Giving advice has been getting a bad rap recently. Coaching has emerged as a preferred leadership style over advice giving. Following this logic, mentoring will also be a less preferred style of interacting. But is this fair? Is there a place for mentoring and how can you be a great mentor?
I define mentoring as ‘teaching or giving advice or guidance to someone, such as a less experienced person.’ It involves the transfer of information. If you need to know something, mentoring and advice giving is a good way to meet that need. So what’s the problem?
The key to being a great mentor
Giving advice isn’t a problem in itself. The key is how and when you provide advice. Michael Bungay Stanier in his excellent book ‘The Advice Trap‘ states the job of a mentor is not to provide solutions. And therein lies the key to being a great mentor. When we focus on providing advice we miss the point. What problem are we trying to solve? This may sound obvious but the reality is very different. During a recent coaching meeting a client explained their situation and an idea came in to my head. I was certain it would really help my client. I listened to make sure I was on the right track and then I asked if it was ok if I shared my perspective.
Uncover the real challenge
As I shared my idea, I could see it was interesting to my client and then they responded. It was interesting but it didn’t completely fit their situation. They were politely telling me thank you but that’s not it. When they explained further it made perfect sense and they were right, my advice missed the mark. As Michael explains, ‘the key to being a great mentor is to stop seeking solutions and start finding the challenges.’
The problem with most mentoring is focusing on trying to add value by sharing the advice that first comes into our head. It feels so good and sometimes this is on the mark, but more often we are only solving at best a symptom. As you prepare for your next mentoring conversation, I recommend you focus on how to stay curious longer. Think about what questions you can ask to stay curious. As Andy Grove, former Intel President and CEO said, ‘when you think you know the answer, ask one more question.’