Tag Archives: mentoring

Managers & Supervisors; Teachers, Coaches, & Mentors – thoughts on Developing Employees

What am I?  Just a teacher – a member of one of the great professions in the world.  
John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership

“For a lot of employees, Starbucks is their first professional experience… So we try to figure out how to give our employees the self-discipline they didn’t learn in high school.”
Quoted in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg


So, let’s state the problem simply.  Many employees are not equipped to do the actual jobs that they are hired to do.  Even if an employee has the “skills,” or at least the “knowledge” to do some jobs, they have to grow into these jobs in a lot of ways.  (Learning to make the right mixture and temperature of the coffee drink is a different skill than knowing how to successfully interact with a customer the “Starbucks way”).

In other words, developing employees is one of the critical needs of the era.

So, what do we do about it?

My colleague Karl Krayer, in his Team-Building workshops, talks about the two kinds of roles every team member fills.  The first kind is the “official/formal” role.  Captain; secretary; leader; foreman; “member” (every team member is always, officially a “member”).  But there are other roles, the “unofficial/informal” roles that are never officially assigned.  These are roles that people just seem to step into based partly on the power of their personality.  These are roles such as the team “cheerleader;” the team “mother;” the team “counselor.”  People have natural gifts, and tendencies , and they fill these roles just because that is who they are.  These roles are “good,” and helpful to every group.  Encourage folks to fill these roles.  (There are also some “bad” unofficial roles, such as “slacker;” “pain-in-the-rear.”  These are not good roles, and must be guarded against constantly).

Well, in the realm of employee development, I think there is this same official-unofficial (formal-informal) reality at work.  Some people have a job title that represents some form of “leadership.”  Here’s a representative list:

Team Leader
Shift Foreman
Exeucutive Team

But for an employee who needs to be developed (and, don’t we all?!), there is also a great need for someone(s) to fill another set of roles; “unofficial” roles, but roles that are critical.  Here’s one list of such roles:

Vice Principal (a disciplinarian role).

I think that in this under-managed, under-led era, there is also an under-coached, under-taught, under-mentored problem that must be addressed if we want to develop our employees.

Some of these roles can be filled (should be filled) by the people with the official titles.  But there is also a need for “everyone” to start letting their natural gifts help build others.

Stephen Bishop (playing David Justice), Moneyball

Consider:  in the movie Moneyball, there is a terrific scene when Billy Bean asks David Justice, now in the last days of his playing career, to step up and help the younger players know how to play this game.  He had no title for this role.  But Justice “got it,” and agreed to step up for this challenge.  “Coach; mentor; teacher.”  There is an element to each of these in the challenge that David Justice accepted.

So, here is what a good manager/supervisor needs to spend some time on.  Look carefully at each employee.  Does this particular employee need some teaching, or coaching, or some discipline, or some soft-skills development?  Once the need is clearly identified, then the pairing begins to put the right coach or mentor or teacher with the employee.

Because, when the hiring is done, the employee does not usually arrive fully developed.  With the right management, and the right teaching/coaching/mentoring, that employee just might rise to meet and exceed all of your high expectations.

Without such attention and help, we should not be surprised when employees cease to develop.

Two Ways We Fail to Build Effective Employees

“Forgive us our sins of omission and our sins of commission.”
…sins of commission:  the things we did and shouldn’t have.
…sins of omission:  the sins of not doing what we should have.


So, I was sitting in church on Sunday, and my mind kept making connections from my thoughts in church to my work in the business arena.  (Once you start blogging, it seems like you are always thinking about your next new blog post).

So, here is one of my mind connections.

Good employees seldom arrive at a job fully developed.  Good employees need to be grown; to be built.

It seems to me that there are two ways to fail to “build” an employee.  One way is the path of the sins of commission.  To overtly mistreat an employee.  To take advantage, to abuse, to discriminate, to belittle.  I still like Tom Peters’ tweet about a consultant’s counsel to a leadership team:

Consultant called in for exec retreat. Enters, goes to white board, writes “DON’T BELITTLE;” turns and walks out. (YES!!!)

There are things that a leader, and/or a company does to an employee that are harmful – harmful to that employee, and ultimately harmful to the leader and to the company.  These fall under those “bad boss, “the no asshole rule” practices.  (The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert Sutton).

But there is another kind of failure. This is the path of the sins of omission.   It happens when a company hires an employee, and fails to give that employee the training, the resources, the encouragement, the mentoring and coaching needed to do the job effectively.  And it is this “sin” that might be the one that slips by so easily.  Generally, a boss/manager knows when he or she is mistreating an employee.  (Not always – but generally).  But the lack of encouragement, the lack of training, the lack of coaching…  This is one of those “I should have, but I was too busy to think about it” failures.

You know the solution to such sins, don’t you?  In church terms, it requires some old fashioned repentance.  In other words, you change your behavior.

So, are you mistreating your employees?  Then it’s time to stop.

So, are you failing to give your employees the encouragement, the training, the coaching, the resources they need to do their best work?  It’s time to start.

After all, what’s the use of hiring employees and then setting them up to fail?  That’s just bad business.


Also, check out Bob Morris’ blog post The Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome: A book review by Bob Morris.  Her’s a key excerpt:

…supervisors are often unaware of the fact that they are “complicit in an employee’s lack of success. How? By creating and reinforcing a dynamic that essentially sets up perceived weaker performers to fail.” Hence the title of the book. 

Manzoni and Barsoux assert that the set-up-to-fail syndrome is “both self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing, which obscures the boss’s responsibility in the process as well as some of the key psychological and social mechanisms involved.” My own experience suggests an often great discrepancy exists between modes of behavior determined by conscious and unconscious mindsets. That is to say, many supervisors would vehemently deny that they are “complicit in an employee’s lack of success….[by] creating and reinforcing a dynamic that essentially sets up perceived weaker performers to fail.” Nonetheless they are. Were they to read this book, they would probably agree that there is such a syndrome and then lament how unfair it is to subordinates who are victimized by it.