Thinking Out Loud

Mentoring Managers

I read an interesting article the other day about creating an appealing workplace. The focus was on the physical environment, defining spaces conducive to working comfortably and productively—open areas where people can easily connect and have access to one another, readily sharing information and collaborating.

While reading the article, I also reflected on what has become a common refrain in the work world:  approximately 70% of workers don’t feel engaged at work and/or dread coming to work.  (This is from a frequently cited 2015-2016 Gallup study.)

Another commonly cited fact is that most people leave their jobs because of their immediate supervisor.  Supervisors need strong relationship building skills to create a positive working environment, where workers are engaged, productive, and feel valued.  But how do they do that?

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Make sure managers have the time to manage. Managing isn’t something to fit in around your “real duties.” Managers need time for reflection, planning, staying connected to team members, problem-solving, and more. Without accounting for the time it takes to do these tasks—yes, it is important that these are seen as actual tasks—they will not occur with sufficient time or consistency of attention to do them justice.


  1. Assign mentors (not the immediate supervisor) to managers to guide and offer the wisdom of experience. If your organization doesn’t have a formal mentoring program (most don’t), create your own. Find someone inside or outside of the organization who has the experience and expertise to offer you guidance, someone who can support and challenge you, and would genuinely like to help.  Most people who are asked feel honored and find it enjoyable.


  1. Teach managers to think strategically. What does this really mean? Thinking strategically is about reflection and evaluation.  The fundamental question to ask yourself is, “How does what we are talking/thinking about relate to the big picture?”  You have an idea to consider or a plan to implement and you need to connect it to your larger mission and goals. Can you write a paragraph or draw a “map” or in some coherent way describe the process that connects what you are doing in the present with the bigger picture?  Doing this regularly brings coherence and clarity to how you manage.


  1. Develop an evaluation process where managers can get direct feedback from their supervisees. Most organizations have a formal process for evaluating managers; just as important are good working relationships with supervisees to get on-going feedback.  One manager I worked with in an organization that didn’t have a formal feedback process initiated his own.  He got the team together and instructed them to list what they liked and didn’t like about his performance and management style.  He had the trust of his team, so no one was worried about giving constructive feedback.  At the next meeting, he gave the highlights of what they had shared and suggested, which generated a lively, productive discussion.  He then announced what he would be working on to improve his performance.


  1. Help managers develop a robust professional development plan. This, of course, relates to the previous point.  Regardless of what level you are at in your professional development, there is always something to improve.  Those who are successful and at the highest level of leadership know this and take it seriously.  They see themselves as lifelong learners and challenge themselves to improve their performance.  They have concrete goals and make specific plans for how to reach them.  And like the manager in the above example, they are fearless in seeking genuine feedback.

If I had to choose the most important of the five points listed above, it would be number 2: assigning/finding mentors.  Nothing can replace or compete with the person to person contact, where experience is shared in an honest, trusting, caring relationship—a relationship that both challenges and supports.  Having an appealing working environment conducive to collaboration, along with managers who know how to build and maintain good working relationships, is as good as it gets.

Back to the blog