Her name meant “Love". She had been in the industry for twenty years, and she always told us that she purposefully brought love to every aspect of her work. I was in a vocational school, and she was my teacher.
I wasn’t sure yet about this field; I’d sort of picked it on a whim. I didn’t know yet if I’d like it or be any good at it. I couldn’t even imagine doing it; I just needed to show my parents that I wasn’t completely aimless.
Ana told me all about the profession, and how much it meant to her. She sat with me after school and answered all of my questions, told me about different directions I could take when I was licensed, and told me about the jobs she’d had with her license. During class she took time to tell me about the strengths she saw in me, that would make me great at this.
As time went on, I started feeling like I’d made the right choice; I started to really enjoy it and I could picture myself making it a career. I’ve been licensed in massage therapy for fourteen years. It’s been that long since I last saw Ana, but her influence is with me every time I work. I’ve always remembered her, and the things she taught me, and the way she made me feel about myself, and how she cared.
I’m thinking about her today, and I’m thinking about you and your employees. I really think you can be that for them. I think you can be a mentor for your own employees, and I think you could do it in a positive, caring, uplifting way, and leave a lasting impression and influence.
I wanted to give you lots of ideas for how, so I asked around, and the great news is that this does not have to get complicated.
“Some companies can get hugely caught up with [structured mentoring programs] and then define complicated processes. Mentoring [can] be embedded in the culture without the need for formal procedures.”
- Catherine Young, Career Coach at kitecareercoaching.com
So let’s do this! Here are five ways you can be a mentor for your employees:
1. SHOW THEM YOU CARE
…Like my teacher did for me! All of us in her class knew that she cared about us, and we loved her in return.
We trusted what she taught us because we knew her focus was on our best interest.
Employees know that company leaders have to make the company’s interest a priority. But that often makes us assume that our employers and managers can’t make us a priority at the same time. Show the people you lead that you can do both.
I had a manager who did this so well. From my first day, she consistently made me feel valued, appreciated and cared for. She would stop me in the hall or call me into her office to tell me about things she noticed that I was doing well.
Whenever I had a question or needed feedback, she was helpful, supportive and encouraging. She always seemed so glad to see me when I came in. She took the time to chat with me about my life, family, and interests, and she gave me the feeling that she had my back.
Because this manager made me feel like I was doing a great job there and was appreciated for it, she made me want to keep getting better and giving more.
There are so many simple ways you can do this for your employees:
- Get to know them on a personal level.
- Be happy to see them and greet them by name.
- Learn about the things that are important to them and find ways to support those when you can.
- Ask what you can do to help and support them more in their role.
- When they speak to you, give them your attention and really listen to what they have to say.
- Let them express their opinions, thoughts, ideas, and concerns without judgment.
- Be in the habit of consistently doing simple acts of kindness for them.
- Tell them how much you appreciate them, and give recognition to their work.
You’ll get them to believe in themselves, and believe in you. You’ll give them a feeling of trust and security in the company. You’ll help them to feel more happiness, energy, and motivation at work. Your example will encourage them to show the same kindness and support to each other and they’ll repay you with their performance. As Mabel Taula, explained:
“When [employees feel] good about themselves, it will shine through their work. If your employees feel appreciated they [will be] more likely to go above and beyond in satisfying customers and clients.”
Want your employees to love having you as a leader and be ready to receive all the wisdom you have to share? Show them you care for them first.
2. BE AN EXAMPLE
“[Leaders work] beside their people… Being a leader means defining and exhibiting moral and ethical courage and setting examples for everyone in the team.” - Miguel
I’m sure this one is no surprise. Leading by example is something we all hear about constantly, and we know how important it is. But start thinking today about how you can purposefully lead by example with mentoring in mind, and it might take a little change of perspective.
Most of us expect a mentor to be an “expert” in his/her field, or in whatever skills or subjects are being taught, and that might make you feel a lot of pressure to demonstrate perfection. So I’ll let Certified Leadership Coach, Kav Salh, deliver the happy truth:
“Leaders have the duty of showing up as their most authentic selves to those around them [and of] fostering an environment that encourages vulnerable engagement.”
Think about what you want to teach your employees. What skills and attributes do you want to help them develop so that they can excel in this company, in life, and in the way they work and collaborate with each other?
Now think about whether you have the qualities, behaviors, and habits that you expect from your employees. If you don’t yet, you don’t have to pretend to. Work on developing those things “beside” your employees, as Miguel said. Let your employees see you practicing them and getting better at them yourself. While you’re encouraging your employees in their efforts, let them see you continue yours, and show them how all of you can keep getting better together.One of my past bosses wanted all of us to get better at listening to each other with the intent to understand the other’s perspective. When he talked with us about it, he said he would be working on this himself, and asked us to have patience with him as he progressed. He said if we felt like he was rushing to get to his own point in a conversation to please politely ask him to listen to ours first.
Up until then, I’d never had a boss who was willing to be vulnerable that way, and my trust in and respect for him grew immediately. He was showing us that we would all be working together to improve, and that made a huge difference.
Your efforts to guide and teach will be received so much better this way. Your employees will trust you and respect you so much more when you make this whole thing about all of you (including you!) growing together.
As Catherine Young, Career Coach at kitecareercoaching.com put it:
“Mentoring should be about setting an example and encouraging growth for all employees.”
3. LET THEM TEST THEIR OWN IDEAS
One day at work, I got a lightbulb moment. I was going to improve on a procedure for the field, to ensure that any extra work was billed for promptly and accurately. I proudly told my boss about my plan, and he gave me the approval. I was so excited while I made the forms, wrote up the instructions, sent out emails, and made calls. This was going to be great!
…But a couple of weeks in, I sat in frustration, trying to figure out what had gone wrong. It wasn’t really working the way I thought it would. It wasn’t really working at all, actually, so I met with my boss about it. We talked about the goal of the whole thing, and we talked about the challenges we’d seen so far, and then he asked me some questions to get me thinking about how we might improve on it. That gave me an idea for changing up a few things, and within the week it started running as planned. My boss could have pointed out all the things I should have been able to anticipate, and he could have told me to scrap the whole thing, and he could have immediately come up with his own brilliant plan. Instead, he saw the value in letting me figure this one out myself and acted as a supporter and sounding board. Like any great mentor, he saw it as an opportunity for my growth, with a scenario we’d both ultimately stay safe in.
I know this can seem scary, but I’ve learned a valuable lesson since becoming a parent:
No matter how tempting it is to hover over your flock at every turn, you’ll help everyone grow if you learn to let go (in the right moments).
So you’ll decide each time if it’s appropriate, and you’ll choose situations that can’t result in disaster, and no matter how much you struggle to step back at first, learning to do it will make you a fantastic mentor.
“Confidence, humility, open-mindedness [and] an ability to see the legitimacy of the narrative of others” are all qualities that Natalie, an Assistant Laboratory Manager, has observed in her own mentors, and practicing these are how you’ll be able to calm any of your misgivings, and invite your employees to try out their ideas.
This will communicate to everyone that you respect them, value them, and believe in them. It will help your employees to feel personally invested in the results and the company’s success. It will help them to feel safe and confident in their environment which will then help them to flourish, and with all of that, everyone’s respect for and confidence in you will soar.
4. SEE THE GOOD IN THEM
“Sometimes [a mentor] sees something good and admirable in me that I either may not be [aware of], or that I feel is outweighed by something that shouldn’t be there. But the mentor sees that quality in me… and does not believe it is outweighed by whatever part of me that I can’t be proud of. That’s very touching and motivating.”
- Natalie, Assistant Laboratory Manager
My second job as a massage therapist came at a time when I was feeling a little low and unsure about things. I was having doubts about the profession again, and I wondered if this was really for me.
My new boss had no idea what a chance he was taking because I went to the interview knowing that if this turned out to be anything like my last job, I’d just use it as a paycheck until I could find something I felt more suited for.
My previous boss had expressed doubt in me from Day One; I was fresh out of school, after all. But this new one was completely different. He immediately gave off an attitude of trust and respect. He didn’t seem concerned at all about my lack of experience and instead would consistently point out things I was doing well and thank me for my hard work.
