Category Archives: Mentoring

Are your actions undermining what you have asked your team to do?

One of my coaching clients is a coach of a semi-professional sporting team in Melbourne, Australia.

We were having a conversation about the excuses that he is receiving from players regarding their inability to make it to training. He was planning to ‘have a go at them for their lame excuses‘ at their next training session.

He provided an example that one player had told him that he couldn’t attend training because he would be attending his niece’s birthday party.

My client was frustrated. He felt that such excuses were pretty lame. “I would never have missed training for my niece’s birthday party. How lame!”

Just as I asked him if it was possible that this player did in fact place his niece’s birthday party as a higher priority than training, at least for this one day in the year, my client’s phone rang. It was one of his assistant coaches so I encouraged him to take the call.

After a few minutes he came back.

“Gee. The excuse was true. His sister is extremely unwell and her daughter is without her mum on her birthday. He’s doing the right thing.”

I couldn’t have been more excited. The information that my client received was perfect for what I was about to ask him.
“What have you asked your players to do if they can’t make training?” I asked.

“Ring or text me” he replied.

“Is that what they are doing?”


“So they are doing what you have asked them to do?” I re-enforced.

“Yyyeeeesssss?” He said, his brow slightly furrowed.

The penny had not yet dropped.

“It seems to me that your players are doing exactly what you have asked. They are ringing you or texting you when they cannot attend training and providing their reasons. Yet your focus has shifted to the content of their reasons. You are focussing on whether or not you think their reasons are valid. As this example with the niece has shown, clearly you thought the excuse was lame, but when you found out the whole story you found out that it made sense.”

“What if,” I continued, “you stopped worrying about the content of the excuses you are being provided. Why not believe whatever they tell you, even if it doesn’t make sense to you. This example shows that the player involved was being honest with you. Ultimately, isn’t that what you want?”

“Yes it is” he replied.

He then said, “If I had used the niece’s birthday party as an example of the types of excuses for not training that I was getting, as I had planned to do, and I had ridiculed such an excuse I could have ruined my relationship with that player and shown the players that I didn’t really want them to be honest with me. Maybe I could use this example to show that I will believe whatever they tell me. Ultimately, if players want to lie to me, that’s about them, not me.”

He continued, “I was getting pressure from the other coaches to stop accepting all the ‘lame‘ excuses we believed we had been getting, but training attendances are actually far exceeding those of previous years. The collective data on the whole group is actually very good. I want the players to be honest with me and that is what they have been doing. I can see how easily I could have changed that behaviour and inadvertently encouraged them to tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I’m glad we’ve had this chat!”

If you have ever played sport, or acted in a play or played in a band and felt the ‘sweetness‘ of perfect timing, this is how I felt at this point in the conversation.

I see this a lot in my work. Leaders asking their people to do something, which they then do, but the leader loses focus on what they had asked their people to do and shift their focus onto something else, albeit closely related. But they effectively ‘move the goalposts’. This causes confusion and triggers the “Guessing Game”. Team members start guessing what the leader really wants. This is extremely destructive. Yet the leader, from my experience, has little awareness that they had in fact moved the goalposts.

One of the great challenges for leaders is to maintain behavioural alignment between what they say and what they do. Fortunately, in the above example my client was able to maintain his.

What are your examples of this challenge?

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
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Powerful questions for mentors

Mentoring is experiencing a resurgence as more and more people are recognising its benefits, from both mentor and protege perspectives.

Recently I facilitated a mentoring workshop for one of Australia’s largest universities. Part of the workshop included a Strategic Conversation. The purpose of which was to generate some resources for the 60 mentors present.

One of the most powerful resources for a mentor is to be able to access questions that can be used within a mentoring session. In this context, the Strategic Conversation that I hosted included the following question:

“As mentors or proteges, the most powerful and effective questions that we have asked or have been asked are…?”.

I have received permission to be able to share the output of the Strategic Conversation with you. Please click here to download the file.

I would like to be able to continually add to this list. In this context, please share the most powerful questions that you have been asked or have asked in the context of a mentoring relationship.

PS My first book What Really Matters For Young Professionals! is due for release on July 30th, 2010. In this context I have a pre-release Special Offer available. Over my journey a number of mentors provided me with books as gifts to assist me with my development. If you are a mentor then this may be the perfect gift for your proteges, especially if they are in the first ten years of their career. You might like to consider an even more powerful gift which is the Online Course that supports the book.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

“Reverse mentoring” reframes traditional views – or does it?

“Reverse mentoring” is meant to reframe traditional views of mentoring. According to Gill South’s article in the New Zealand Herald reverse mentoring is a process where senior leaders deliberately seek out young staff or aspiring female staff to access their views of the world.

While reading the article I found myself thinking, “This isn’t new, this is what mentoring already does.” As a facilitator of mentor training programs I’m yet to experience mentors (who are volunteers in the programs that I facilitate) who do not expect to learn a great deal from their mentee. In fact, most of the mentors with whom I have worked have explicitly stated that they want to be mentors to access a different perspective on their company.

To enable you to make up your own mind the full article can be viewed here.

While I might not agree with the term “Reverse mentoring” I do agree with the benefits of forming true mentoring relationships that Gill lists. From a senior staff perspective accessing views from people within the organisation that you might not have direct contact with provides a smart and strategic reason to become a mentor. Fortunately there is a resurgence in company mentoring programs and Gill’s article will contribute to that trend. If you are a senior staff member and not involved in a mentor program I encourage you to become involved now. The relationship you form will benefit both your mentee and yourself, possibly more than you realise.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at

Mentoring in the mould of the Master-Apprentice approach

As a trainer of mentors and facilitator of mentor-mentee relationships I like to keep my eye out for developments and thinking in the field. Over the weekend I had the pleasure to read a newspaper article from a retired professor named Jim Mroczkowski. In his article Jim explains a mentoring relationship that occured after a shift from one university to another. He describes the relationship as being more like a master-apprentice relationship than a modern mentoring relationship and attributes the success of his career to the foundations that he learned during his time as an ‘apprentice’. Jim’s article is titled Lessons Taught and Lessons Learned and is worth the three minutes that it will take to read the article.

The success of his experience got me thinking. How present are master-apprentice relationships these days? Might there not be some perfect opportunities for such relationships to develop today? Are any of our members currently participating in such relationships and if so, how do they work?

I would be delighted to hear your thoughts on these questions and to hear your experiences relating to master-apprentice relationships.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at