Book Excerpt: The Importance of Being a Mentor

The only way to achieve long-term sustainable performance improvement is by shifting from a focus on compliance to a culture of desire. At the engagement level, this requires a transformation from ‘telling’ and ‘correcting’ to that of, “…opening a door and inviting people to step through it.” I hope you get this. This is how you create win/win transactions. This is how you effect sustainable change.

Let us now consider the ‘next-level’ method of influence- the mentor hat. A mentor is: a trusted counselor or guide. She uses the predominant communications of asking and sharing. A dialogue involving asking and sharing is perceived entirely differently by the lizard brain. There is no perceived ‘threat’ or ‘loss of sense of control’. Consequently, defenses are lowered. The doorway to influence is opened. You have moved completely away from ‘enforcing compliance’, and toward recognizing and promoting desire to do the ‘right’ things.

The predominant focus within the Principle-Based Mentoring™ approach is to catch people doing things ‘right’, primarily recognizing them for doing so. This applies at every level of an individual’s ability. Think about when one of your children was just learning to walk. They take their first step or two, and…fall on their fanny. Did you say, “Oh, only two steps. You can do w-a-y better than that! Get up and do it again!” Not likely. (If you did, I sure as heck wouldn’t have wanted to be your kid!) I’m certain it was more like, “That was great! You are such big boy!” Encouragement. Recognition. Remember- what gets recognized gets repeated. Very likely, your child got up [immediately] and tried it again. Within a few days, they’ve gone from walking to running (and you’re having to chase them around the house). Do you get the point?

As far as positive recognition is concerned, it is every bit as much appreciated by adults in the workplace; however, it must be delivered appropriately, especially during a ‘one on one’ interaction following observation. The difference lies in the experiences workers have had in the past, much of which has likely resulted in negative conditioning. If you simply charge in with nothing but “Rah Rah” praise and approbation (there’s a 45-cent word for you), a typical worker is likely to figure you’re just ‘blowing smoke’. Even though it might be a refreshing change from the negative feedback they typically receive, they’ll not likely take it very seriously. It will therefore have little (if any) lasting influence on future behaviors.

As previously mentioned, the communication approach used by the mentor is that of asking and sharing. Rather than simply ‘telling’ an individual what she did well, as a mentor you first share a few of your favorite things you observed. You then ask the worker to identify what else she did well. Rather than ‘telling’ her noted areas where she can improve, you first ask, “What could have gone better?” This gives the worker the opportunity to self-identify any behaviors during task/job performance where she feels she could have done better. It also allows her to point out landmines and roadblocks she encountered along the way. If she is apparently unaware of one or more areas needing improvement, you then ask probing questions to draw the individual toward awareness and proactive conclusions.

Approaching engagement as a mentor (1) generates an overall positive interaction, (2) fosters open and honest communication, and (3) creates a platform for sustainable influence. The influence is sustainable because first, relative to recognition of the positives, what gets recognized gets repeated, and second, because insights relative to doing things better evolved from within, rather than the person feeling directed, corrected, or controlled. This is true influence. This is true leadership.

6-Hour Safety Culture is the first book published by the Human Performance Association, Inc. (HPA). It is currently available in both hard copy and Kindle versions on Those who purchase the book are given access to a library of Videos, Tools, and Resources by emailing your receipt to

Readers are also encouraged to ask questions and get involved in the conversation on the book’s Facebook page,, as well as to get in on the ground floor of conversation and interaction by joining the newly formed 6-Hour Safety Culture Group on LinkedIn.

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