Never had a mentor? Not sure where to start or how to structure a mentoring relationship with your employees? In my podcast conversation with Mitch Matthews, he helps us to understand what great mentoring looks like and why it helps develop employee autonomy. Mitch will show you how to mentor your employees with a wide variety of tools and specific solutions to move both yourself and your employees down the road to a successful mentoring relationship.
I love this quote from Mitch, ““I know especially in agencies … this is so critical because you want to inspire the best work, you want to inspire full engagement, you want to inspire loyalty, you want to inspire creativity, all of those things. One of the best ways to do that is through mentoring.”
If you’re not familiar with Mitch, let me tell you a little about him. He has an amazing podcast that I highly recommend called “Dream, Think, Do” (http://mitchmatthews.com/) and it is at the top of the iTunes chart for a reason.
Mitch has worked on mentoring with entrepreneurs, leaders and teams from organizations like NASA, Disney, booking.com and Principal Financial Group. He’s really passionate about helping entrepreneurs and leaders dream bigger, think better, become more successful, and do more of the stuff they were put on this planet to do.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (http://buildabetteragency.com/mitch-matthews/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below.
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to ‘Build a Better Agency,’ where we show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew: Hi there everybody. Thanks for tuning in to this episode of Build a Better Agency, where we explore how to build a business that serves you, your employees and your clients. As we all know, the greatest assets that any agency has are their staff. Oftentimes they are both the source of our greatest joy and sometimes our greatest angst. And that’s why I know today you’re going to really enjoy hearing from our guest, Mitch Matthews.
Let me tell you a little bit about Mitch. Mitch is a keynote speaker, a success coach, and a bestselling author. He has an amazing podcast that I highly recommend called “Dream, Think, Do” and it is the top of the iTunes chart for a reason. Mitch has worked with leaders and teams from organizations like NASA, Disney, booking.com and Principal Financial Group. Just got off a big speaking gig, 78 days traveling. And that’s his life, working with folks and coaching.
He also speaks on college campuses around the country. He’s really passionate about helping entrepreneurs and leaders dream bigger, think better, and do more of the stuff they were put on this planet to do. One of the things that Mitch spends a lot of time doing is working with entrepreneurs and business owners coaching their teams and mentoring. He also does executive coaching and coaching himself.
Mitch happens to live in Des Moines, Iowa with his beautiful bride Melissa and their sons. In full disclosure, Mitch and I are good friends. We’ve known each other for gosh, over a decade, and are part of a mastermind group together. And so I have had the good fortune of having Mitch mentor me many times. That’s really where we’re going to focus today, is talking about how to better mentor our employees and build them to be bigger, better, and stronger for both themselves, for the agency, and our clients. So Mitch, welcome to the podcast.
Mitch: Thank you, Drew. It’s an honor buddy. Excited to be here.
Drew: I am excited about this. So let’s talk a little bit about your background in terms of the coaching and mentoring that you do, and how you came to have that area of expertise.
Mitch: Absolutely. So kind of a background in sales and then moved into corporate training and loved that. Was a training manager for a $2 billion pharmaceutical company and loved that kind of thing. Started to get a taste of the entrepreneurial life, and so I started my own business back in 2002, primarily doing executive coaching and keynoting. And I really enjoyed that, but the more coaching that I did, especially with entrepreneurs, they appreciated the work that we were doing together, helping them to get focused, and helping them to really go after their priorities, and kind of simplify in some ways their lives, their businesses, those kinds of things. A natural offshoot of that was they were like, “Hey, help me to do that in my own business. Help me to do this with my teams. The things you’re doing with me, I want to be able to do with the people around me, to help them get more clear, help them to take more employee autonomy, be more engaged, all of those things.”
So I’ve started to do more and more training over the last five years with leaders, helping them to infuse more of a mentoring and coaching approach into their leadership DNA. And it’s been awesome to see. I know especially in agencies, especially with your audience, this is so critical because you want to inspire the best work, you want to inspire full engagement, you want to inspire loyalty, you want to inspire creativity, all of those things.
One of the best ways to do that is through mentoring. But so few of us actually received it when we were going through the ranks. Especially leaders, so many leaders that I work with now, especially that are Gen Xers, that are boomers, they didn’t get a lot of mentoring. Sometimes they might have received a little bit but they didn’t get a lot of it as they were getting started. So it’s something that as people get some skills in, as they start to get more tools and strategies, they start to connect with it, but at the same time there’s a little bit of an interrupt because so few of us actually receive that kind of approach. So it’s fun to be able to work with great leaders who obviously are always wanting to improve their game. But this is definitely one of those ways that people can do it. It’s fun to see it play out through.
Drew: I think you make a great point that, a) a lot of us may or may not have had mentors, but b) I think the way we define mentorship is really there was an older guy or woman who taught me some stuff. I think what we do that makes it really different is, and I think one of the things for agency owners to wrap their head around is, mentoring doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen every once in a while and it is a skill. It is not just meeting with your person on your team to talk about what they are working on. It really is a very purposeful activity. And that’s really what I want to talk about with you today, is how do I, the over-busy agency owner out there, how do I carve that into my day, and what does it look like? How do I do it well? Help us understand what mentoring is and isn’t.
Mitch: Sure. That’s a great question, I love it. That’s something we talk about in the training that we do. We talk about the mentor 1.0 model. It’s a great model. It’s kind of that Luke Skywalker and Yoda model. It’s the old wise sage and the young up and comer. And the old wise sage just offers all of this wisdom. Maybe it’s the Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san model, where it’s the older person with all of the wisdom bestowing it on the younger person.
Mitch: And that’s great. I mean, if you can get it, that’s fantastic. But at the same time we see, especially in the marketplace that we’re in currently, with how fast the things are changing with technology and all of those things, one of the other things that we see all the time is that leaders oftentimes are not necessarily any longer the person that holds the most information or the most wisdom. Technology is changing so fast that oftentimes leaders are the ones that have a perspective, a higher perspective, but they may not have as much wisdom in a given technology or in a given strategy.
