When You Need Help

In earlier posts, I’ve talked about what to look for, how to utilize, and what to avoid in an advisory board and a mentor.  In addition to the value this collective group and these mentors can bring to any organization, I find that leaders today seek individual advice.  Whether you call this a coach, advisor, confidant, or some synonym, I believe there are important considerations in formalizing this relationship.

Start by asking yourself “what do I want from this relationship?”

Be clear if you are seeking advice, looking for a sounding-board, need someone to confidentially confide in, need an expert to guide your development, or want someone who can challenge you.  While these may sound similar–they are not.  The nuances between these are important to note and can help you begin to determine who can help you.

Consider the following checklist to guide you in determining why you are seeking such a relationship (mark any and all that apply):

I am…

  • trying to improve performance
  • building my confidence and assurance in making decisions
  • seeking personal growth
  • preparing for a greater scope and breadth of responsibility
  • dealing with a new, increased role and responsibility
  • facing a complex challenge
  • building a new future for me/my organization
  • coping with a disappointment
  • planning for a future transition and goal
  • seeking advice from someone who has already experienced what I am now experiencing

Being clear in what you want and, more importantly need, is perhaps the most important step in selecting a coach or advisor.

It should be noted that there are a few pitfalls in making this choice.  These include:

Expecting therapy–coaches and advisors are not qualified for this role.  If you have personal needs, seek a licensed professional counselor or therapist.  Be wary of people who want to be your therapist without professional training.

A substitute–whoever you select should not be expected to act on your behalf or, even worse, to do your own work.  Rather, they should help you determine your needs, provide ideas and solutions, and keep you on-track.  They are not simply another “pair of hands”–that is what an assistant does.

A crutch–they should partner with you on your development and not become a gatekeeper, medic, or best-buddy.  Independence is critical to your success (and they should work towards it with you).

A buddy–seek people who can objectively provide advice, ideas, and information.  Doing so provides you with unfettered and uncluttered attention while ensuring confidentiality, honesty, and perspective.  You’re not looking for a pal or someone to hang around with–you’re looking for someone who’s role is to challenge you.

Beyond this, consider the level and type of expertise you need.  Ask yourself, do I need someone…

  • who has been in a similar situation?
  • with expertise I lack?
  • who is not familiar with my exact situation but who can give me a new, different, and perhaps unbiased perspective?
  • with connections to other people and organizations that can also help me?
  • who will bluntly challenge me, my ideas, and my performance?
  • who is unfettered by alliances, allegiances, and is not beholding to me, my organization, etc.?
  • with a proven track-record of success?
  • who has the willingness to meet with me and help me?
  • with professional credentials?

And once you have found an advisor or coach, follow these steps:

  1. Formalize the relationship–set objectives, schedule meetings, document expectations
  2. Respect the relationship–make it a priority, keep appointments and commitments, monitor progress
  3. Evaluate the relationship–periodically ensure progress is made and objectives are met

Keep in mind that often these relationships are finite.  It’s rare that your coach or advisor can provide you with ongoing advice and expertise.  Plan for a transition to a new person.  Plan for how you will keep in contact with your coach and advisor once the formal relationship ends.

Such relationships provide an opportunity for leaders to enhance their abilities, provide feedback on ideas, provide information on direction, and present an opportunity for candid conversations.  Strong leaders consistently will seek such advisors and coaches throughout their career.


© Copyright 2013, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.

The Value of an Advisory Board

Recently I’ve worked with several organizations to build an Advisory Board.  On a basic level, the purpose of an Advisory Board is to provide advice and candid feedback to your organization–regardless if you are for-profit or are a nonprofit.  Such boards provide keen insight for leaders and can serve to propel an organization into new areas.  The following is a brief introduction as to the purpose and composition of an Advisory Board.


Enhance your business and organizational knowledge and capabilities through planned conversations with experienced and engaged advisors

  • Increase financial health, services scope, and product portfolio

  • Build overall leadership acumen through exposure to divergent, experienced opinions

  • Increase personal and business network resulting in potential customers/donors, suppliers, and allies

  • Create a mechanism for honest feedback regarding ideas, plans, and products

Composition of Board

An ideal Board will include: (and note that while these characteristics are generally written for a business, they can easily be adapted to a nonprofit organization)

  • Key customers, particularly those with long-term experience with you and in the industry

  • Key suppliers, recognized for their operational expertise

  • Financial professionals–bankers, financial advisors, capital managers, or those with similar experience

  • Coach or advisor–professional consultant to similar businesses, industries, and situations

  • Sages–experienced professionals in your field, those with many years of experience, and those with a proven record of success

  • Additional members who have a genuine interest in your organization and industry

  • Recognized community and industry leaders

And for nonprofits, consider key donors, patrons, and those who are connected extensively in your service-providing area.  These leaders should be aware of historical, cultural, and future variables that can guide you and your organization.

