Know Yourself Before Guiding Others

Great mentors are always self-reflective and aware. They examine their actions, words, and tone, and know when to lead and when to manage.

BLOG POST | Jan 9, 2019

by Derrik Kennedy, ICMA-CM, town manager, Mansfield, Connecticut

I have had and currently do have the opportunity and honor to be a mentee and mentor. As we know, these experiences allow for teaching, two-way learning, and excitement for the profession. I have found that there is great reward in these encounters, and I also have witnessed the result of an unintended bad mentorship.

I truly believe that most managers have the best intentions when teaching, training, and guiding assistants and other management staff within the organization. I also believe that some managers do not take the time to reflect on their own management and leadership weaknesses.

This flaw will inevitably be handed down from mentor to mentee. In the worst case, the flaw will continue to flow down from mentor to mentee until there is a true break in leadership and or leadership style.

Positive Steps to Take

Here are my recommendations on how to make sure you’re not giving bad advice or propagating unintended consequences of management tactics:

1. Have you completed a 360 review?

The feedback that is obtained from peers and subordinates is invaluable when it comes to understanding your leadership skills and management style. Take this feedback seriously.  Use professional development opportunities and seek out respected peers to assist you in developing your skills.

2. Differentiate between your heart and mind.

Many of us think one way, but may act another, for the sake of the organization, department, or individual. In other words, your head is telling you that you do not have time for this personal conversation, or the action by staff members clearly violates policy and they should, therefore, be disciplined or terminated.

Our actions, however, tell us to slow down, take the time to listen, and offer sound advice based on our experiences. Use these moments when your Type A personality and “drop the hammer” management style is telling you one thing, but your experience is telling you another. How would you want to be treated?

3. Get to know your mentee.

Does your mentee want to be a manager? Have you asked him or her about career goals? Do you think he or she is too young to have career goals? Are you treating him or her like a professional or like a kid?

Do you allow mentees to learn by shadowing you and attending meetings where deliberations and decisions are being made? When they are present, are you acting like a leader or a dictator? All of your actions may be mentally scanned and copied and copied and copied by your mentees, and we all know what copies of copies look like.

4. Question, listen, and guide.

It has been my experience that being able to ask questions as a mentee was invaluable. How did you do this? How did you know what to ask? How did you get the room to agree with you?

The mentee is going to have many questions, but he or she isn’t going to know all the right questions to ask to figure out an issue. Turn the table around.

Ask the mentee questions. How would you handle this situation? Would you sign this contract? What is missing from this? Do you think this information is objective enough?

Leading by Example

A great mentor will provide the bumper rails of learning, allow the thought exercises to be meaningful, and provide the mentee an opportunity to grow intellectually in his or her role through the ability to lead by example.

Finally, great mentors are always self-reflective and aware. They examine their actions, words, and tone, and know when to lead and when to manage. Those are two different skills that in rare occasions are done simultaneously. When they are, great things happen to those who are watching.


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