So, we see over and over, and we also see honestly, in some organizations the younger person is actually in a higher position than some older people. So it can’t be age-based. And it really can’t always be wisdom-based, if that makes sense. So, we see a need for a mentor 2.0 model. What that is, is that mentor 2.0 model is not the person who is the wise sage that just bestows advice and sits in warm leather chairs and smokes pipes with the young one as they share information. The mentor 2.0 model is how do you draw out ownership? How do you draw out autonomy? How do you draw that person’s best work, and how do you do that in a way that’s efficient, that’s rewarding but also gets results? So that’s what we talk about.
There’s different ways to look at that. As an example, one of the things we talk about is project-specific mentoring. A lot of times I think when people think about successful mentoring, they think more about that career mentoring and helping somebody with their overarching career. That’s good, and that’s a whole other category that we do talk about. But project-specific mentoring is where you basically identify someone maybe on your team, someone in your organization where you see they have capability, you see that you really want to invest in that person. And so what you do is you look for a specific project where you could actually in fact give them more employee autonomy, more ownership, more that they could actually run with on their own.
And you communicate that to them, like saying, “Hey, in the past I’ve kind of guided you. I have told you what you needed to do. But with this particular project or with this particular client,” or whatever it is, you isolate something. You say, “I’m going to take a slightly different approach. I’m going to put on more of the mentor hat here and I really want you to run with this. I really want you to own this. So we’re going to check in. We’re going to do some quick check in as we go along, but I really want this to be yours.” What that does is that sends that signal of you’re going to hold them as capable. You’re sending that signal that you believe in them, but you’re also giving them that autonomy that so many of us really long for. Dan Pink wrote an incredible book, he’s an amazing author. I love him.
Drew: He really is, yeah.
Mitch: But he wrote a book called “Drive.” And if you haven’t read it – Drew I think you read it.
Mitch: But if the audience hasn’t read it, you need to read this book. It is mind-boggling. It’s offensive. It’s frustrating because it basically takes the carrot and the stick model that so many people believe in and it throws it right out the window based on research, based on just incredible stories and all of that. It really goes to show that when it comes to the marketplace, our core motivator, especially once those base level things are met, our core motivator, especially in the creative class is autonomy.
One of those things is the project-based mentoring really allows for more employee autonomy. At the same time, it allows for limiting risk and it allows for learning fast. And so one of those things that we’ve seen is, looking for those things and being able to again, assign or take a slightly different approach really allows that person, that high capacity person to become even higher capacity. At the same time, it also increases a sense of ownership, it increases that loyalty, and it increases engagement.
Drew: Well, as I am listening to you, I’m thinking about conversations I have with both sides of the equation. So in my AE boot camps, I’m hanging with a lot of staffers. And what they tell me more than anything else is they want to be recognized for being capable, and they also want more of their bosses or supervisor’s attention and time to learn. So what you’re saying aligns perfectly there.
And when I’m hanging out with the agency owners, what they are always saying in one way, shape, or form is I want my employees to behave like they own the joint. So again, it’s aligning exactly with what everybody wants. I just don’t think most agency owners understand, it’s not that they don’t have the scale, it’s they don’t have the recipe for how to do it.
Mitch: Right. Well, and it’s one of those things, there are some pitfalls. And I’ve gotten to work with some agency owners. Obviously, awesome people, but there are some pitfalls that happen, especially for leaders. I think this applies in spades for agency owners. One of the reasons why leaders are leaders is they fix stuff. They get stuff done, right? It’s one of those things. The reason why you’re in the role you’re in is you’ve had the answers and those answers have worked in the past. So when you start to take more of a mentor approach, and when we talk about a mentor approach, generally some of the core aspects of that is instead of telling someone what to do you actually ask them a question and help them uncover an answer that they own. Because if they own it, there’s a much greater chance they’re going to feel ownership obviously, but they’re going to feel like they could do it over and over again. Like that’s something that they helped to create. They own it, so they can run with it.
So asking questions instead of just giving the answer, celebrating the small wins along the way, really guiding them but also allowing them to have that full ownership. The tension though that arrives, especially for established and successful leaders, is we have the answer.
Mitch: Somebody comes to us with a question, the way that we’ve brought value in the past is to give them the answer, right?
Mitch: And let’s just be honest, that feels good.
Drew: That feels good, you bet.
Mitch: It feels good to have the answer, right? It feels like hey, that’s my job, I have the answer. Boy, boom, I’ve given it to you. And in some ways that also feels faster. In some ways it looks faster because you just answered their question. The challenge is that then you create a relationship of dependency that doesn’t always look like that in the beginning. It’s so funny I hear this tension where people talk about, “I want to give people more ownership but they never seem to run with it.” It’s like, “Okay, well what does that look like?” “Well, I’ll give them a project.” But then what happens? They start to give advice. In fact, you can get a PhD in mentoring, basically. I don’t recommend it.
Mitch: There is a couple schools of thought where you can get a PhD. Appreciative inquiry is one school of thought and motivational interviewing is another school of thought. You can get PhDs in those.
Mitch: Yeah, so hey, go check it out. Research it, Google it, it’s scary. But one concept especially in appreciable inquiry that I find so fascinating and what I love about it is that we’ve all felt this. But basically it’s a phenomenon called the righting reflex. Righting reflex, with an R not a W. But basically what that is, is it’s that sensation we feel when we see something that we need to fix. I see this happen so often when somebody says, “Okay yes, I want to take more of a mentoring approach. Yes, I’m going to ask more questions instead of just give answers.” But then when people start to do that, they start to ask the question. Even though they have the answer they’re going to ask the question to help that person uncover their own answer. That righting reflex starts to creep in, almost takes over because you just have to blurt it out, give them the answer, or just take the reins back and say, “Let’s just get this done.” That’s that righting reflex. What I love about that is sometimes just being able to give a name to a phenomenon helps us to identify it.
Drew: Recognize it, yeah.
