What the Best Mentors Do

What the Best Mentors Do

Can you think of a mentor who has helped you grow either personally or professionally? Perhaps a teacher? A boss early in your career? When have you mentored someone? How did it work out?

I can remember a teacher or two who helped guide me. My first supervisor in manufacturing would put me in situations where I couldn’t help but grow. My problem then was that although I could do the work intellectually, my interpersonal skills were sadly lacking. Especially in the manufacturing environment of the time that placed a premium on strong personality. I can still remember moments when he set me up for a confrontation forcing me to be forceful. I think the other guys liked it because I was almost the only “college kid” there. The old guys loved to poke at the college kid.

Many people have begun studying mentorship. We talk often about mentoring young soccer referees as the best way to move them from the classroom to a successful career.

I recently ran across this older article in the Harvard Business Review by Anthony K. Tjan. His research revealed four things that the best mentors do.

Before he gets to the four things, he notes that mentors he studied consistently “do everything they can to imprint their ‘goodness’ onto others in ways that make others feel like fuller versions of themselves. Put another way, the best leaders practice a form of leadership that is less about creating followers and more about creating other leaders.”

  1. Put the relationship before the mentorship. All too often, mentorship can evolve into a “check the box” procedure instead of something authentic and relationship-based. For real mentorship to succeed, there needs to be a baseline chemistry between a mentor and a mentee. Mentoring requires rapport. At best, it propels people to break from their formal roles and titles (boss versus employee) and find common ground as people.
  2. Focus on character rather than competency. Too many mentors see mentoring as a training program focused around the acquisition of job skills. Obviously, one element of mentorship involves mastering the necessary competencies for a given position. But the best leaders go beyond competency, focusing on helping to shape other people’s character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and capacity for respect.
  3. Shout loudly with your optimism, and keep quiet with your cynicism. Your mentee might come to you with some off-the-wall ideas or seemingly unrealistic ambitious. You might be tempted to help them think more realistically, but mentors need to be givers of energy, not takers of it.
  4. Be more loyal to your mentee than you are to your company. Of course, we all want to retain our best and brightest. We also want our people to be effective in our organizations. That said, the best mentors recognize that in its most noble and powerful form, leadership is a duty and service toward others, and that the best way to inspire commitment is to be fully and selflessly committed to the best interests of colleagues and employees. Don’t seek only to uncover your mentees’ strengths; look for their underlying passions, too. Help them find their calling.

And Tjan makes a couple of final points: The best mentors avoid overriding the dreams of their mentees. At its highest level, mentorship is about being “good people” and having the right “good people” around us — individuals committed to helping others become fuller versions of who they are.

This is all based on research as is befitting of the Harvard Business Review. It is also wise guidance.

The Coaching Role

The Coaching Role

I’m still reflecting on Trillion Dollar Coach plus three weekends of youth sports. Most executives don’t even have coaches, even though they could really use one. The variety of coaching skill and ability at the youth sports level is staggering. So many coaches need coaching at that level. That’s the role of the leadership of a good club. Often doesn’t happen.

What makes for a good coach.

Begin with empathy and trustworthiness. If the coach lacks these character traits, then anything further is hopeless.

A coach must have a set of knowledge and values. Good coaches have experience, but they are seldom the greatest. They are the ones who have been there but had to reflect on their development and experiences. They’ve studied the game and know the skill sets required for success.

A coach is observant. This ability means a coach can see each player or client, their strengths, and their weaknesses. They can pick out the next skill each player/client needs to develop to succeed at this level in order to progress.

A coach can teach skills. Of course, the player/client must be teachable. It is a two-way interaction.

A coach can devise practice for student to repeat until learned. This is the same idea for a 9-year-old beginner or a 29-year-old pro. Knowing you need to move slightly to the left more or knowing how to field a ground ball does nothing without the drill to make the skill part of “muscle memory.”

A coach provides appropriate feedback. This makes practice more valuable and helps adjust skills to the situation.

The end result consists of increased confidence and character development.

Think of the coaches that you’ve had. Think of the impact of the good coaches on your development. Then the bad ones where you learned nothing. Or, perhaps the bad teaching or negative comments set you back years.

Become a good coach. You do that by practice, of course. That means finding a young person who is coachable. Start slowly. Build rapport. Then try with another. Make yourself valuable to your organization and find your own fulfillment by bringing along the next generation. Works for engineers, managers, executives, whomever.

Go make a difference.

Playbook from a Trillion Dollar Coach

Playbook from a Trillion Dollar Coach

There is an equally critical factor for success in companies: Teams that act as communities, integrating interests and putting aside differences to be individually and collectively obsessed with what’s good for the company. Research shows that when people feel like they are part of a supportive community at work, they are more engaged with their jobs and more productive.

Thus begins the book that you should read next. Trillion Dollar Coach: The Playbook from Silicon Valley’s Bill Campbell, by Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle. (The three authors were senior leaders at Google / Alphabet–and coached by Bill.)

