Mentoring — From Mr. Miyagi to Morpheus

Shay Cohen
Dec 1, 2019 · 9 min read

How do I do it?!

Recently I was asked to conduct a mentoring workshop for a leadership forum at work.

The preparation pushed me to reverse engineer things that grew in me for more than 20 years, but I do them on autopilot almost every day …

Below you can find the result — an easy to digest manual for mentoring and coaching that I hope can be of immediate service to you.

I will not dive into the difference between mentoring and coaching since I found that there too many different definitions, some of them even contradict one another.

What I will state is that both mentoring and coaching are activities for developing the skill of another person.

In this article, we will go over three of my tried and trusted methods for fostering the development of others — apprenticeship, growth mentoring and finally coaching.

This article outlines my personal interpretation and practice of mentoring and coaching. Whatever you call it, the essence here is the same — How can we develop other people?

Karate Kid — Shuhari

Taking an apprentice

The first kind of mentoring that I distinguish is mentoring for a new skill. This usually happens when we onboard a new employee to the company/team and we are teaching them a new skill or how we do things here.

This kind of mentoring relationship is between a knowledgeable person in a specific area (the mentor) and a student (the mentee).
It can be between a junior employee and a senior one or between a manager and an employee.

I find the Japanese martial arts term Shu-Ha-Ri captures the essence of these 3 staged activities in the lifecycle of an apprentice.

Stage 1 (“Shu”) — I will explain and teach you how to work. You will be my shadow in everything I do, all my activities. You will follow me and my instructions. Exactly like a shadow.

Stage 2 (“Ha”) — You will perform the work exactly as I instructed, according to the rules and guide I explained. I will be your shadow and let you lead while giving you corrective feedback until you will acquire the required skill and independence.

Stage 3 (“Ri”) — This is the final stage in the life cycle of the apprentice; You know how to perform the job according to my rules, so now you can bring your touch into activity, break my rules and follow your style while performing the work.

In stages 1 & 2 it is common to give homework/assignments to accelerate the progress and to make the most of the mentor’s time while the mentee exercises what they have just learned.

It’s worth mentioning that many times one of the parties can “forget” the current stage and therefore become frustrated. Some examples are:
A mentor that jumps to stage 2 too quickly or a mentee that believes they are already in stage 3 while in reality, they are in stage 1 or 2.

In the Software development world, we see and use this Shu-Ha-Ri model frequently:
- Onboarding a new developer in a team
- Pairing a Junior to a Senior developer to learn how to design/code/test/debug
- A future tech or team lead escorting their manager to their meetings to learn how to perform the job.
- Etc, etc, etc


Morpheus and Neo — Mentoring

Mentoring for growth

A different, more progressive mentoring style is aimed for growth.
You already possess a skill, something that you are probably good at and you enjoy, but you are not great at it. You haven’t realized your potential.

This is where the second type of mentoring steps in and gives you a structured process to grow your skills and become the master of your domain. Here, the mentor is not necessarily a master of the domain you are trying to improve, but together, he will help you find the way.

Morpheus I can only show you the door

First, we need to agree on the skill or behavior we want to improve.
How can we identify it? here are some sample questions that can spark the discussions and guide it:
“What is your superpower?”
“What do you enjoy doing?”
“What do you want to do?”
“What is your challenge?”
“What stands in your way”

Once we identified and agreed on the skill and desired behavior, we can move on to improve it!

The process of growth mentoring is built from 4 steps:
Goal, Resources, Plan, Act.

1. Goal

In this step, we are setting a goal. We want the goal to be measurable and time-bounded. Sample questions that we want to ask:
“What do we want to achieve?”
“How will we know we achieved it”
“What does success look like?”

Template for a goal can look like: “By the end of … I will demonstrate …”
“I will get in shape” is not good enough since there is no definition of done for getting-in-shape and there is no time limit.
“By the end of March, I will run 5k” is much better.
“I will improve my design capabilities” is not good enough since we don’t know what will consider as an improvement.
“By the end of March, I will demonstrate breaking a service into micro-services” is much better.

2. Resource

In this step, we will be brainstorming resources we need & activities that we can perform to improve the desired skill and/or to acquire a new behavior. Sample questions that we want to ask:
“What can we do?”
“What can progress our goal?”
“What worked in the past for you/others?”
“What tasks we have in our roadmap that can benefit here?”
“Who can help?”

“How can we do to improve your writing skills?” — “start a blog”, “try to duplicate a blog”, “buy writing for dummies”, “read a book about blogging”, “take a class”, “find a penpal”, “look for relevant meetup/meetings”, “start writing a short book”, “write 1 paragraph every morning”, “I will team with …”, “Post on facebook every day at least 100 words”

3. Plan

In this step, we will choose some activities and resources we raised in the previous step and build a plan out of them. each activity should be teamed with a target date. Ideally, each activity/step shouldn’t take more than a few days. If you have long activities/tasks — we will break them into smaller chunks.

