One of the main reasons for mentoring someone is to instruct her. For that reason, the impact of your mentoring will depend on how well you are able to teach. And how well you are able to teach depends on how well you understand how adults learn. If every adult learned exactly the same way, your job might not be especially challenging. But the truth is everyone learns differently!
The learning process depends on how supervisees accept or receive knowledge. So every mentor must understand the six basic ways supervisees think. None of these ways is necessarily better or worse than the others. They are just different. It’s important for you as a StaffCoachTM to remember not to judge supervisees by the way they think. Instead, you need to learn as much as possible about the way they think and, therefore, how you can best motivate them to learn.
1. Authority-driven thinkers
Some supervisees accept and process knowledge best by taking specific direction from authority. If you mentor these supervisees, all you usually have to do is tell them to do something. You’re the boss. They’ll do it. Many coaches prefer this kind of employee. Such a person rarely talks back or questions orders. Those can be commendable characteristics, but remember also that problems can arise in dealing with supervisees who respond to authority with "knee-jerk" obedience. They may do whatever you tell them to do, but sometimes they don’t do anything unless you tell them.
Your task is to recognize where that line of motivation exists within each authority-driven team member, and to help her recognize it, too.
Coach: Jim, this newsletter headline is the old one. Didn’t you substitute the emergency headline change I gave you yesterday?
Jim: I rushed it to the editorial department like you said. I even did it on my lunch hour.
Jim: And, let’s see ... I put it in Carla’s in-box. Was that wrong?
Coach: The newsletter was already on the press. That headline had to be added before the run started!
Coach: "Wow" is right. But the good news is the press broke down. They only ran off a few copies like this one. So take this new headline to editorial now and we still have time to correct it.
Jim: You bet!
Coach: And, Jim ... what do you think is the best way to use this time?
Jim: I’ll make sure the press people know we’re altering the plates, and then I’ll go straight to typesetting.
Coach: Great thinking. Go for it!
2. Deductive thinkers
The second way supervisees accept or process facts is through deductive reasoning. When you mentor supervisees whose minds work this way, you must make things logical. These supervisees prefer linear, analytical explanations — point A to point B. You have to go into detail ... sometimes almost defending your own thought processes. These supervisees have to understand each step. When you stop and say, "OK, now you go ahead and do it," they’ll probably say, "Can you run through that one more time, please?" If you’re a "Type A" personality, these deductive team members will test your patience threshold! You will be tempted to shout, "I told you twice! Why do I have to tell you again?" But they’re not doing it to upset you. They truly need to understand. Now the good news: Once they do understand a task, they’ll know it forever!
3. Sensory thinkers
A third way supervisees learn is through sensory experience. These are "hands-on" supervisees. They have to see it, hear it, touch it. They have to go through the full experience. Only then will they "own" the process with you. To best mentor sensory-oriented supervisees, give them the time they need to explore. Encourage them to touch and feel, and they will learn faster.
Coach: What do you think? Great piece of equipment, isn’t it?
Mentoree: It sure is. And you were right about not trying to punch out more than three shapes. I tried four and it only partially punched the last one.
Coach: You did? Well, don’t try punching faster than I showed you. It can cause metal to bunch up and splinter on down the line.
Mentoree: It must not cause that every time.
Coach: You tried that, too?
Coach: Well, I’m glad I didn’t tell you not to try anything else!
4. Emotional thinkers
Some minds let in information primarily through emotions. These supervisees need to "feel good" about the work experience about the job process ... about their skills ... about the task outcome. If they don’t, their performance will soon show it. You can often motivate emotionally responsive team members by understanding that each human being responds to one of four basic emotional needs:
• The need for control
Some team members respond poorly to assignments unless they feel in control of their environment. If they aren’t in control, they grow uncomfortable. The way to assure someone that she is in control is to point to her "win" record. Show these team members how they are doing ... how they contribute productively. Those things all verify "control."
Diane: I’ve just got writer’s block, I guess. I can’t seem to come up with any sell lines I like.
