Be a Mentor not a Tormentor

The fine line between being a coach or a tyrant.

As a manager, holding people accountable is an important task. You can write up procedures and processes until your fingers are sore, but if you don’t follow up to see that your team is actually doing the work, the end is in sight.

“Delegate then investigate” unknown.

All to often though, the manager gets frustrated and over time either gives up on the employee or gets angry.  They find themselves setting standards based on their own work ethic before actually teaching their own work ethic. Then as frustration leads to contempt for the employee, there is no turning back.

Somewhere along the line you have heard the line, “people quit managers not companies”. This statement can be translated to:  “Failing an employee is the number one reason people quit companies.”

“Watch that the Mentor does not becomes the Tormentor” Kevin B. Leigh

All too often we blame the employee before looking at ourselves, and asking:

  • Did we teach them how to do the task or process?
  • Before they left the class or meeting did they actually show you that they can do the task or process?
  • Did you check up the next day to insure that they still know how to do the task or process.
  • Did you investigate their work to be sure that they are actually doing the task or process?

Before the above is complete, you cannot blame your employee. You have to understand that everyone has a different learning curve, and process information in a different way. For many, they have to perform an action over and over to be sure they can do it.

As a former IT guy, I can relate to this.  I was so busy that I don’t stop to actually teach the person how fix or use their computer. Instead I would grab the mouse and just fix the issue, then wonder why our employees called IT on the same issues over and over. It took me quite some time to understand that they needed to be thought how to fix issues so they could fix it later without help. It took me some time to understand, that a true manager does not do the work, he or she teaches others how to do for themselves. Once I understood this I instituted a plan to teach then follow up the next day to see how they where doing. We saw results right away.

The biblical parable about “teaching a man to fish” is so poignant for managers.


“Give a man a match, he shall be warm for a moment. Light a man on fire and he shall be warm for a day. Teach him how to make fire and you have changed his life”


inspire-teach-changeMore than just teaching them how

For the most part, I would guess that you are pretty good at teaching the team how to do things and my guess is, if you are reading articles like this you must want to succeed. So let me jump to it.

In my humble opinion the secret sauces for mentoring are:

Check up often to be sure they are doing the work

  • Make sure to review with them that you have looked at their performance.
  • Positive feedback is more important then negative. Pick your top 2-5 performers and congratulate them with a specific example of how well they have done. Then identify the bottom 2-5 and again with specific examples show them how to improve.
  • Be sure the bottom performers are actually sticking to the process.
  • Ask the top performers how they have changed the process and update your process using their suggestions.
  • If you are like me, deadlines push my performance to a new level. So use deadlines to your benefit. As a manager
  • Set self-imposed deadlines by putting a required finish date on important tasks. I believe to-do lists without expiration dates are just “someday maybe’s” to quote David Allen of book Getting Thing Done.
  • Even the best salesperson, accountant, programmer or HR person can find himself or herself stagnant on the job. As their managers we need to set new higher goals and create projects for them to achieve. If you can run a 4-minute mile, a good manager would want to see you run it in 3:50.
  • Whatever their task, increase the about of times they do it.
    In hockey (by the way I am not a sports guy at all, so I should not be making sports analogies) one of the things tracked is SHOTS ON GOAL. Find out what are the shots on goal for your employees, and ask for an improvement in that task.

Ask them “when they can expect to have the project done?”

Push their limits

I will write more on this topic over the next few weeks because it really is important to be a great mentor to your team. They really deserve the best from you, and you should require the best from them.

11/13/2011 by Kevin B Leigh

Tags: ,