Mitch: To experience it. It’s like oh, there is the righting reflex. Now at the same time, we don’t talk about – and this is why I always love to call out any chance of rainbows, butterflies and little ponies theories here – we’re not talking about well, whatever they say, let’s let them do it. It’s those things. That’s not good.
One of the things that we talk about, especially when we’re deciding between needing to wear the mentor hat and the manager hat is I always say that mentoring is wildly powerful but it’s only powerful if you have a clear area or a clear idea of where you want to use it. One of the challenges with taking more of a mentoring approach that I see all the time is that people get excited about it and so they try to apply it everywhere. That’s not good, and it actually diminishes the power of mentoring. So we talk about that basically a CEO versus a CFO model that helps people to understand when and where to apply it. So the CEO versus the CFO model. Basically if it’s the CEO, it is as if you’re looking to instill creativity, engagement, and ownership, and it’s a lower risk scenario, then that is the ideal place to use more mentoring.
If it’s a situation where it’s more CFO, which means it’s clear, it’s fixed, there’s only one way to do it, and it’s higher risk, then you can boldly wear the manager hat. We even talk about that, to even use that in some ways under vernacular like, “Hey, in this situation, it’s a higher risk situation,” or ”In this situation our time frames are tight so I’ve got to make the call here. I’m going to put the manager hat on.”
But to be able to say okay, looking for, as an example, those project-based opportunities to be able to instill more mentoring, that CEO where you really want to inspire some creativity, some engagement, some ownership, and it’s a little lower risk, then that’s definitely the time to ask more questions, to bestow more employee autonomy and let them run with it. And maybe even table your own righting reflex. Catch yourself before you just give them the answer and let them run with it.
Drew: Is there a structure or a format or a meet with somebody X number of days or how often? What does that look like over the course of say a month or a couple of months? And how much time does it take? Because I know how agency owners are, in terms of, they’re some time-starved and I think it’s one of the reasons why they don’t spend as much time with their team as their team would like them to. So this sounds harder, and it sounds like it would take longer. It’s like taking the toddler shopping with you. You know it’s going to take three times as long because they walk so slow, right?
Mitch: Exactly, come on.
Mitch: Here is the thing that is true, and it’s one of those that none of us have an overabundance of time, especially in the real world. Yes, I know that there is some four-hour work week people here and that’s fantastic, God bless you.
Drew: I don’t know any agency owner that’s a four-hour week kind of person.
Mitch: Exactly right. I love the title of the book, “Don’t Always See It Happen In The Real World.” So one of the things that we talk about is that the mentoring approach does on the front end appear to take more time, there is no doubt. Because instead of just giving them the answer, you’re asking a question, as an example. They come to you and say, “What do you think I should do in this situation?” and you respond back and say, “Well what do you think? Tell me what you do. What do you think is the next step to be able to do that?”
Now, in a project-based mentoring situation, we highly encourage the two Ls of science: limit risk and learn fast. So on the front end, that actually means checking in a little bit more often. Now, those don’t have to be long, belabored sessions, making sure you’re sitting around a table and talking for hours and hours. I actually like those follow up sessions. Well, I should back up. So usually there’s an initial session where you sit with someone or talk with someone and say, “Hey, I’d really like to give you a little bit more autonomy, some more ownership over this particular part of the project,” or, “this particular client relationship. I want to give you some more autonomy. What that means is when you come to me I’m going to probably ask you more questions than give you answers because I really want you to learn, but more so, I want you to take ownership and really run with this.”
So there’s that initial session where you’re going to set that expectation. But then depending on the project, or depending on the client, whatever it is, to be able to say, “All right, let’s talk about when do we need to follow back up?” Now, I really believe on the front end, it’s a little bit more labor intensive and a little bit more time sensitive because you really do want to check in a little bit more often. But I actually suggest those follow up sessions. They can be weekly, but what I actually recommend is that those sessions are about 15 minutes. If they need to be longer, that’s fine, but 15 to 20 minutes where you’re actually standing, because sometimes when people sit down, it’s one of those things…
Drew: They settle in.
Mitch: They settle in and we start to talk about a lot of different things. But you really are setting that expectation that hey, this conversation is about the project, and really being able to kind of define what it is that we want to do. Now, that does sound a little bit more labor intensive, but one of the things that we’ve found is that when you take more of a mentoring approach and really go after it, and really in some ways discipline yourself to do that, there is a definite inverse relationship. So much so that we’ve had some leaders actually be surprised by this. So the inverse relationship is that yes, it does take a little bit more time on the front end to ask a question, to instill that ownership, to really draw out that employee autonomy, those best ideas, that full engagement. It does take a little bit more time on the front end. But what we see is over time it actually takes less and less time because what are you doing? You’re equipping that person to run with more, right?
Mitch: You’re equipping them to actually make decisions on their own instead of setting up that relationship of dependency. All of a sudden, they’re actually better equipped to make decisions. They’re not even having to think about it because they know not just the answer to one black and white question, now they know how to make those decisions and actually feel that they’ve got some employee autonomy to be able to make those decisions.
It’s funny, this inverse relationship happens and sometimes it’s subtle. So much so that a lot of times when we work with organizations we’ll work with them over a period of months. Recently we worked with this organization over a period of six months and we did some of the initial training, giving people some tools to run with this and then continue to follow up. In one of the last sessions I had a manager pull me aside and he said, “Hey, I really appreciate this,” he said, “but I might have a problem.” And I’m like, “Well, what’s the problem?” He goes, “Well, I really picked out a couple of people, high capacity people that I really wanted to challenge.” He said, “I think one of them was even thinking about a different job just because they weren’t really feeling challenged.” And he’s like, “We don’t always feel like they’ve got a place to be promoted to, but I want to try this thing. I’m giving them more ownership just to see how they run with it. It was a little bit more work on the front end but now we don’t meet as much. Is that a problem?” And I’m like, “Are they getting the job done?” He goes, “Yeah,” he’s like, “they’re on fire.” I said, “So where is the problem?” He goes, “I don’t know. I just got used to meeting with them but now they don’t need it as much.” I said, “That’s a bonus.” That’s one of the payoffs of taking this approach. It’s yes, a little bit more labor intensive on the front end, but actually there is a payoff for that inverse relationship on the back end.
