Today we present a recent interview conducted by Katharine Halpin with Dr. Lois Zachary of Leadership Development Services. Click on the hyperlinks under each interview question to listen to the live response to each question.
I’m very pleased this morning to be interviewing Dr. Lois Zachary. Dr. Lois Zachary is the President of Leadership Development Services, a Phoenix-based consulting firm that specializes in both leadership and mentoring. She is the Director of The Center for Mentoring Excellence. She’s an internationally-recognized mentoring expert and has been cited as one of the top minds in leadership today. She’s published over a half dozen books and publications as well as over a hundred articles. And, she’s created a comprehensive set of resources for promoting the practice of individual and organizational mentoring excellence. This June, