Every leader by default is a mentor. Whether we realise it or not, leaders are always mentoring, either through their words or through their actions.
Some do it more directly while others more indirectly. Mentoring can be defined as a relational experience where one individual intentionally helps and guides another individual towards their development.
While leaders mentor others to help them become better, one of the more challenging situations is to mentor those who have experienced failure or non-performance. Let’s face it: Everyone fails. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world.
In most work environments, failure is really inevitable. Remember the time you had that disastrous presentation in front the management team? Or the time you made a mistake in the sales proposal resulting in the lost of a major account? What about the time you said the wrong thing at the wrong time and got yourself into trouble?
It is not a matter of “if” we will fail, but rather, “when” we will fail. The more critical issue is how people respond to failure.
Our response to failure sets us on a trajectory. Our subordinates can either learn from their failures and use them to spring board to the next level of success or ignore the precious lessons failure can teach and spiral down to a life of foolishness.
Hence, it is imperative that every leader knows how to effectively mentor their people during and after their failures.
Causes of failure and non-performance
When mentoring others in their failures, we need to firstly identify the cause for the failures. This is critical so that we can approach the mentoring in a correct manner in order to bring about development. There are generally four causes of failures that may require different mentoring responses.
The first cause of failure can be due to them not knowing what exactly needs to be done, hence they’re “groping in the dark”, resulting in non-performance.
In this situation, the mentor needs to focus his or her mentoring efforts in guiding the mentee towards the specifics of what is expected from them.
Take time to communicate specifically your performance expectations. To the best of your ability, leave out any form of ambiguity in what you expect them to do. Many leaders make the common mistake of assuming that their subordinates know exactly what needs to be done.
The second cause of failure could be because people may not actually know how to get things done.
Again, many leaders wrongly assume that the folks that they have hired know how to get things done according to their expected outcomes.
In such scenarios, the primary responsibility of the mentor is to provide training. Training can be done by the mentor himself or herself or can be out-sourced externally to training sessions according to the area of competency that needs to be developed.
Another cause of workplace failure is due to their lack of appreciation of why something needs to be done.
Because of this, they don’t fully dedicate themselves to the task at hand and “drop the ball” along the way.
They usually end up doing something blindly without recognising how important their contribution is towards a bigger goal. In such situations, mentors need to take time to explain the “why” of what they were required to do.
For example, instead of just giving instructions to an employee to go through the gruesome task of producing a detailed report of the sales trends for the past 10 years, tell them that this is a critical task because you need that information to help the organisation make critical decisions pertaining to delisting old products and introducing new ones. This will help to instil a sense of pride in the work that they do.
Lastly, the fourth reason for failure could be because the subordinates do not want to do what they were asked to do in the first place.
This could be due to a negative attitude that they have developed. They may feel that the task it is not part of their role or they are simply lazy or indifferent about the task at hand.
In such scenarios, the mentor’s role is to focus on motivating the employee to take responsibility for what is required of them. Open discussions need to take place to address attitude issues with the intention of helping them to change.
Key Mentoring Principles
In mentoring those who have failed, mentors need to delicately provide leadership to enable change to take place.
Here are some key principles every mentor needs to take heed of:
1. Develop a meaningful relational experience
Those who have failed do not need a “disciplinarian headmaster” to threaten them with punishment or a “nagging mother” to keep breathing down their necks to keep them in tact.
A good mentor knows how to show empathy and provide encouragement. While they are clearly the one in authority, they should never play the “I am your boss, so listen to me” card.
Good mentors focus on building good meaningful relationship with their mentees. The logic is simple but profound: The stronger your rapport with your mentee, the more influence you will have on them to coach them back to success.
2. Encourage their hearts by providing hope
Hope is a powerful element in people’s lives. Hope is simply having a confident expectation that things are going to get better. When hope is absent, confidence is eroded and people become “lifeless” in their approach to everything.
When our people experience failure, we need to quickly and patiently instil hope in them. Don’t beat them up. They already know what they have done wrong and feel bad about it.
A skilled mentor knows how to lift up their hearts by speaking words of comfort and hope. Encourage them to gain a clear a perspective that failure is common and it is not as detrimental as they perceive it to be.
3. Speak the truth in love
Very often those who have experienced failure need to be corrected as well. While they may realise certain weaknesses that they may have, they will also have blind spots in terms of character or competency flaws that need to be revealed to them.
The journey of change begins with self-awareness. A good mentor should be able to identify their mentee’s blind spots. Once identified, authentic dialogues need to take place.
The mentoring conversations need to shift from merely bringing words of encouragement and comfort to revealing what may be painful truths to help the mentee see their flaws so that they can make adjustments.
These conversations will only become successful if the mentee recognises that the mentor is not judging nor condemning them but is lovingly guiding and nurturing them towards success.
Leaders are in the business of changing lives. Leadership is a privilege because leaders literally have the capacity to influence others by the way they mentor others, particularly those who have experience some form of failure.
Our people are looking to us to provide leadership and to empower them. So, rise up leaders. You can make a difference!