Drew: I think agency owners are good at some parts of this naturally. So the giving somebody a bigger piece of the pie to manage or whatever, that unfortunately most agencies are so lean and mean that, that happens. In fact, I joke that most agency owners’ initiations or orientation programs, “Hi, we’re so glad you’re here. We’ve waited too long to hire you. Here is where the pencils are. By the way, you have a client meeting at 10.”
Drew: So I think they’re pretty good at giving somebody something to own, but I think in terms of helping them understand and being really purposeful in sharing, “Look, I’m giving you this to own and I’m here to coach you to learn how to do that,” that’s the part where I think agency owners are often fuzzy at. So let’s set up a scenario, just help us to understand some of the specifics. So I’ve got a relatively new account person on my staff. They might have assisted on some projects before but they’ve never really owned a client relationship. And so I’m ready to give them their first client relationship. Either we won a new piece of business or someone is moving on, or something, but there is an opportunity for them to step into a new role with a client. So what does that look like from a conversation point of view? What kind of questions do I ask them as we’re going into this?
Mitch: I love it. That’s awesome. That’s a great example too because that’s one of those that probably is a bridge between the CEO and the CFO as far as those two scenarios, because it’s one of those things that’s important. You’re really wanting to inspire that creativity, that engagement, that ownership. But it probably is, especially let’s just say, it’s a new client. Let’s just say that’s probably closer to that higher risk scenario because you really want to wow this new client, you want to make them a raving fan, you want to establish those things.
So with that kind of scenario, I think it’s a great scenario, we would actually even suggest something like what we call war gaming from a mentoring approach. So let’s just say you’re getting ready for their initial meeting, that meeting where they’re going to step in as the account manager or they’re going to take more of a visible role. One of the things that we love to do – and war gaming is truly one of those things that allows you to limit risk and help them to learn fast. At the same time, it’s one of those things that really does help to prepare them for specific scenarios, specific situations, and it’s something that allows you as the leader with all that experience to utilize some of that experience. At the same time still inspire some ownership.
Mitch: Let’s just say, “Hey, we’re going to get ready for this initial meeting. I can tell you a little bit about the scenario. But what do you think? What do you think should be some of the first things we talk with this client about?” Now, you know in your mind the very first questions that should be asked, but to be able to ask this person, “Hey, what do you think are some of the things that we should be getting into? What do you think that we should talk about? What would success look like at the end of this meeting?” Now, what I love about this too is you can throw in some kind of war gaming, some scenario planning, because you’ve sat in on countless client meetings, right?
Mitch: You know some of the great things that can happen. You know some of the horrible things that can happen. You can even throw out, “One time we were at a meeting and something in the hallway caught on fire. What would you do?” Something crazy like that, which I’ve actually had.
Drew: Of course.
Mitch: What that does is that gets that person thinking a little bit. And so even though they haven’t had the experience yet or maybe they’ve only have a few of those experiences yet, you’re still instilling ownership. You’re still drawing out their creativity. You’re increasing their engagement. But you’re doing that by asking them questions in preparation for that. That’s been huge from that standpoint of being able to help people get prepared, still have ownership, but also limiting risk. Because if you hear something as they respond that you’re like, “Oh, my Gosh. Okay.” You can even throw, “Listen, I love the creativity you’re going for, but I definitely saw this happen in a situation and this is something you might want to watch out for.” It’s still that whole being able to have a conversation. Now, here is where you also though need to decide where you’re going to draw the line for you, where your risk tolerance is. Because this is part of the offensive aspect of mentoring.
Mitch: In that it does take some humility and in some ways it does take a little bit of risk tolerance. I’ll give you an example from our own world. I’ve got a millennial as an example, a person that’s a year out of school that works for us. Very creative, very excited, very willing to share her thoughts and ideas. And recently she brought me an idea, we’re working with a client. She brought me an idea, and it was one of those things where I have to admit there was a part of me, a switch that flipped, and the thing that happened in my brain was, “I have been doing this for 12 years.” I have to admit, there was even a part of me that’s like, “Who do you think you are?” Right?
Drew: Right, right.
Mitch: Bringing this idea like, I know what works. I know what doesn’t work. That will so not work. But I also assessed the situation and thought you know what, this is a relatively low risk scenario. In some ways, the client that we were interacting with, I thought we may or may not win, I’m not sure. But I thought, why not let her try it? It reminded me back when I used to work at a bike shop in the little town that I grew up in, in Iowa. The bike shop manager, as I was learning how to sell bikes, would say, “Hey, you’ve got to burn a couple of customers in order to get good.” And that went off in my head. So I thought, let’s let her run with this. It’ll be good for her. It’s probably going to go down in fiery flames but it will be good for her to have to deal with that, right? Well, lo and behold, the thing worked. I’m offensive. I thought there is no way in God’s green earth that’s going to work, and boom, it worked. She came back, and I thought Gosh, how great is that?
So sometimes we become blinded to certain things based on our success, especially in this changing world. So as leaders we have to decide what’s our risk tolerance, and sometimes letting people run with it. Because with an evolving culture, an evolving technology, all those things, sometimes the new idea, even though it goes against what we understand, might be the right idea.
So even with doing some of that scenario planning, some of that war gaming on the front end of something like that, can help you to sort through, talk through some of those things that they’re going to do, the actions they are going to take, the questions they’re going to ask, how they’re going to engage with the client, as an example. But it also helps you to filter that, limit risk a little bit, and help them stay in that ownership position.
Drew: Okay, so after the initial meeting, the initial meeting went fine, you did some war gaming. What does that effective mentoring look like now as they step into that relationship with the clients?