Coach: Well, let’s brainstorm some solutions together. Point-of-purchase signage for stuffed farm animals shouldn’t be too tough to have some fun with.
Diane: It’s not that. It’s just that by the time the designers get finished with it, who knows if anyone will read it?
Coach: What makes you say that? The last series you did pulled in great sales. The artists designed directly to your words.
Diane: That time, maybe. But you never know.
Coach: What I do know is that your words start the whole process. Without that those signs are just so much wallpaper. And I know something else.
Coach: You and I can’t draw a straight line — so we better get busy and do what we can do. Write!
• The need for attention
Some supervisees won’t respond very long to anything if they don’t get positive attention from it. Not that they must constantly be "in the spotlight" — they simply need to know that their contributions are consistently appreciated. They need a clear cause-and-effect relationship between good performance and favorable reviews.
• The need for love
Many supervisees must know that the leader cares about them personally as well as professionally. These supervisees are motivated by knowing that the coach sees "special" attributes in their characters or abilities. They need to feel that the leader is grateful for them and for the type of employee they are. Most supervisees demonstrate this need to some degree. The downside of this need? Delivering criticism to supervisees who need to feel cared for is a sensitive challenge. Use much tact, time and tenderness when correction is in order for these team members.
• The need for justice or "rightness"
You will occasionally manage supervisees who won’t do anything unless it’s "correct" — organizationally or culturally proper. These folks are much like the "deductive reasoners" you learned about earlier. "Why aren’t you doing the job?" you might ask one of these supervisees. "I didn’t know if I should — I didn’t know if it was right," they may respond. These supervisees are not going to budge until they feel that the task lines up with written and even unwritten policy. Once you assure them that the procedure is organizationally correct (and, if necessary, ethically correct), they will respond eagerly and well. When you deal with a person who is primarily motivated by emotion, find a way to tap into one of her basic needs. You’ll likely find the results you want.
The fifth way supervisees assimilate data is by intuition. Intuition is an unconscious process that is neither rational nor emotional. Have you ever worked on something all day that didn’t "click," somehow? You didn’t quite get it. Then you went to bed that evening, ill at ease about the day’s unsettling activity. But the next morning you woke up and ... eureka! ... you had the answer.
That’s an aspect of intuition. While you sleep, your unconscious mind still processes information. Sometimes it wakes you in the middle of the night with the right answer. When you mentor supervisees who operate by intuition, you have to give them time to grasp things. Tell them, "Hey, sleep on it. We’ll look at it tomorrow. No problem." You may be surprised at the number of "eureka" moments these supervisees experience.
6. Scientific thinkers
The last way supervisees process information is scientifically. To mentor these supervisees means letting them test it, try it, experiment with it. They have to explore the information scientifically. Until they do that, your counsel is often just so much theory to them. For example, let’s say you’re teaching them a new computer program. If you say, "Whatever you do, don’t do that. If you do, it will erase everything," they will probably respond with something like, "How do you know?" You might say, "Well, it happened to me. I did that and everything was gone." Don’t be surprised if they come back with, "Maybe it’s changed. Maybe something is different now and it doesn’t work that way." A word of advice: Save yourself some headaches and let these supervisees experiment and try out their own theories. Set up safe situations for them to satisfy their curiosity.
How will you find out the ways your supervisees respond to information? Observe and ask questions. The following questions can generate responses that help you evaluate which "thinker type" each team member you mentor might be. While almost all of us are combinations of the six types, usually one approach will dominate our thought patterns.
Style Analysis Questions
• Does this phase of the job make sense to you?
• Does any part of the task seem unnecessary?
• Would you call this task hard? Easy? Why?
• What might you do differently to streamline the task?
• Is there anything that might better equip you to do the task?
• What part of the task appeals most to you? Least? Why?
- Hendricks, William (ed.), Coaching, Mentoring and Managing, National Press Publications: New Jersey, 1996
Reflection Exercise #5
The preceding section contained information
about the six ways supervisees think. Write three case study examples
regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
What are the six types of supervisee thinking? Record the letter of the correct answer the