Optimal size for a Board is 6-12, depending on your size, strategic plan, budget, experience, and growth plans.  In some situations a larger Board may be warranted, particularly for nonprofit and educational institutions.  And as can be the case with nonprofits, an Advisory Board may be a subset of the Board of Directors.

You should consider the potential for Board members to collaborate not only with you but with each other when choosing members.  To aid you, employ your professional contacts to determine if Board members will not only help you but will be able to work with other members.  Use caution and prudence when determining final Board membership.  Nothing is gained if you have Board members who will not participate fully, professionally, or honestly.

Spend time with each Board member so there is mutual understanding as well as the foundation for trust and respect.  This begins in the selection process and continues during the course of their term.

It is a good idea to have staggered Board terms so that there is some continuity.  You may have to balance this need with the potential commitment from the Board member. 

Lastly, spend some time with annually with your collective Board on development.  It’s not necessary for an “annual retreat” yet there is wisdom in planning discussions, setting annual objectives, and creating avenues for forthright feedback.  And certainly spend some time fostering collaboration and professionalism among the Board members through planned activities.  Think creatively and strategically in developing your collective Board.

At the core, Advisory Boards can build stronger leaders who can lead stronger organizations.  These trusted advisors can be your best source for development and growth.

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

Mentoring Resources

In response to the calls and emails based on my two-part blog on The Importance of Mentoring, I’m listing some resources to help you further understand mentoring.  Keep in mind as you read through these that mentoring is “a structured and trusting relationship that brings professionals together who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee.”

I’ve found these resources helpful through the years as I mentor others, have been mentored, and in implementing mentoring programs for clients.

They are presented in no particular order but are grouped for your convenience.  You can find the books in traditional and online booksellers.  For the articles, you can find them all online.


Coaching and Mentoring by Jane Renton

Mentoring at Work by Kathy E. Kram

The 2020 Workplace:  How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willverd


“Mentoring Millennials” by Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willverd, Harvard Business Review, May 2010

“Finding a Mentor” Inc., Aug 6, 2002

“The Uber Mentor” by Elaine Appleton Grant, Inc. Sep 1, 2002

“Four Myths About Mentoring” by Amy Gallo, Harvard Business Review, February 1, 2011

“Mentors Make a Business Better” by Emily Keller, Business Week, March 20, 2008

“In Praise of the ‘Anti-Mentor’” by Keith McFarland, Business Week, May 15, 2007

“Why Mentoring Matters in a Hypercompetitive World” by Thomas J. DeLong, John J. Gabarro, and Robert J. Lees, Harvard Business Review, January 2008

Other resources

SCORE—www.score.org—they are a nonprofit organization offering free workshops, advice, and mentors to small businesses.

Menttium—www.menttium.com—offering mentor programs for women in leadership.

Center for Non Profit Management—www.cnmdallas.org—based in Dallas, they offer programs for non profit groups.

Center for Non Profit Success—www.cfnps.org—they offer programs and mentors for non profit groups in many major US cities.

Management Mentors—www.management-mentors.com—an organization dedicated to helping leaders and mentors thrive.

If you’re in a professional organization, they usually have a mentoring program.

And don’t forget the Small Business Administration—they offer a variety of services including individual mentors.

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

The Importance of Mentoring (Part 2)

So you think you want to be a mentor? 

Ok, fine.  Ask yourself the following questions…

  1. Why do you want to do this?

  2. What do you know that can be helpful to others? 

  3. What do people say about you?

As you ponder these questions, keep in mind the following.

Why do you want to do this? 

Simply put, it’s not about you!  Okay, maybe a little but the focus isn’t on you.  Rather it is on the person you are mentoring.  Your motivation must be on how you can help the mentee.  It’s easy (and a trap) to talk about yourself during conversations.  To keep the focus in-balance, remember:

Listen, listen, listen.  Try to keep them talking 70% of the time. 

Keep an open mind.  This means “listen to your listening”—that little voice we all have in our head.  Sometimes it can get in the way of actively listening.

Ask questions to get them talking and to clarify their answers.  Prepare questions before each conversation, when possible, that provoke their thinking and analysis. Prepare follow-up questions.

Avoid telling personal story after story, endless examples, and meaningless anecdotes.  Instead, utilize your experience and expertise.  Choose the most meaningful and appropriate examples.  Never make up examples.  If you don’t have something to share, refer them to another person or resource.

What do you know that can be helpful to others?

Take the time to analyze your:

  • experience—what you’ve done

  • expertise—what you know

  • resources—who you know (people and places)

A careful and thoughtful examination of these will help you determine, first off, if you are a good match for a mentee.  If so, it will help your conversations and, in particular, in choosing the best examples and advice.

Be candid and forthright in your discussions.  Give them a balanced view of what you know, how you learned it, and what you’re still learning.  Particularly that last one—by talking about what you are learning it will encourage their development.  You will be setting a good example!

Network in your organization, profession, and community—not only for you but you may need other people and places to refer mentees for information.  And we all know that networking is a key to success for so many reasons.  In doing so, you not only benefit yourself but you teach them the benefits from networking.

What do people say about you?