Mitch: So, after let’s say that first meeting went well, you feel good about it, one of my suggestions would be to follow up. Because one of the things as a leader is you want to think about what are the behaviors that I want to see more of? My guess is you have that initial client meeting. One of the behaviors that you’re going to want to see more of is what did they take away from that meeting? What are their next steps? Now, there is going to be a part of you that’s going to say, “I know exactly what the next steps are. I’m going to tell them what the next steps are.” It’s like, “Wait, what do I want to see more of? I want to see more ownership.” So do a meeting. And again, these meetings don’t have to be hours long. They can be brief. Go in with the expectation, “Tomorrow morning when we both get back into the office, what I’d love to do is, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think next steps are. Let’s do a 15 minute, 20 minute meeting to talk about next steps.”
And then you go in and say, “All right, great meeting.” Maybe even give some feedback, celebrate what they did well because again, you want to celebrate what you want to see repeated. But then say, “Okay, what do you think the next steps are? What does success look like to you in a week with this client? When we talk again in three days,” or in six days or whatever it is, in a week, “what does success look like for you?” Help them sort through that, but really help them to own that and be able to say, “Okay, that’s great.” Celebrate the things that you heard and what you agree with but also say, “Hey, you might want to also think about this.” Or be very clear and say, “I love that. You rocked it, but also make sure that you’re taking a look at this,” that kind of thing. So it’s that follow up to be able to say, “All right, what did you hear and what are your next steps?”
Now here’s the thing, there is a real temptation to jump in and take the reins. That’s the righting reflex coming up in us to be able to do that, especially in these situations where you really want to instill that ownership to be able to say, “All right, what do you think? What does success look like in a week? What are your next steps? How do you want to do that?” And then also one of the last questions I’d love to ask is to be able to say, “How can I help you? Where do you want me to plug in?” Because what that does is that also invites you into the process. Now, if they say some equivalent, a format of, “Well, you do the work,” right?
Drew: Right, right.
Mitch: Because they won’t say it exactly like that but you might hear something like, “Well, could you call them? Or could you do this?” It’s like, “Well no, but I can certainly walk alongside you as you do it.” But they also might say, “I’d love to get your thoughts on this,” or, “I’d love to get your input before I go back to them,” or “I’m going to write this up but would you mind taking a look at it before I send it?” Fantastic. That’s great.
Mitch: There is even a strategy called the righting ruler. It’s actually from the motivational inquiry school of thought, but I really like…
Drew: Of course it is.
Mitch: Of course, right? Exactly. Again, you don’t have to get a PhD in this. You just need to listen to Drew McLellan’s podcast.
Drew: There you go.
Mitch: So the righting ruler is something that I like, especially as you’re getting someone ready for that next step. So let’s say you had that first meeting, now they’re preparing for a second meeting. Maybe now they’re preparing to go back to the client with the next step in their proposal, or basically to follow up on the project. One of the things with the righting ruler is it gives you a quantifiable way in some ways to at least verbalize how ready they feel for the meeting. So the righting ruler is a strategy where you’d say, “Okay, we’re getting ready for this next follow up meeting with the client. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being ready to roll, could punch through cement walls, 1 being not ready at all, where do you think you are?” And what it does is it allows them to put a number to it. Now, it’s one of those that it’s still somewhat abstract, but it’s really interesting. A lot of times people might come in at an eight or a seven. Say, “Okay, great.” Then the first part of that is to celebrate, “Okay, you’re a seven that’s great. Why are you a seven and not a five?” And help them to assess where they are confident. And that’s good, help them say, “Well, I really feel like I dug in, I really feel like I know their industry or I feel like I’ve got a real sense what they want but I’m maybe feeling a little dicey over here. I’m not feeling as strong over here. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to present this,” or, “how I might say this.” Or “I’m worried how this person is going to say that.” Okay, well good.
And then the other aspect of that is to say, “Okay, you are saying you’re a seven. What would it take to get you to an eight? What’s one thing you might need to do or one thing we might need to prepare for to get you to an eight?” What that does is again, it helps people to verbalize and assess where they’re at. It makes it okay for them to not be a 10, but it also helps them to identify those areas where maybe if they hadn’t had this conversation, they’d just go in less secure or less confident. But this is one of those things that really allows a conversation to happen where people actually can put a finger on what’s that thing they still need to do to increase their confidence. It really allows again, for that engagement of that ownership so people can feel like, “Oh yeah.” It allows them to verbalize it.
Drew: So I’m hearing a couple of themes running through this, and I want to check in with you to make sure that I’m hearing it right. One of them is helping them be very purposeful in terms of starting with the end in mind. So what are we trying to do here as you’re preparing or as you’re working on whatever the next step is, really reminding them to know why they’re doing what they’re doing?
Mitch: Yeah, exactly.
Drew: The second really is really helping them be thoughtful about the process so that they’re not just busy but that they are really thinking about what they are doing in terms of how do I get to that end goal, whatever it is. So a lot of it is about just being more mindful?
Mitch: Absolutely, absolutely. And to be able to yeah, being mindful and being aware because it’s one of those things where it’s interesting – one aspect of that is to have that clarity. I love to ask the question hey, what does success look like? What does success look like? What does success look like in a week? What does success look like in a month? I don’t know if I told you but our youngest son started to do competitive archery in elementary school. It’s kind of funny. His first experience was when he went out. Never really tried it, anything like that. They went and I think probably in this great effort to protect the kid’s identity and to make sure that nobody felt bad, the first night, they didn’t even set up targets. They basically just had this big curtain across the gym, they gave the kids the bows and the arrows and they just started shooting these arrows way out into this curtain, right?
Mitch: Right. All to protect their little…
Drew: What if I don’t get a bull’s eye?
Mitch: Exactly right, right, right, right. And he came home frustrated. I think they were again trying to protect them so they didn’t feel bad about themselves but he came home frustrated. And I was like, “What’s up buddy?” and he started to talk through. He’s like, “I didn’t have a target so I didn’t know if I was getting better.”
Drew: Right, right.
Mitch: And the question of what the…
Drew: Because I’m hitting this sheet every time.