Bill Campbell’s journey took him from head football coach at Columbia University, to the top sales and marketing job at Apple, to CEO of a couple of technology companies (Intuit and GO). Then he became a coach. He coached Steve Jobs at Apple. The three leaders and then many more at Google. And more than 80 other Silicon Valley CEOs and leaders. And his middle school football team that he coached at the same time.

He was most likely the most influential and respected man in Silicon Valley.

And his values and teaching are appropriate to all of us no matter the organization we’re with.

For example, he let everyone know his blocked time for coaching his football team of 13- and 14-year-olds. He wouldn’t answer his phone if you tried calling. One person, though, would ignore the time and call. Bill would pull his phone out of his pocket and look at the caller ID. The kids around him would look, also. They would see the name Steve Jobs, and then see Bill decline the call. They all knew that when Bill was with them, he was with them.

Read this book–and put the principles into practice in your life. You may not be building the next Google. But you can be the determining influence in someone’s life.

Exercise the Curiosity Muscle for Personal Success

Exercise the Curiosity Muscle for Personal Success

A team developing a Web application named itself Curious George team. You know, the mischievous monkey who was adopted by The Man in the Yellow Hat. Curiosity defined its personality.

I thought, “How cool is that?” A constant reminder to work that particular muscle.

Ever notice little kids? Maybe from 1-1/2 to 4 or so? Take a walk with them. They are curious about everything. They’ll stop and study a leaf. Or a bug. Or a worm.

What about us? When we take a walk, do we puzzle over things we see?

What are you curious about? What would you like to learn?

What a great name for a team exploring new business ideas. Or expanded service ideas.

“I’m on the Curious George team. We’re always exploring for new ideas.”

That’s cool.

Great Leaders

Great Leaders

I’d heard about Jim Collins and perhaps even read one of his books. But I’d forgotten until I listened to a podcast interview with Tim Ferriss.

I bought a couple of his well-researched books. I mean, I write alone. He had 21 researchers for Good to Great. He pursued an answer to the question “can a good company (organization) become a great one”.

Short answer, yes.

After much research, the team identified 11 companies that filled the criteria of 15 years of so-so performance, an inflection point, followed by 15 years of great performance. Timelines long enough to allow for various short-term fluctuations.

They identified several characteristics. I’ve just finished reading about the first–one that surprised the team. Leaders.

But the type of leadership that build sustainable performance. The high-ego, publicly visible leader may drive performance in the short term, but seldom does that performance last.

The good to great leaders:

  • Publicity shy
  • Humble–always talking about company performance not personal
  • Builds a strong team first thing before strategy
  • Quiet, but strong
  • “We”, not “I”
  • Leads a simple lifestyle (no servants, large estates, and the like)

The team researched businesses, partly because there exists a wealth of data. I’ve observed the same thing in churches and other non-profits. The flamboyant, self-enhancing leader eventually flames out.

Value Investing and Company Analysis

Value Investing and Company Analysis

I have never been a fan-boy of Jack Welch. And the more we learn in retrospect, we see why he is not necessarily a genius to emulate. As a friend used to say, “You got your smoke; you got your mirrors.” It was growth by acquisition and using deft accounting.

Vitaliy Katsenelson is CEO of an investment company. His newsletter is on my list of informative and entertaining reads. (Plus he kicks in as a bonus a selection of classical music.)

This week’s essay—Welch vs Bezos.

Here are a few snippets to whet your appetite.

“Welch built a company with a “beat this quarter” culture. Welch’s GE was not in the business of building moats and investing for the long run; he was in the business of beating quarters. In his book, Welch raved that from the early 2000s GE always beat Wall Street estimates. He was proud of how managers of one division were able to “come up with” a few more cents of earnings if another division fell short of its forecast. I kid you not — reread that sentence, three times. If I was at the SEC I’d investigating GE’s accounting.”

Once upon a time I worked for a division of a conglomerate. For a while before collapsing it was Fortune 50. It had very few corporate staff. Executives wanted steady, reliable income for reporting to Wall Street. It invested in cyclical businesses. Go figure. Anyway, take this comment about GE:

“He was proud of how managers of one division were able to “come up with” a few more cents of earnings if another division fell short of its forecast. I kid you not — reread that sentence, three times. If I was at the SEC I’d be investigating GE’s accounting.“

Contrast with Bezos:

“Welch is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com. Bezos doesn’t even know how to spell quarterly earnings. Amazon’s founder once explained that Amazon makes decisions years out. So the current quarter’s report reflects decisions Amazon made several years ago.”

Investor viewpoint:

“There is another lesson here. As an investor, simplicity and transparency from a company is key. If a company’s business is complex and opaque, move on. One of the most important things in investing is what you do in-between buying or selling a stock. After you buy it is just a matter of time before your initial assumptions come under fire. Maintaining rationality throughout your ownership of the company is paramount, and to do that you need to understand the business well. That’s why I have no opinion on GE shares now.”

And your takeaway:

“Above all, never make a decision based solely on someone else’s research; use it as a starting point for your own investigation.”