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By Todd Horton • February 26, 2019

Being Liked or Being a Mentor? - How to be both for maximum effectiveness

Being Liked or Being a Mentor? - How to be both for maximum effectiveness

I’ve spoken to managers trying adapt their styles in the modern workplace. They ask if they should be an employee’s friend, mentor or both? Also, should they discuss only work topics and risk appearing impersonal or get to know employees and risk being perceived as nosy?

I won’t deny that the modern manager’s life is tricky. It’s also one of the best times for you to gain fulfillment by helping your employees reach personal and professional goals.

The question is, how do you communicate with employees so that they understand their role in achieving the organization’s goals? As you see them succeed, you will feel more connected to your team and fulfilled that you are impacting people - not just abstract goals. And yes, you will look good to senior leaders if your employees are happy.

Here are four best practices communications I’ve collected talking to managers across companies of all sizes.

1. Celebrate Each Person’s Individuality

Everything seems to be about numbers in our current age of analytics. We’ve become somewhat antiseptic where goals and values can be abstract. Your employees are the opposite.

Put in a little effort to ask them what they want to learn, their goals, and work style preferences. We are all unique and as a manager it goes a long way when you ask employees what’s important to them. Is it skill building, flexible work schedule, cross team learning, exposure to senior leadership?

This approach then helps you identify how each person’s uniqueness can advance your mission. For example, your employee may not easily connect with “improve this process 10%”. They can connect with the idea of improving a process so customer X can eliminate a few extra steps.

By bridging this gap and with the right focus you can be a mentor and establish trust which enables the team to understand how they contribute as individuals.

2. Be Spontaneous With Feedback

Unexpected praise and positive feedback is a great motivator for your team both personally and professionally. Surprise feedback resonates with employees because it shows you are looking out for them and want to make sure their positive work doesn’t go unnoticed. It also helps you to be a leader in the moment rather than focus on future goals that may or may not come.

Let’s be honest, some work days drone on where we do our daily tasks and don’t fixate on the “big picture”. That said, surprising an employee with praise that highlights how their seemingly everyday work impacted the organization can be meaningful.

In your quest to become a more effective leader you should be ready to offer praise as you see fit, in an unfettered way, that clearly conveys appreciation of effort and its contribution to success. Doing this results in you building a high quality team.

3. Give Equitable Praise

The great John Wooden, who won 10 NCAA basketball titles in 12 years said he never had a bad player on his team. He always found a way to make sure the player buried deepest on his bench realized in real terms how they contributed. By sharing this type of praise with your team you let them know that despite having several of the all-time greatest basketball players, everyone contributed to the success of the effort.

We all love praise and while we also like to see our colleagues receive praise there is a fine line that can result in jealousy.

The ideal situation of equitable praise is that it makes all of us feel richer.

As the person responsible for a number of direct reports you reap the benefits as much as they do. You’re able to see a stronger team effort, you have the benefit of high morale and your ability to let them know they are essential participants in a large effort, as opposed to cogs in a machine.

4. Celebrate Your Cross Functional Teams

Never forget the adjacent groups helping your team succeed. When the finance team helps your marketing analyst improve a model, celebrate both the finance team member and their manager that you appreciate the effort.

While it may seem a cliche to hear the word teamwork bandied about the fact remains that we must work with teams throughout the organization. You succeed more not only by delegating, but by ensuring you let each group know how impressed you are by their contributions.

As a mentor you know that there is no limit to being one and giving cross-functional praise comes with that role. By giving such praise you’re also increase the desire of that team to work with you again but to make sure working with you becomes a priority and deserving of the very best they can offer.

What You Can Do

There needs to be a high degree of accountability among today’s business leaders. They need to be more than managers, they need to be mentors. Teams succeed on how they feel about their contributions. Spontaneous praise, in an equitable fashion, while making people connect directly with the larger organization on a personal level across normal team boundaries.

Do this because you’re not their friend nor manager - you’re their mentor!