Mitch: Right, exactly right.
Mitch: One time I was up high, one time I was down low. I didn’t know how to measure that. I didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know if I was getting better. That’s why I love to ask the question what does success look like? Because if somebody can verbalize what success looks like, then they have an exponentially higher chance of hitting it. One of the other things is, I think in corporate America, or in corporate communication anywhere on the globe, one of the greatest misconceptions that happens is actual communication happened.
Mitch: You know what I mean? You feel like I have so relayed what the target is here. But unless you hear them verbalize that back to you, you don’t know in fact if you’re actually shooting at the same target. So that’s why I love to have people be able to identify what success looks like. Sometimes from a global perspective, what does success look like when we’re talking about a client relationship? If they can verbalize that, then there’s much greater chance. But to be able to say, “Hey, what does success looks like on the back end of this meeting? This particular pitch or this particular interaction, what does success look like? What are three things that we want to walk away with? What are three things we want that client to experience?” Whatever it is. If they can verbalize it, then you know you’re actually shooting at the same target.
Mitch: But so often we don’t know. That’s so important, especially when it comes to taking more of a mentoring approach, is just making sure that you are both working towards that common, that shared target.
Drew: I think just helping them understand the importance of that question, training them to always ask it as…oftentimes in agencies, everyone is moving so fast, and your to-do list is so long that success looks like crossing another thing off the list, as opposed to why was that thing on the list to begin with. It’s all in alignment for a real success.
Drew: Yeah, yay. So agency owners are so time-starved that I know a lot of them don’t either know how to do this or they don’t make the time to do this. Other than time, what are some other reasons why a manager or a business owner wouldn’t do this?
Mitch: I think time is one of the biggest things.
Mitch: I think one of the other challenges is, like we talked about that righting reflex where it’s like well, I know the answer so why don’t I just give them the answer because that is going to be faster?
I think it’s also one of those things where sometimes it does take some humility, but at the same time I know sometimes – well, I would say probably one of the biggest pitfalls – and we already spoke to it a little bit, but one of the biggest pitfalls is that most of us didn’t experience this.
Mitch: Most of us experienced coming…it’s a little bit like, I don’t know what your – my grandparents were great but they were definitely old school. So when we came to dinner at the table, we got to sit at the big table, but we only got to speak if grandpa said something to us.
Mitch: Especially at the table. We could walk around the farm and talk all we wanted, but if we were at the table, you only got to speak if grandpa or grandma asked you a question. That’s just how they went.
Mitch: Now, we all know that that’s a lot of what most of us experienced when we first entered the workplace. We didn’t speak unless we were spoken to. We went after assignments that we were given. That’s definitely not how millennials, as an example, have been brought up. They come into the workplace because of education system, because of the way they’ve been treated, all systems we created, at least participated in. It’s one of those things. They come in fully ready to be able to share their ideas, maybe even have their ideas be respected, all of those things. And that’s not something we experienced. So it’s not always a bad thing but because it’s different than what we experienced, it often feels wrong. And sometimes really wrong.
Mitch: So it’s that whole thing of sometimes offering something that we didn’t get causes some inner tension. But one of the things that we do see also again, it’s more of the long term play perspective, but it’s vital, and we’ve all seen it. One of the things that we’ve seen is that if a person, especially highly creative, highly engaged people, they want to be able to spread their wings. They want to be able to bring their best, all of those things. And they will continue to search for the organization that will allow them to do that.
Mitch: So although it feels like it takes more time on the front end, one of the other rewards of doing this is loyalty. One of the things that we’ve seen with organizations that have done, well one of the things that we’ve seen, especially with the millennial workforce as an example, is they don’t tend to be loyal to an organization. They tend to be loyal to a leader. One of the ways that leader earned that loyalty is giving them that autonomy and allowing them to fully engage in all of those things with some guidance. Again, it’s that whole thing of being able to spread your wings with some boundaries. All of those things. But we see people stick around in organizations where they feel valued, in organizations where they’re being held as capable, in organizations where they’re able to bring their ideas to the table. And it does take more work, it does take more time especially on the front end. What we’ve seen with organizations is that yeah, it might take a little bit more time, but how much time does it take when someone leaves because they haven’t been given that employee autonomy? They haven’t been given that chance to really bring their best.
Drew: One of the nuances that a lot of agency owners are facing is not only do they have millennials in the shop, so they have everything you just described, but oftentimes these millennials, especially on the programmer side or the development side or some other technology sides, know stuff which you alluded to earlier in the conversation. Know stuff that I as an agency owner don’t know. So now I’m mentoring someone who actually has skill sets and knowledge that I don’t get. So how do you mentor someone in a role like that? Let’s just say I’ve got a programmer who is doing back end web development. I understand why they’re doing what they do, but I don’t understand how they do it. How do I mentor someone like that?
Mitch: Well, it’s interesting. I think in some ways transparency and authenticity are huge when it comes to mentoring. Obviously having a relationship where there is mutual trust, mutual respect, really enhances communication but also a mentoring approach. The beautiful thing about this, especially with what we talked about with the mentor 2.0 model, is that in some ways that all – well, in the mentor 1.0 model, that very thing, the scenario you just painted, the older person, the more experienced person would almost need to hide the fact that they didn’t know what the younger person knew. They would need to hide that. That would be a weakness, right?
Mitch: That would be something that would show them as fallible, or that would show them as not capable to be that mentor. In the mentor 2.0 model, in some ways we celebrate it. To be able to say, “Hey, listen, I want to say that I have no clue how you do what you do. I want to show you how I respect that. Let me share a little bit of what we need to achieve and why we need to achieve it but I really need you to show me how we’re going to do that. So let me show you what needs to be done and why. But you tell me how, how we’re going to do it. I’d love for you to walk me through the how.” Out yourself and honor their knowledge. At the same time, you don’t have to say, “I’m a dummy. I don’t know what I’m doing.” You get to play your role, they get to play their role, but especially getting them talking about how they’re going to do it, and be able to say, “You can treat me like a second grader on this aspect, but what I’d love for you to do is try to explain it so that I can understand it.” And here is the thing that happens. As they explain that to you, they also start working through it. They might even say, “Well, tell me more, I’m not even sure how we’ll do it yet.” So like, “Okay well, how might we do it? How could we do it?” All those things. Actually Intuit has a great motto when it comes to mentoring. It’s teach, learn, teach. Excuse me, learn, teach, learn. What it is, is they talk about that you learn then you teach, and as you teach you learn all over again.
