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How to Mentor and Develop Others

Expecting the best of people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy


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David Owasi

3 years ago | 4 min read

The standard image of coaches or mentors that most people have is that of a seasoned veteran or executive helping a favoured younger person along or grooming a promising talent. However, anyone can be a coach and provide help to others; colleagues, novices, peers and even superiors. Managing upward and helping superiors and managers do a better job is also part of the art of sensing other people’s development needs and bolstering their abilities.

Sensing other people’s development needs is an important skill for professionals in today’s ever collaborative and decentralized work environment. Coaching and developing others is a person-to-person art that is centred around counselling. The effectiveness of counselling hinges on empathy and the ability to focus on one’s feelings, insights and perspectives, and sharing them with others.

Many people resist coaching because they are afraid of seeming inadequate or incompetent or struggle with vulnerability. To win over people like this, you can’t afford to be impersonal, cold, self-serving or one-sided in your interactions with those you want to influence.

If you can’t win the trust of people you wish to influence, your advice won’t be received and will go unheeded. I was only able to trust, show vulnerability, honesty and work better with coaches who showed respect, trustworthiness and empathy.

An open and trusting relationship is the foundation of success in coaching and developing others. The best coaches I have had the privilege of working with were the ones who showed a genuine personal interest in me, my abilities and goals, they also showed empathy and understanding of my situation and challenges. In the absence of trust, coaching is impossible. So how can you develop this skill?

The art of giving feedback

Providing effective feedback is a delicate business. It requires a combination of giving out both praise and constructive criticism. While praise is easy to give, it is far more challenging and tricky to criticize. People generally respond more strongly to negative events than positive ones, and in John Gottman’s influential book on managing relationships, Gottman suggests that positive interactions must outnumber negative interactions for relationships to succeed.

Showing positive appreciation to people you coach and finding something positive about what they’ve done is key to effective feedback. When I provide feedback to people I coach, I try to find one or two positive things to highlight. This could be as simple as appreciating their openness to hearing my feedback or highlighting their overall effort at a task or exercise.

The worst time to give feedback is during an emotional hijack. An emotional hijack is an episode where you lose control of yourself, this is commonly referred to moments where one “goes bananas” or “lost it”. Feedback given in this situation is usually not objective and results in a character attack, avoid giving feedback if you are not in the right emotional state.

In a study of the effects of performance feedback on self-confidence among several MBA students. These students were either praised, were criticized or received no feedback on their performance in a simulation of creative problem-solving.

They had been told that their efforts would be compared with how well hundreds of others had done on the same task. Those who heard nothing about how well they did or who only received criticism suffered a great blow to their self-confidence.

The Pygmalion effect

The Pygmalion effect is a psychological phenomenon wherein high expectations lead to improved performance in a given area. Its name comes from the story of Pygmalion, a mythical Greek sculptor. Pygmalion carved a statue of a woman and then became enamoured with it.

Unable to love a human, Pygmalion appealed to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She took pity and brought the statue to life. The couple married and went to have a daughter, Paphos.

Expecting the best of people can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Athletic coaches and good managers can boost a person’s performance by giving them a suitable challenge coupled with a boost of confidence.

A reliable method of promoting positive expectations is to let others take the lead in setting their own goals, rather than dictating the terms and manner of their development. This communicates the belief that the person being coached can achieve their desired outcome.

Another technique that encourages people to perform better is to point to problems without offering a solution. This implies that they can find the solutions themselves. This approach involves initiating a Socratic dialogue by leading the person through a series of questions. This lets students find their way to the answers which bolsters confidence in decision making.

At a higher level of development, coaches or mentors can arrange ongoing assignments and tasks that will give the person being coached needed training, exercise or challenges. This might take the form of delegating responsibilities or putting the individual in charge of projects or situations that will demand using new skills.

Although doing this demands sensitivity to the readiness of the person being coached — If the assignment is too easy, little will be learned; if it is too difficult, the person may experience a setback. The skill lies in arranging successful stretch experience that gradually increases capability and confidence.

In conclusion, individuals who are competent in developing others are able to acknowledge and reward the strengths and accomplishments of people they coach. They are also able to offer useful feedback and properly identify people’s needs for further growth. Furthermore, they are able to give timely coaching and offer assignments that challenge and foster the skills of those they mentor.

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David Owasi

I am a business owner, consultant and creative entrepreneur. I bring a lot of energy, passion and optimism to any project I am involved in. I drive to maximize my talents and potentials alongside those I work with. I bring a wealth of business ownership and coaching experience.


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