  3. I don’t ordinarily comment but I gotta admit thankyou for the post on this one : D.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *