Sometimes you just need a few things to get started. I think this is the case for mentoring. We have been helping a company develop a mentoring culture and in typical Anecdote style we collected 50 stories of good and bad mentoring in the organisation and then help potential mentors draw lessons from these stories themselves. They learn that listening is more important that giving advice, that questions are more important than answers and the ability to tell a story is important to share experiences.
This is great foundational knowledge but quite frankly sometimes you also need a simple framework to guide your mentoring sessions. Mary Connor and Julia Pokora in their book Coaching & Mentoring at Work provided just what's needed: three topics to cover in a mentoring conversation.
Stage 1: What's going on? What's the present state of affairs.
You want to start by getting your mentee talking about the current situation. Get them to tell the story of the challenge they are facing. Practice good listening.
Then you might help them expand their perspectives. Are there any thing you missed? What would X say about this? How would this story be told by one of the other characters?
Then explore what they think might help them most. What's causing the most concern? What's a manageable chunk to tackle? What would give a high personal payoff?
Stage 2: What solutions make sense for me? What do I need or want instead of what I have?
Start with generating possibilities. In an ideal world what might you need or want? It's now X months into the future and it has been a wild success, what happened? It's now X months in the future and it has been a dismal failure, what happened?
What would be a realistic goal to achieve? Now you are moving from exploration to choosing a path forward.
Then test the commitment. What are the pros and cons, costs and benefits?
Stage 3: How do I get what I need or want?
How might you achieve the goals. What strategies might you use?
Which approach makes the most sense for you?
What's the action plan and how do you get started? What is your next action?
Now, this is a severe distillation of their good work. There are lots more things to learn about mentoring. But if you are about to have your first mentoring session and were wondering what you might do, here's a simple framework to guide your conversation.
The meeting of MPs "happened in his office in September 2009, when a delegation chosen by the backbench went to see him about a proposal to cut MP printing allowances. This was an issue that directly affected the ability of the backbenchers to do their job, yet the decision had been taken without any consultation with them.
Rudd listened attentively enough to three or four members of the delegation, but when a Victorian backbencher and former Victorian part secretary, Senator David Feeney, started making his contribution, Rudd exploded. He ranted: 'I don't give a fuck what you fuckers think'. And then, directly to Feeney, he said: 'You can get fucked'. pp. 123-124
This is just one of many example Barrie Cassidy gives of Kevin Rudd being, as Professor Robert Sutton calls, a bosshole: someone who leaves followers disrespected, emotionally damaged and de-energized. Cassidy paints a dismal portrait of Rudd as someone who is primarily concerned for himself, someone who seeks the limelight and someone who is obsessed with trying to control everything that might impact his image. According to Cassidy the dislike for Rudd among his colleagues was so great that when the challenge came to overthrow him as prime minister the numbers flowed to Gillard so quickly and overwhelmingly in her support there wasn't even a need for a vote.
I'm really hoping that Kevin Rudd's behaviour detailed in this book is an exception in politics because we can't expect our country to be governed effectively if our prime minister intimidates his staff and ministerial colleagues to the point where no one is willing to disagree or debate the issues which are going to affect millions of Australian's lives. It seams to me that outrageous bosshole behaviour is diminishing rapidly in our corporations I'm pleased to say. In most cases (I wish I could say in all cases) bosses are held to account. That's not to say we can't slow down our efforts to call appalling behaviour. I just hope this book helps those people in politics to realise it's time to dial back the arrogance and direct their power to making a difference for their constituents.
I read this book in two days, which is unusual for me. I found the stories gripping. It's an easy read. The first two-thirds chronicle the period leading up to the 2010 election from the point where Malcolm Turnbull's loses the opposition leadership and the role Godwin Gretch. Then the rise of Tony Abbot at the new opposition leader and his shaky start. But the majority of part 1 of The Party Thieves is focussed on Kevin Rudd. His 2007 election win, his temper and bad behaviour, Julia's rise, and the dismissal. The last third is a diary of the 2010 election interspersed with recollections from Barrie about his days as Bob Hawke's press secretary.
I suspect this book is going to create a lot of controversy. Highly recommend it.
I spend an enjoyable day yesterday at the AFR leadership conference in Sydney. The first speaker was Alex Malley, CEO of CPA Australia. Alex noted that all of us have childhood experiences that shape our views on leadership. He told a story about his first leadership experience. My recollection of his story is as follows:
When I was 12 years old, my mum was in hospital, very sick. The first time I went in to visit her I was on my own, and a bit overwhelmed. Walking down the corridors, looking for the right room and finally finding it. When I entered the room I wasn't sure what to do. The cleaner looked up and saw this 12-year-old boy obviously looking quite apprehensive. He came over to me and said “you must be Alex. Your mom has told me everything about you, she's very proud of you. Your mum is very sick right now but it's important that you know that she loves you very much."
Many people I spoke to during the day commented on this story and how powerful it was. It just goes to show that a simple example such as this can convey powerful messages that stick in people's minds. It's also a good example of how leadership can be displayed by anyone in an organisation.
When we collect stories in companies one of the most common anecdotes is the one about the boss who fails to recognise their staff's work. People want to be thanked, appreciated, recognised regardless of their level in the organisation or their level of skill or expertise.
Dan Ariely conducted a simple experiment described in his latest book, The Upside of Irrationality, which shows that a simple nod of appreciation is more than a nicety, it's a business necessity.
This is how it worked. Imagine a room where you might have a university exam--hopefully this doesn't send chills down your spine. Sitting up front is the invigilator keeping an eye on your every move and ready to collect your paper at the end. In this case each person collects a single sheet of paper from the invigilator that's covered in words. Your task is to circle any two letters that sit side-by-side and are the same. When you finish one page you return it to the invigilator and get another sheet until you can't be bothered doing it any more.
There are three groups in this experiment.
For the first group when they return their sheet the invigilator gives a friendly smile and a nod of thanks.
People in the second group returning their paper are ignored. The invigilator doesn't even look up. Their sheet is turned faced down onto a pile and without a word a new sheet is given.
The invigilator for the third group takes the sheet and without looking at the contents shreds it in front of the participant before handing them another sheet of paper to work on.
On avergae the first group that gets the nod of appreciation complete 9.03 sheets. Not bad for such a boring task.
The third group are ritually humiliated by the invigilator by shedding their work complete on average 6.34 sheets.
So what do you think happened for those people who were ignored? Are they somewhere in between groups 1 and 3?
Group three who received no feedback completed on average 6.77 sheets, very similar to those people who were practically abused as their efforts were destroyed before their eyes.
It would seem that authentic appreciation for a job well done goes along way to boost productivity and if you are one of these bosses who figures, "hey, they're smart people who know what to do. They don't need my praise." think again. You could be really holding them back.