Struggle To Get Things Done While Helping People Grow? - Learn How to Mentor and Coach


People don’t develop skills by taking a class or reading a book. It’s your job as their leader to actively help them develop through feedback, challenging assignments, suggestions, and reflection. If you don’t invest your time and energy into developing the people on your team, they will stop learning, stagnate, and become disengaged, and their performance will eventually decline.

Mentoring and coaching means actively developing others through feedback, challenging assignments, reflection, and suggestions. In our extensive research and testing of nearly 800 executives for my bestselling book THE LEADER HABIT, my team and I discovered the micro-behaviors that effective leaders do when they mentor and coach. They:

  1. Provide timely, behavior-focused feedback that addresses actions as opposed to characteristics (e.g., “you haven’t been completing reports on time” vs. “you are lazy with your reports”).

  2. Support people’s development with specific, useful suggestions for how to improve (e.g., brainstorm alternatives to a problem behavior).

  3. Collaborate with people on drafting their development plans rather than dictating what they need to improve and how they need to do it.

  4. Facilitate reflection to help people cognitively process their experiences and enhance their learning.

Once you understand that these behaviors are the key to mentoring and coaching, you will need to internalize them for yourself, turning them into habits. Based on our finding that it takes 66 days to turn a behavior into a habit, we have created four simple exercises that will help you improve your ability to mentor and coach. They are:

Exercise #1: Provide immediate feedback.

Timely, behavior-focused feedback is the best way to help people understand what they are doing well and where they need to improve. Get in the habit of providing feedback immediately using this exercise: After noticing a mistake in someone’s work or an incorrect behavior, highlight it right away by saying, “When [situation], you did [action], which resulted in [outcome].” For example, “When you filled out your timesheet, you missed the second page, which will delay our ability to pay you on time.”

Exercise #2: Offer specific developmental suggestions.

This micro-behavior involves brainstorming specific behaviors a person can try to improve a skill or correct a problem behavior, other than reading books or taking classes: After discussing an area of improvement with someone, turn the focus of the discussion to identifying a specific development suggestion by saying, “Why don’t we try an experiment—what is a new and different approach you could try?” For example, you could offer some exercises from this book as new development ideas.

Exercise #3: Collaborate on development. 

Effective coaching and mentoring is a collaboration, a dialogue between two equals who jointly work together to help one person grow. Use this exercise to make a habit of turning ordinary meetings into collaborative development dialogues and learning opportunities: After finishing with the initial small talk during a meeting, ask what the person wants to learn today by saying, “What is your learning goal for the day?” For example, someone may want to learn how to use a particular formula in Excel today.

Exercise #4: Facilitate reflection.

People learn by experimenting and then reflecting on their experience to discover what worked well and what needs changing. Use this exercise to practice helping others reflect on and learn from their experiences: After someone describes a recent experience, help them reflect on it by saying, “Why do you think it happened this way? What did you learn from it?"

At work, mentoring and coaching will help you to improve customer service, improve the performance and engagement of your team members, and build a culture of continuous improvement. Don’t allow yourself to become so focused on getting things done that you overlook the importance of helping your people grow, and don’t focus your coaching and mentoring efforts only on the lowest performers at the expense of everyone else. By using feedback, suggestions, and reflections to help all your employees develop their skills, you will prepare your entire team to be ready to tackle whatever challenges arise.

Ready to take the next step? Click the image below to download your complimentary 66-day skill worksheet.