Drew: Yeah, it makes sense. Right.
Mitch: So it’s one of those things where you move people towards teaching. And that’s what you want to do in that mentor 2.0 model. In some ways, you really give them permission. You give both the mentor and the person receiving the mentoring that permission to learn from each other. And so it creates a safe place and really it creates some respect. Because here is the thing, we all know it. If we don’t know something and we are tempted to cover that up, then we almost have to create a persona. That persona is that image you try to create to be something you’re not.
Mitch: We all know people that are trying to maintain that persona. It’s exhausting to maintain that persona. And usually the only person that is convinced that persona is working is the person trying to maintain the persona, right?
Mitch: Everybody else knows that’s not happening. The beautiful thing about…
Drew: It’s like toupees, I think.
Mitch: Yeah, it looks right in the light, if you wear a hat. That’s the whole thing. And that’s one of the things we hear from people, is this mentor 2.0 model is freeing. That you as the mentor don’t necessarily bring all of the answers. What you do is you bring questions, you bring experience, you bring that place to be able to vet ideas, all of those things. At the same time, you’re inspiring that autonomy and creativity, that engagement. It doesn’t have to be done perfectly, but if it’s done well it really creates in some ways a sense of mutual respect as well.
Drew: Well, I know from the millennials that I talk to, that’s exactly what they’re looking for in a leader, is somebody who teaches them but also recognizes their capabilities right off the bat, as opposed to treating them like a beginner. Because in some ways, they walk in with more knowledge or more skills than the owner does on the programming side, especially in some cases.
Mitch: Yeah. It’s crazy. It’s amazing. I was at an airport recently and they let us know that the plane was delayed. These parents had a little baby, and obviously they were scrambling to keep the baby busy. The mom handed the baby a magazine, and the baby went to the magazine and started to run her little finger.
Drew: Yeah, because she is used to…
Mitch: Like it was an iPad. I mean, the baby probably could navigate an iPad better than I can. So it’s one of those things, especially in the way that things are moving so quickly. It’s just the way it is. So to be able to call that out, to celebrate that. But also it’s the whole thing of, as we do that though, we can be introduced to new ideas. One of the things that I found is that if we respect those folks who are bringing their new ideas and give them a chance to also share some of those new ideas, it also creates a playing field where you can say, “Hey, I love that idea but in this case we need to go this direction.” To be able to verbalize that, to be able to talk through that so that there is some give and take. It doesn’t always have to go their way, it doesn’t always have to go your way but it is helping to draw out that best work and some mutual respect.
Drew: Yeah. So I suspect that a lot of the agency owners listening to us are thinking, “This is all awesome. Where is the list of questions that I should ask? I need the blueprint of how to do this.” If somebody wants to do more of this, is there a resource you can point them to that would give them, here are 20 questions to ask, or here are 20 different scenarios and how you might play it out from a mentoring role? Because I think a lot of agency owners would want to do this, but again, as I said right off the bat, they’re still looking for the recipe.
Mitch: Absolutely, absolutely. So they can go to mitchmatthews.com. That’s two Ts. And then just go to the website and just, actually I’ve got a post called Mentor Manager Cheat Sheet. So they can just search the website and find the post Mentor Manager Cheat Sheet. It’s got some quick questions to be able to ask, especially in that project-based scenario.
Mitch: But also we have some other scenarios too that can get you some questions and give you some different strategies to be able to apply that. So you’ve got that cheat sheet that you can pull out and lean on to be able to do that.
Drew: Okay, great. We’ll find that and stick it in the show notes so people can have it. Okay, as you know this is a topic that I love talking about. So we could talk about it forever but I want to wrap up. What I try and do with the podcast is make sure that we are handing folks things that they can do right now. They’re excited about it. They’re feeling pumped up about it, and they want to go do something to put this into play. So give the listeners two or three things that they can do immediately, in the next day or so, or in the next hour or so, depending on where they’re at, that they can begin to put this into the DNA of their agency and how they work with their team.
Mitch: Absolutely. One of the steps you can do is even as you’re listening to this, maybe you even started to think of an individual where you do want to start giving some more employee autonomy, some more ownership for. Watch for that person that you say, “You know what, I’m going to do some more project-specific mentoring with this individual.” Because one of the things, like we talked about, one of the biggest risks about mentoring is people get excited about it and then they try to apply it everywhere. It’s a little bit like you got a new hammer and so you want to use it everywhere, but not everything is a nail.
So it’s to be able to say all right, well, who is that person that I want to just try to experiment this with a little bit more? Identify one or two people and even think about, “Let’s isolate that down,” and say, “I’m not going to do this across the board.” But maybe there is a specific project or a specific aspect of some client work that you can really say hey, in this area. Maybe it’s a shorter timeframe, not something that’s for years and years. But to be able to say all right, something specific, and even reach out to this person and say, “Hey, I’d like to take a little bit more of a mentoring approach with you on this. And the reasons why is I really want you to really fly. I really want you to be able to spread your wings, bring your best work, really take this and own it.” So be able to communicate that.
