More Than Advice

I’ve done a lot of informal coaching in my career – you know, the kind where you’re in conversation and someone says, “Gee, Sue, can you give me advice on…” and I get to cheerfully dispense my words of wisdom and then wish them good luck with their problem. Sometimes people seek me out and ask to talk over things with me, to help clarify an issue or opportunity. That’s also fun and from feedback I’ve received, people usually appreciate having me as a sounding board.

But I’ve recently been asked to take on a more formal coaching role with project leaders.I won’t be on the project teams, but I will meet with the project leaders to provide guidance. Some of my leaders are experienced and some are new to thewhole thing; some are using Six Sigma and others Lean. Mostly I try to tell them thingsI wish I had known when I started in processimprovement, and to give them good advice that they can take or leave at their discretion. If they run into problems I try to help develop an approach with them.

I’m at ease about technical coaching – tools, methods, reports, etc., but this “soft side” is more of achallenge for me.

As a “Driver” by nature I worry a lot about subconsciously trying to make them fit into the pattern that works for me, rather than letting them find their own way. Should I “give them enough rope to hang themselves” and then help them pick up the pieces? (I’ve been mentored this way myself and found it to be quite uncomfortable at the receiving end. On the other hand, I did learn a lot!) Or should I try to guide them on every foreseeable response and give them Plan A, B, and C for every contingency? (Over-thinking?) If they have a different personality style than I do, am I trying to make them more like me because that’s what I’m comfortable with? If I think they are going off-track, do I “give it to them straight” or tactfully share some hints on how it might work better the next time, so I don’t discourage them too much?

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For those of you who are experienced mentors, can you share any general advice on how to balance the “push” of helping the project leaders to get their project deliverables accomplished, and the “pull” of guiding, aiding, and supporting?

Comments 5

  1. Kosta Chingas

    Hi Sue,

    I’m surely not the end all be all of 6S coaching, but maybe I can help.

    To answer your question briefly, the answer is, "it depends". The the question I try to answer is "how much leash will it take for the student or newbie to be hung?"

    You want each of your project leaders to learn from your interaction with them, and by giving them each forseeable answer each step of the way, you don’t give them the opportunity to use the concepts on their own. To handle this, I try to coach by asking questions and I kind of lead them to the answer by their own answers. For newbies, I keep the questions fairly pin pointed..e.g. "Which factor would we throw out of this DOE reduction and why?". For a more advanced person, I would ask, "Let me see your ’Improve’ plan by the end of the week and let’s discuss.".
    The key to success with this is to lead to the answer without telling the answer. I hope this helps you.


  2. murthy basapur

    Hi Sue,

    This question is one present ever- I have taught in a class room, in a seminar hall, company visits, operators, board members. Solutions to most of them is available within itself. I had observed, let them on their own mad thinking, analyzed true facts meant and hidden, enlarged it with a huge lens, provide them eyes to see, open thier closed ears, remove the veil of their coated minds- of course it is different from one to another- but I gained confidence to get things going. The success is with participants not me. It was not mentoring but like a parent rearranging the toys-tools, processes, roadmap etc., etc.,- to the final way needed. It has to be fast and lean to suceed

  3. Matthew McClure

    Kostas was squarely on point about tailoring your approach to the experience and expertise level of the project leader using the Socratic method.

    I would add that just as in all other improvement and process efforts, no data, no problem. Short term and long term performance measures should be used:

    Short Term: Plan on how you will measure the effectiveness of your mentoring from the project leaders point of view (VOC) real time, not just at the conclusion of the project. This allows the mentor/mentoree to adapt their relationship as needed quickly.

    Long Term: How will a mentoree progress from newbies to more advanced people? Plan an improvement path with each leader just as one would for any other process. Then measure their performance against those plans, taking action as appropriate.

    I have used this approach to great effect by checking if my mentoree is progressing as expected both in the short and long term, then course correcting as needed.


  4. Sue Kozlowski

    Thanks, Kosta, you make valuable points about keeping the length of the leash appropriate for the mentee! Murthy reminds us that "success is with the participants" in achieving their goals and the goals of the project. And Matthew has a great tip on planning to measure the effectiveness of mentoring in real time. Thanks all for your helpful comments!

  5. Rob

    To become an effective mentor I would first ask those people wishing to be mentored what their strengths and weaknesses are. At this point you should listen more than speak. Once you discover this then you can ask questions and provide feedback on improving their weaknesses and also perhaps suggesting a program of self-directed learning. People need to understand that to grow they need to step outside of their comgfort zone and that you are there to assist once they do so.

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