This may seem odd or uncomfortable when thinking about mentoring but you should spend some time honestly understanding what others say about you—your leadership, empathy, ability to communicate, knowledge, etc.  These are qualities that will be needed. 

Review and analyze performance reviews, feedback reports, and informal conversations.  Ask your closest confidants, colleagues, and those who know you best.  Look for common patterns and themes.  If you…

  • are a good listener

  • display a genuine interest in helping others

  • have useful knowledge

  • can make time for others

…then you should be a successful mentor.

If you don’t, simply refer the mentee to someone who you believe has these characteristics.  (And remember, it’s not about you…as said earlier.)

Becoming a mentor can be rewarding.  Helping someone else grow and develop by sharing your wisdom, experience, and knowledge is very satisfying.  Taking the time to determine if you have what it takes to be a mentor will help you and your mentee. 

© Copyright 2011, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved. 

The Importance of Mentoring (Part 1)

Recently while working as a performance coach to a client, I was reminded of just how important mentoring has been for me throughout my career.  I have been very lucky to have many mentors including:

Sharon Justice–who inspired taught me in my first job and then had the foresight to encourage me to leave it for bigger and better days.  She seemed to always have a ‘sixth sense’ to see inside me (and others).

Tim Dempsey–who nurtured my early career with sound advice even when it didn’t match what I wanted to hear.  He continually encouraged my development even when it meant I had to make uncomfortable changes.

Chuck Canfield–who ironically mentored me first as a supplier and then gave me the best advice as  I started my business.  He’s always had the gift to ask the right questions and propel my thinking with his wisdom and experience.

These people have been unique and special throughout my career.  But guess what…none of them managed me.  They played key, informal roles in my career and professional development.  And the biggest role was that of a mentor.

What is Mentoring?

Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings professionals together who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee. A mentor is a respected and experienced professional who provides support, counsel, friendship, reinforcement and constructive examples. Mentors are good listeners, they care, and they want to help others realize strengths that are already there. A mentor is not a substitute manager, therapist, performance coach, or buddy.  Mentoring can help by:

  • Improving attitudes about work, management, customers, etc.

  • Encouraging people to stay motivated and focused on their development

  • Helping people face challenges

  • Offering people opportunities to consider new career paths and get much-needed skills and knowledge.

  • Encourage people to accept challenging assignments and opportunities

How Mentoring Helps

At its most basic level, mentoring helps mentees because it guarantees that there is someone who cares about them, their development, and interests. It guarantees that they will have someone who will listen and offer unbiased advice, ideas, and feedback.

Mentors provide mentees with an experienced colleague who is ready to help in any number of different situations.  Mentors…

  • improve self-esteem.

  • provide support to try new behaviors.

  • teach people how to relate well to others and strengthen their communication skills.

  • help determine career goals and start taking steps to realize them.

  • can use their personal contacts to help meet industry professionals.

  • introduce people to professional resources and organizations they may not know about.

The number of ways mentoring can help are as varied as the participants involved in each relationship.

The most successful mentoring relationships are formal and agreed-upon.  That means that the mentee and mentor agree to the time, commitment, and outcomes.

Mentor’s Role

A mentor is a caring colleague who devotes time and attention to their mentee. Although mentors can fill any number of different roles, all mentors have the same goal in common: to help people achieve their potential and discover their strengths.

Mentors should understand they are not meant to replace formal levels of management or structure. A mentor is not a disciplinarian or decision maker.  Rather, they provide resources and ideas.  They also ask the ‘tough questions’ that we often wish to avoid.

A mentor’s main purpose is to help a person define individual goals and find ways to achieve them. Since expectations will vary, the mentor’s job is to encourage the development of a flexible relationship that responds to both the mentor’s and the mentee’s needs.

A successful mentor possesses the following qualities:

  1. Willingness to share skills, knowledge, and expertise.

  2. Demonstrates a positive attitude and acts as a role model.

  3. Takes a personal interest in the mentoring relationship.

  4. Exhibits enthusiasm in the field.

  5. Values ongoing learning and growth in the field.

  6. Provides guidance and constructive feedback.

  7. Respected by colleagues and employees in all levels of the organization.

  8. Sets and meets ongoing personal and professional goals.

  9. Values the opinions and initiatives of others.

  10. Motivates others by setting a good example.

How do you get started?

There are several ways but the easiest is to think of someone you admire and respect professionally.  They will possess the above 10 qualities plus should have some familiarity with your abilities and knowledge.

Then set a date to meet with them and ask them to mentor you. 

Of course, sometimes it is helpful to have a mentor outside of your normal circle of colleagues.  I’ve known of several successful programs such as Menttium and Management Mentors.  I’ve also found that many of the “leadership” programs offered through local chambers of commerce are quite good.

It doesn’t matter, in the end, how you start.  Just go out today and find a mentor who will help you in your career!

(Part 2 will look at leaders becoming a mentor.)

© Copyright 2010, Dynamic Growth Strategies.  All rights reserved.