Then as you start to do that, be able to say all right, isolate maybe a specific area and start to ask some of those questions of, “Hey, what does success look like?” Maybe it’s narrowing the focus, “What does success looks like on this project in a week? Let’s follow up on that. I’d really like to talk with you about that.” Or, “What does success look like for this next meeting?” And being able to really help them verbalize so that they can be clear on what target they’re shooting at. Then maybe be able to check and say, “Hey, how can I walk alongside you with that? Is there anything I can do to help but also to be able to celebrate along the way those accomplishments?” You might even try out that righting ruler strategy a little bit, to be able say, “Hey, on a scale of 1 to 10 as you’re getting ready, where would you say you are?” If they come in at a six don’t say, “Oh, you’re an eight, come on.” It’s more so to be able say, “If you’re six that’s great. Why aren’t you a five?” Help them to first figure out where they’re confident and why they’re confident because even if they come in at a six, that means they’re confident about something.
Mitch: Then say, “All right, what would it take? What are one or two things that you could do to help you get to a six or a seven?” Just take one or two steps up that scale. What all of those things are doing is it helps them to verbalize and get clear on what the target is, because if you help someone get clear and verbalize what their target is, the chances of them hitting it and actually feeling great about hitting it go up exponentially.
Drew: Yeah. Awesome, awesome. Okay, any last words or advice or counsel or story that you want to share with the listeners?
Mitch: That’s a great question. It’s interesting, as I thought about this approach and all of the stories, I think one of the things that I’d actually turned back around is actually point to you, Drew, as an example of doing this. Because one of the things that I see, I’ve seen you get to do this with your team, you’ve got a busy agency. You guys are doing great work. But one of the things that I’ve seen you do over the years is you really do hold your people as capable. I could see that happen. Now I can brag on you, and you’re probably like, “Shut up.” But it’s one of those things that I’ve seen you do this where in some cases what that means is verbalizing. You’re holding somebody as capable and maybe you give them a project. I’ve even seen some of your people think, “Oh my Gosh, this project is bigger than I am. I’m not ready for this.” But you didn’t abandon them. You stayed close. That didn’t mean hovering, but you were accessible. That they could check in with you, follow up with you, and you would check in with him. But what I see now is I see a team of people that you’ve created around you that would take a bullet for you. You know what I mean?
Drew: I know, I’m so blessed. Yeah, you’re right.
Mitch: You are, but it’s also one of those things where now your business is so busy and full and you’re traveling all the time. The fruit of that that I see now though is that you’ve got a team that runs like a ship without you there.
Drew: Yeah, absolutely.
Mitch: So yes, it did take more work, and I know you’ve had seasons where it’s a lot of quality time with your team. But now you’ve got this team that it’s almost like, “Oh hey, Drew is in the office?” Because they are now functioning well without you. Now do they function great when you’re in the room? Absolutely. Do they still want your input? Absolutely. But you’ve got a team of people that you’ve developed over time that now can run without you being fully engaged, loving what they do, taking care of your clients when you’re there and when you’re not. But you created that by taking this approach over the last few years. You know what I mean?
Mitch: So in some ways I think the best story is your story because yes, you’re still busy, but it’s a different kind of busy, and you still got an agency that’s rock solid. And it’s because you took this time, took this approach over the years and now it’s running like a clock when you’re in the office and when you’re not. I think that you’re the example of what it takes to do this but also you’re the example of the fruit of taking this approach.
Drew: Thank you for that. Thank you. And you’re right, it’s completely changed what our agency is capable of doing. And I could have never done it if I had to help them as much as I did in the beginning or if I had to do as much of the work as I was doing in the beginning. By being a decent mentor, I have allowed myself to get out of some of the work that other people are better at than I am, yeah.
Mitch: Can I throw one more thing in actually, as I think about your story?
Drew: You bet.
Mitch: One last thing that I think about is what this also does, and I’m not sure, this maybe opens up a whole other can of worms, but I hope in some ways this last little bit of wisdom is also freeing. Is your story is an example of this. That this approach also allowed you to figure out who were the right people to have on your bus.
Mitch: Because you knew you were probably moving towards this model of being in the agency less and less physically, and so you started to take more and more of that mentoring approach. You really did give people more autonomy. You were checking in but you were letting people run with it, all of those things. In a number of cases that meant you had great people that really thrived with that approach.
Mitch: But you also had a couple of cases where people didn’t, and they bumped up against that. In some ways that also meant you had to ask a couple of people to get off the bus. I think that’s also freeing from the standpoint that a good mentoring approach can also be a good filtering process as well. Not everybody needs to stay on the bus. And so I throw that out there sometimes too, to be able to say, “Hey, some people are absolutely going to thrive with that mentoring approach. Some people won’t.” Sometimes that means that maybe you need to get them in a different position but sometimes that means you need to get them off the bus.
Mitch: So, I throw that out again, and in some ways relaying to your example, but I think it’s also something that can be freeing to everybody. That you don’t have to save everybody. This can also help you to really figure out who are the right people, what are the right positions? And let’s rock with this.
Drew: Yeah. I think that’s scary, but as you say, it’s also freeing it. It really does separate the good agencies from the great agencies, are when everybody on the bus is a rock star as opposed to pretty good.
Mitch: Yeah, exactly right.
Mitch: This is one additional thing where you can really intentionally in some ways filter some people out if they don’t respond to that employee autonomy and that ownership. Maybe they’re just in the wrong position or maybe they’re the wrong people. And so to give you that freedom to be able to recognize that and be able to say, “All right, I’m really going to watch for those people who do respond to this kind of approach.”
Drew: Yeah, awesome. I knew this was going to be awesome. I knew we were going to give people a lot of things to think about and a lot of great new tools. And as always, you exceeded my expectations. So thank you so much for your time and for sharing so freely the gifts that you have. As I said in the beginning of the podcast, I am blessed that I get mentored by you all the time in our mastermind groups. And so I knew that you would really bring it today. So thank you so much.
Mitch: Absolutely buddy, it’s an honor.
Drew: It was awesome, thank you. I will talk to you soon. Okay everybody, go and put this into play. I want to hear your stories. I want to hear how you are successfully mentoring your folks. I promise you, this could be a game changer for your agency. Take what Mitch has taught you. Go to the show notes. He’s got a lot of great resources on his website, so check that out. We will catch you soon in another episode. Thanks for listening.
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