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 “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off” 

Jeffrey Pfeffer


In our culture transformation model, a key concept is ongoing monthly mentoring to develop staff at every level, no exceptions. Here’s questions from one new mentor as she was learning about our mentoring guidelines.


Client: I’m struggling with fully understanding why it is recommended that we do NOT allow a person to share their personal stories during a mentoring session. What if there’s a key part of their history, told in a story that would help us better understand so we can show them how to overcome something, but we shut down stories?


Me: Part of your reasoning is the idea that a mentor is supposed to understand and show them how to overcome their problems. Our mentoring has an opposite intention; it’s you asking them questions so they gain self-discovery; they recognize and act to manage their challenges. In your approach, you function as a counselor or advisor. We do NOT recommend this as it opposes our primary goal in our mentoring: transferring responsibility to the one being mentored. In asking questions as laid out in our templates, you facilitate the other person’s awareness and their application of how they will resolve their issues and accomplish their goals. Transfer of responsibility encourages the one mentored to master picking up responsibility and solving his or her own challenges. This is called task ownershipfull engagement and self-directedness. Only then do you provide support without undue influence, guidance and counsel.  You teach then to fish rather than feeding them fish!


Client: As a person who has a deep history in why I am who I am, I could see that shutting me and my stories down would hurt. How do we avoid this?


Me: You encourage people to share their stories, but NOT during mentoring sessions as we have designed them. On a psychological front, our mentoring represents the difference between a Freudian approach (talk therapy + analysis) vs. an Adlerian approach (personal power + purposeful intention). Both methods are helpful. Ours is focused on training people and helping them recognize their individual choices and how to apply the use of their power with intention and skill. When a person being mentored realizes the purposes and pitfalls of our mentoring, they won’t expect sessions that provide them with talk therapy, advice or counsel. Most importantly, when a person is in a mentoring session, telling their story frequently delays his or her ability to respond (response-ability). It prevents people from quickly seeing both where they are challenged and how to move into management of themselves, their relationships, their productivity, etc. without unnecessary delays and unconscious avoidance.


In our mentoring, using simple questions and specific structures helps a person recognize what they need to identify for resolution or improvement, including their life and work tasks; they learn how to self-assess and then manage their life and work challenges, goals and relationships. In our approach, self and social awareness; two of four emotional intelligence competencies, are brought to light with Socratic questions.


Client: Don’t people just need to vent sometimes?


Me: We acknowledge in our culture model that people DO need to vent and we have a healthy process for them to use for that too outside of mentoring. Most people however “vent” by gossiping or blaming others which are both toxic responses that keep them from resolving challenges because these encourages them in “feeling like a victim” or thinking they are “doing something constructive” when they have not committed to resolving anything. Management of one’s self and interpersonal relationships are the other two of four emotional intelligence competencies above.


Developing your people requires that you educate them and provide them with opportunities to apply multiple, specific emotional intelligence tools, then supporting them in using them confidently. Mentoring is just one way you help your staff develop into people who feel empowered, lovable, connected and contributing. Through mentoring this way, you develop not only amazing individuals in your business. but a mature and caring workforce.


Why People Hire Judy Ryan and LifeWork Systems

Business owners, community leaders, and educators hire Lifework Systems because they want the advantages of an extraordinary workplace and recognize a systems approach ensures consistency and sustainability in the transformation process. They know that conscientious employees grow your business and improve your reputation, giving you competitive advantages. We help organizations instill into every person a common language and toolset for how to participate in a responsibility-based Teal workplace. Visit our website at www.lifeworksystems.com, and click the link at the bottom to complete a culture assessment and schedule your first consult to review a report on your feedback, all at no cost.  You can also contact Judy Ryan at 314.239.4727 or at judy@lifeworksystems.com.

This article was published in St. Louis Small Business Monthly in Judy’s column on The Extraordinary Workplace, January 2021.