4. Act

This is the part that the work is executed. the mentee does the actual activities and we will meet every week to discuss the progress, the challenges and give some feedback.

Remember there are 3 types of feedback, both positive and negative:

Outcome feedback:
Positive
: “You did a good job in…”
Negative: “This wasn’t what we aimed for…”
Stating only outcome. “What shall I do with this feeback?!”

Informational feedback:
Negative
:“Your design needs improvement …”
Positive: “I liked your drawing …”
Giving information on the activity. “How did I do it ?!”

Correctional feedback:
Negative
: “When you are designing an API it’s worth thinking of rainy day flows …”
Positive: “When you raise flags on time it increases my confidence in your responsibility”
Explaining what should be repeated next time or how to fix“. “Now you are talking! I will know what to do next time!“

We iterate on the 4 steps circle for every skill we want to mentor and work on.
The first 3 steps should take no more than 1 hour. The last step (Act), can take weeks. It is important to keep track of the progress, give support, feedback and adjust the plan and even the Goal if needed.

The Mentoring cycle

Coaching

For me, coaching is a much less structured process. It’s a dance we dance with the coachee while putting a mirror in front of them and reflecting the image so they can make the right decision and action. It can be combined and interwoven with mentoring while you master it.

Having said that, we can “fake it until we make it” with coaching.
I strongly recommend The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever by Michael Bungay Stanier. In this book, the author provides 7 questions that together build a guided script that navigates the discussion and the coachee to the place we want — surface the real challenge and take an action toward it without us telling them what to do.

I use this tool every day.

Here they are:

  • “What’s on your mind?”
  • “And what else?”
  • “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
  • “What do you want?”
  • “How can I help?”
  • “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
    What was most useful for you?”

You don’t have to use them all, You can improvise and optimize depending on the flow of the conversation.

Let’s understand the sequence and what each question is driving.

  • “What’s on your mind?”
    This is the opening question to help you break the ice and get the conversation flowing.
  • “And what else?”
    This question helps you to uncover and generate new options or issues while overcoming our urge to give premature advice or solution.
    In many cases, only the second or third issue is the real issue.
  • “What’s the real challenge here for YOU?”
    This question makes it more personal.
    a. What is challenging with that issue?
    B. It is about your challenge in this situation
  • “What do you want?”
    This question helps people to gain clarity on what they want, It forces people to say it out loud which is not trivial.
  • “How can I help?”
    This question is “lazy” because it gets the other person to propose a solution without you having to develop one. It gives the other person the power to solve it.
  • “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
    This question gets the other person to consider if they are truly prepared to commit to a decision. It can also remove some potential excuses why not do it.
  • “What was most useful for you?”
    This question forces the other person to summarize and makes it a learning moment.

Let’s walk through a (naive) example:

- “What’s on your mind?”
- “All is well”

- “And what else?”
- “I feel bad after the last meeting. I don’t like the direction we are taking“

- “What’s the real challenge here for you?”
- ”I will have to work closely with John”

- “What do you want?”
- ”I would like to have more impact”
or
- ”I would like to lead this alone”
or
- ”I want to make sure I’m on top of things. In control”

- “How can I help?”
- “Thanks for the ofer, But I can handle this myself, I need to learn sharing and working better with others…”

- “If you’re saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?”
- “Not sure I have to say no to something concrete. I don’t see what can stop me!”

- “What was most useful for you?”
- ”To realize that I was stucked in that concept, and I have the power to change things”

As I said — naive example.

This technique works for me every time! It’s functional, short and leaves both parties with great satisfaction because we feel something profound just happened.

So what started as “fake it until you make it” has become very much live and authentic!

Closure

We went over three tools for people development:
1. Apprenticeship — teaching others a new skill (shadowing)
2. Growth mentoring — improving a skill, by setting a goal, activities and executing a plan with iterative support and feedback.
3. Ongoing Coaching — asking questions to reveal challenges and drive actions.

The act of identifying skills for development and addressing needs by having these kinds of discussions is one of the keys to success and satisfaction for me and my team.

Whether you are considering starting mentoring and/or coaching, or you are already actively doing it, I can’t stress this enough — Just do it!

Start with one practice, exercise on/with other people, fake it until you make it, eventually you will find your own flavor and style of mentoring.

Please let me know what you think and what other technics you are using.
Also, don’t hesitate to ask any questions.

Remember — ask don’t tell!

Wix Engineering

Architecture, scaling, mobile and web development, management and more, written by our very own Wix engineers. https://www.wix.engineering/

Thanks to Naomie

Shay Cohen

Written by

Life Learner. Problem Solver. One Life Live It.

Wix Engineering

Architecture, scaling, mobile and web development, management and more, written by our very own Wix engineers. https://www.wix.engineering/

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