It transformed me. I was back to the person I’d been in school when I had Ana’s support. Only now I was feeling that confidence and building on it with real experience, and the person letting me do that just happened to be my employer. How would you feel about someone who did that for you? It’s been years since I worked at that particular job, but I still feel so grateful to him, and consider him my second mentor in that field.
This might be hard to do sometimes, and with some people. There might be a few with personalities you don’t easily mesh with, or some who aren’t really working up to your expectations, or some who just can’t seem to get it. But think about every face in your place, and come up with at least one thing in their performance or behavior that you appreciate. Write it down if you want to help it sink in. Then, every time you see your employees, smile at each of them, remember the quality you already identified, and try to notice more good things.
And guess what? Over time you won’t need to think about this, because it’ll be a habit! One day you’ll walk in and see everyone there, and you’ll be so happy to work with such great people.
5. GET CREATIVE TO GIVE MORE
The four things we just went over will help you start becoming a fantastic mentor. If you're looking for other ways to improve mentorship, there are lots of ways you can do it and make it something that works for you. Here are some ideas to help you brainstorm:
You could ask your employees to send you any questions they have about their personal or professional goals, experiences they want to have, skills they want to learn, or traits they want to develop, and then you could take time to answer them during regular meetings. You could pick one or two topics to cover each time and give your ideas, advice, encouragement, support and any additional resources you’d recommend.
You could let your employees take turns shadowing you for a day, on a schedule that works for you. During that time you could ask questions about the employee’s personal and professional goals and give your ideas and encouragement, and encourage your employee to ask you any questions. You could teach more about the company, and about how the work they do contributes to it, and how their work contributes to your own.
You could find ways to share your favorite personal development resources with your employees. Bring in books, and email links to articles, videos, or podcasts. You could start by sending everyone the same thing, and then as you learn each person’s individual goals and interests, you could also give or send personalized materials as you come across them.
Have you heard that quote about how leaders produce more leaders? Try to find ways for your employees to be mentors for each other and get in the habit of letting them lead.
- Dawn Moss, Founder of Your Interview Coach says:
“As leaders tend to be very busy people and it would be viewed as a privilege to be mentored by a leader – why not identify high potentials in the business and set up group sessions. Could be a breakfast meeting or lunch time. The group could agree on the agenda or topic for each time they meet.”
- Allison Lockett, Career Coach and Founder of allisonlockett.com suggests:
“Pair people based on shared interests outside of work and they’ll have a better chance of developing a bond inside work. Also: Sometimes the best mentor is only a few steps ahead of where you are. Create opportunities for people at all levels to mentor the ranks coming up behind them. This instills a culture of nurturing talent, while developing leadership early in the mentors and giving the mentees a more relatable – and less intimidating – experience.”
- And Catherine Young, Career Coach at kitecareercoaching.com adds:
“Sometimes the most unlikely mentor pairing can work well too, as we can be challenged by individuals and question how we would do things differently.”
Let’s recap your plan. You’re going to be a mentor to your own employees, and you’ll do it by:
- SHOWING THEM YOU CARE
- BEING AN EXAMPLE
- LETTING THEM TEST THEIR OWN IDEAS
- SEEING THE GOOD IN THEM
- AND GETTING CREATIVE TO GIVE MORE
And this whole thing will do so much for you! You’ll give your employees an environment of kindness, support, encouragement, and personal development. You’ll help them become better for themselves, better for each other, and better for you. All of it will positively impact your company’s results, as Miguel put so perfectly:
“Leadership is about creating a way for people to contribute [so] something extraordinary [can] happen.”
Joanie is a part-time employee with a mission to end the Sunday Night Blues and start a new way of working. She uses what she’s learned from her experience to help employees have happiness, fulfillment, and high-performance in their jobs, with a revolutionary approach to goal achievement. Learn more at: useyourjob.com/about
Her latest book, As Its People: A 90-Day Challenge, is for employers, managers, team leaders, and HR professionals, and gives actions, strategies, and habits for having motivated, engaged and high-performing employees. It’s available in paperback and Kindle at: www.amazon.com/author/joanelmore