What do leaders talk to Mentors about? Part Three

Thank you for your interest and emails concerning this series on what questions I am commonly asked by leaders in mentoring relationships. While many have heard the term mentoring, lots of you are not quite sure what takes place in a formal mentoring relationship. Here is my next cluster of topics that I commonly speak to executives about. I welcome your comments or questions so please leave a note in the comments section at the end.

The development of men and women leaders is my calling, starting with my family. My work as an Executive Mentor is to come alongside leaders and their organizations helping them to be effective, well balanced and successful.

Often, I am asked, “What do leaders want to talk to you about?”. Some topics come up frequently and I shared examples in my previous posts in this series found here and part two here.

A mentor walks beside you and, in doing so, helps build your confidence and leadership ability. We help you discover insights, skills and solutions for your business, church, organization, or life. Our support and guidance helps you to draw your own conclusions and decisions guided by experience and passion for you to be a better leader.

1. How to confront an employee

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

So many leaders have an aversion to conflict and, because of this, do not hold their staff accountable properly. This fear leads to siloing and team members creating their fiefdoms within the organization. Our fear of conflict is usually grounded in our upbringing, and a therapist can be helpful if you want to understand more about your fear of confronting.

Usually, something from the past has created assumptions about how it will go, and you back off.You can’t change what you refuse to confront. Suppose leaders spend time avoiding arguments or difficult conversations. In that case, they are surrounded by people with poor job performance, staff who do not work well with others, a toxic atmosphere in the office, and status quo results.

A mentor can do several things to help also. I usually start with assisting the leader in realizing the “cost” of not being direct and reminding them that it is part of their job. If we consider what might be gained by being direct, leaders often reconsider assumptions holding them back.

There are MANY mistakes we can make when confronting others, and a mentor can help. Two quick tips are:

1. Don’t wait and always speak about it in person.

2. Never use email or voicemail for this leadership function.

One book I recommend is Jill Scott’s “Radical Candor” where she describes how she had to learn to be more direct as a leader.

If we confront someone we should have one goal in mind: restoration, not embarrassment.

Chuck Swindoll

2. Making difficult decisions

Photo by AlphaTradeZone on Pexels.com

Leaders who postpone making decisions frustrate their teams and lose the respect for their leadership. Over time if you keep deferring making a decision, you will lose your best employees who want more action, and you will encourage those who love the status quo. With similarities to leaders who have trouble confronting employees, leaders who fail to make decisions share fear as the core of the problem. Mentors can help you face your fears and gain confidence.

Overthinking and perfectionism are common culprits with those who delay making decisions. Leaders in the relentless pursuit of perfection are afraid of deciding because they fear making the wrong decision. Only God knows the future, and therefore any decision we make is subject to variables that might happen in the future.

I make a decision. Then, if things don’t turn out like I thought, I make another decision.

Dave Ramsey

A mentor can help you develop the skill of making decisions and can also help you to evaluate your choices after implementation. You can grow in this area by experience, but experience comes at a cost – you are going to make some mistakes.

3. Identifying and solving problems. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

A mentor can serve as a safe sounding board for a senior leader to think aloud about identifying a problem. It is essential to discover what the real problem is.

A friend in Houston who was a bonafide card carrying rocket scientist with NASA told me, “The problem is NEVER the problem.”

There is a lot of truth in that nugget. How many of us have solved a problem only to find that it created several new problems. Finding solutions to complex situations requires help. I am always impressed with a leader who knows they would benefit from some mentoring when solving the root cause of some leadership issue. Often fresh eyes, like a mentor provides, can point out the obvious and save a great deal of time and potential loss.

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions

Albert Einstein

One leadership tip: Don’t let yourself get enamoured with large amounts of data. It is only helpful if you can make sense of it.

4. Handling transition and change. 

Photo by Alexas Fotos on Pexels.com

The global pandemic of COVID, created change for leaders. I think of change as the shift of an external situation. As we have seen, it can happen fast and cause global upheaval. Transition is the reorientation people need to make in response to change, and that takes time.

Sometimes mentors can help leaders, or their teams, accept the need for change. It is easy to believe what they’ve been doing, and how they’ve been doing it, is the best possible way to do it. To be successful in both implementation, and helping people we need to manage both the change and the transition.

Similarly, succession-related factors should be on a leader’s radar. Often a safe discussion with a mentor, who does not hold power or position over the leader, is constructive to begin strategizing for the future.

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.

Winston Churchill

5. Leading up and working with boards

Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

I work with many not-for-profit organizations, which means their CEO, ED or President serve a governing board of directors. The operational leader reports to and works for the board, and a healthy, positive relationship with your “boss” makes your life much easier. However, no two boards are alike, and bad board governance is the stuff of legends. Those who serve on boards may need some leadership in working well with the CEO or lead staff person.

Leading up is more complicated than managing your team. It may involve offering your board a strategic insight, or a plan for a new initiative. I remind those I mentor that every member on a board has a day job. They do not live with the day-to-day operations of your organization, and they need leadership assistance to help understand what you and the staff do regularly. A mentor experienced serving on boards and who has worked for boards can assist both the board and the management team in working together.

Lots of times we are afraid to ask our board members to do too much because we’re afraid they will be scared off. I have long observed that more board members resign for lack of meaningful work, than from being overworked.

You and Your Nonprofit Board (Temkin, 2013)

Mentoring Associates

I have drawn together a team of associates to work with me in serving leaders. This new approach to coaching and mentoring has expanded our capacity to help leaders like yourself. Our team has a diversity of giftedness to mentor leaders in life, leading themselves, leading teams, strategy and marketing, all from a faith perspective.

If you would like to speak to me about how you might become more effective as a leader, spouse, strategist or influencer, please let’s talk. Here is my calendar, and you can choose a time that works for you.