Mentoring: A Game of 1s and 0s


There’s a ton of books, blogs and videos out there on how to mentor your employees. And there are numerous great strategies around incentives, inspirations, values, buy-in, leadership, metrics, and statistics to get people to do things.  But what often gets missed in the art of mentoring is actually being the leader you want to see on your team and creating an environment with room for employees to step into.  

4 Keys to Mentoring:

  1. Leading by example is the only mentoring that sticks.

  2. Paying attention to the 0s not just the 1s.

  3. Holding a bigger vision for your staff than they hold for themselves

  4. Getting your own mentoring



In today’s world, talk is cheap. In fact, research shows that 90% of our communication is nonverbal and even if it’s not that high, most agree that it’s the majority of our communication. Thus, it’s critical that good managers and leaders don’t just mentor their staff by giving them training or verbal instructions once or three times and then not leading by example themselves. We are always looking for body cues, posture, cadence, tone, facial expressions, moods and energies to grok not only what someone says, but if they are congruent with what they are saying. And if you are in a position of authority on your Org. Chart, this is not optional.  

So if you are in a mentor position:

  1. Do you get that you are a mentor to reporting and often non-reporting staff?

  2. What does this even mean to you?

  3. Do you take this seriously?

  4. Are you always holding how you can help your staff grow into their own leadership and abilities to the next level?

  5. Where do you not embody what you teach/mentor/lead?

2. Paying attention to the 0s, not just the 1s

In using digital programming as a metaphor, if ‘1s’ are the direct instructions, guidance, metrics or data that a mentor uses to manage their employees, the ‘0s’ are the the intangibles of mentoring that elicit the leadership forward from each employee.

For example, are you turning your 1-1 meetings into predictable routines of deadlines and accountabilities, or are you also paying attention to HOW they are performing? What they need to grow to the next level?  Are you providing room for their questions, concerns and feedback?

(Examples of '0'): Are you actually listening for what your employees are saying, what they are not saying, and how they are saying it? Do you leave silence after you ask a question? Do you leave space for them to come to their own answers and solutions? (Examples of '1'): Or do you fill it with micromanagement and heavy-handed directives, or are simply not open to their feeback? Do you ask them for their solution, even if half-baked, with every question or frustration they may have?

The art of mentoring is about listening to the patterns that catch your attention about your employee, giving appropriate feedback that meets them where they are at and challenges them an extra 15%, while developing their critical thinking, risk-taking and competence.  Imagine if someone helped you get which of your habits and patterns were productive and nonproductive and provided a supportive environment for change and growth.

3. Holding a bigger vision for your staff than they hold for themselves

Are you able to remind them of the bigger picture, their potential, or what you see in them when they are up against their challenges to provide that boost over their current obstacles? We all need reflections for our own blind spots, and if you collapse into technical detail only, you’ve lost the biggest opportunity to mentor and lead.

4. Getting your own mentoring

And lastly, are you getting mentoring for yourself?  How do you expect to continue to challenge others, elicit breakthroughs, and develop creative and critical thinking if you are not continually challenging yourself to look at your own habits and patterns that keep you stagnant and comfortable? When you’re at the top, it can be even more challenging to ask for help or feedback. And in today’s world: that’s leading.

This is the new way of mentoring that employees are starving for.