4 Skills Every Mentor Needs

I own the largest mentorship practice in the world for gym owners. There are over 900 gyms currently in the program, each with their own 1:1 mentor.

The mentors are trained, drilled, tested and taught nonstop. They’re quizzed on our material–but, more importantly, they’re taught how to mentor and coach someone. When I started mentoring others, I didn’t have any of these skills, and didn’t know how to get them. As I got better, I became obsessed with developing myself as a mentor, and sharing these lessons with my team. Even if you’re not a business coach, these will help you lead your clients, your team and anyone who seeks your guidance.

Here are four skills that every mentor needs to make their clients successful.

  1. State change. “I can’t fix my problems because…”
    When someone seeks your help, they’re usually not in a great mental place. They’ve likely been ruminating on the problem nonstop. They’re probably stuck: they can’t think of anything else, so they’re not making progress anywhere. And their business problem is probably affecting their personal relationships (or vice versa.) We call this “past-focused” or “story mode”.
    When someone’s in this state, no advice will help them. You have to get them out of their rut, or you’ll spend your time listening to them repeat their story. You’re not a therapist–your job is to move them forward. But first you have to stop them from moving backward.
    To do it, use “future-focused” exercises. Ask for bright spots. Ask them where they’d like to be a week from now. Find wins for them. Show them progress over time. Pick any one of these, interrupt their “storytelling”, and pivot to Diagnosis.
  2. Diagnosis. What’s the actual problem?
    Turn to their business metrics. How’s their revenue, profit and ARM? Is their LEG slipping?
    Become a scientist: examine their situation objectively. Instead of asking, “Why do you think this is happening?” which will lead to further rumination, take the lead. “Well, looking at your P&L from last month, it seems like your revenue has gone down but your staff costs stayed the same…why is that?”
    This is a bit of a high-wire act. You have to get from Point A (their problem) to Point B (the solution) while holding them above the story they want to tell themselves. For example, if their staffing is inefficient, they might say “Nobody listens to me!” or “Nobody has any common sense these days!” But the real issue might be that the staff are untrained, and the leader is micromanaging them.
    It’s also really important to say this: if you’re always fighting fires, you’re only playing defence. A good mentor gets a client out of rumination and back to working on their plan as quickly as possible. If short-term problems must be solved first, get to the root of the problem and solve it. But don’t let their short-term problems distract you from the overall goal.
  3. Prescription. What’s the plan?
    After diagnosing the real problem objectively, map out a plan.
    Start with their overall goal and work backward to their current spot.
    Break the plan down into the smallest steps.
    Make each step “8-year-old-easy”: give them the simplest possible action. You want them to feel like “this assignment is too easy for me!” and then ask for more, rather than “this is a big project, but I think I can handle it….”
    While talking to you, the client will feel more confident and energized than they will later, when they’re on their own. Make action simple for them.
    If you have to address an urgent matter, then slow down the overall plan, but don’t veer away from it.
    For example, if the CEO is micromanaging his staff, they might need to write a staff playbook. This will improve the delivery of the service or product. It’s a big project, but it can’t derail the CEO from growing the company. A good mentor will give them a template to start from, with a few blanks to fill in. They’ll break the process down into tiny steps: “Tomorrow, when you get out of your car, carry a notepad and record all of the little things you do while opening your bakery. That’s your Opening Checklist. Put it in your playbook. Then move on to our marketing plan for the next hour. When you’re closing tomorrow night, record all of the little things you do to close the bakery. That’s our closing checklist. Put that in your playbook.”
    This way, the CEO is fixing their problem while still working on growth. And because they’re making progress, they’ll feel like they have momentum instead of feeling stuck.
  4. Follow-up. Did you do it?
    Most of your clients don’t need more knowledge; they need to act on what they already know.
    Newer mentors will often say something like “Oh, one more thing…” or “Hey, while I have you…” at the end of a session. Then they’ll bomb the client with more work, a podcast to download or a new book to read. This is a mistake.
    Imagine the above example: the CEO is micromanaging the staff at the bakery. If they’re working on a staff playbook (one page every day), and working on their marketing plan (one hour every day), that’s more than enough. Many CEOs won’t be able to manage both without followup and deadlines. Adding another thing-“Hey, did you read that new book?!” will stop their progress.
    They’ll usually choose the easier thing–reading the book or listening to the podcast–over the harder thing–writing their playbook. When you meet them again, they’ll have read the book, but their business won’t be any better.
    Follow-up can be asynchronous. You can check in at random or at set intervals. You don’t need another appointment: a text that says “How’s the playbook coming?” is powerful when they don’t expect it. Or a deadline: “I’ll email you on Friday to check on your progress.” will also help them get the work done. You can schedule these for yourself, or even schedule the emails to auto-send. But the more they’re struggling, the more they need to to walk with them.

Good mentors are empathetic scientists. They’ve been in the client’s shoes–but they know how to get those shoes moving forward instead of wallowing in the mud. More than knowledge, mentors need skills to get the client to their goal. These skills require practice, but ultimately, they’re our job.

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