Monday, June 20, 2016

Lead, Follow, AND Get Out of the Way!

What Do Good Mentors Do?

My friend Dr. James is a top rated medical professional in his field. Yet he was so scared on his first day that he quit! Then his physician brother flew in and mentored him a little longer.

Really? Yes, it’s a true story. Dr. James was asked to lead when he still needed to follow. He was thrust into making life and death decisions when he didn’t have the confidence or the experience. In his words, “I panicked.” James eventually learned that doctors (and other leaders) usually don’t have all of the information they believe they need… but being paralyzed by fear of mistakes is not an option.

Most jobs don’t involve life and death decisions—but the mentoring principles are the same. CLICK TO TWEET

Welcome to the leadership crucible. Leaders are called upon to do their best and make hard decisions, even with little (or conflicting) information. How do you and I mentor others so they will gain those skills? I use a system that I call Lead, Follow, AND Get Out of the Way.

Lead. The biggest mistake younger leaders make is telling people what to do, but not telling them why we do it that way. In Simon Sinek’s words, “Start with Why”! In the manufacturing industry, it might sound like this: “At our organization, we truly do have a ‘safety first’ policy, so we always . . . .” In customer service it might be: “You must truly care about the customer’s needs or you can’t work here. So before we ever call the customer we review . . . .” Everyone should hear the why. If you don’t know the WHY, click on the link above and figure it out. When you lead, you always TELL them why before you SHOW them howUltimately, you lead by example, or you’re not really leading at all.

When you lead, you always TELL them why before you SHOW them how. CLICK TO TWEET

Follow.  Now it’s their turn to lead and our turn to follow their progress. Begin this phase by saying, “After I show you one more time, it is going to be your turn.” Just for fun, I like to throw in a pop quiz: “OK, before you start, tell me one more time WHY do we do it this way?”

It’s GO time! “OK, you’re ready for this, and I’m going to be right here with you.” Talk them through it but choose your words carefully:


Encourage their heart “You’re going to be great at this.”

Comment on progress “You’re getting better; let’s try again.”

Ask them if they are ready “Are you ready to go it alone?”


Criticize areas that aren’t perfect “I told you not to do it that way.”

Stop Commenting “I’m not saying anything; I’ll just watch”

Bail on them too early “You’ll figure it out; I’ll check back later.”

AND get out of the way.

Be a jet, not a helicopter. Helicopters continuously “hover.” Don’t stay too close and do their work for them. Instead, “jet” out of there!

And let them “own” their new position. I learned this from watching my former colleague Tony Dunaway. During orientation for new hires, Tony would tell new employees, “You’ll be great at this job. I’m going to need you to bring fresh perspectives with better ideas.” He would go on to say, “I really believe you’ll be able to improve our workplace; I look forward to learning from you.” Tony taught me to get out of the way and to let others “own” their journey towards greatness.

Dr. James went from being a quitter to being recognized as a top doctor in his state. He has a heart to mentor new doctors who possess high empathy and maintain high expectations. Thankfully, most professions don’t involve life or death decisions—but the mentoring principles are the same!

Bottom Line: Far too many careers have died early, an unnecessary death caused by little or bad mentoring. LeaderTribers, remember that you lead, then you follow, and then you get out of the way.

What mentoring principles have been most helpful for you? Help all of us by leaving a comment below.

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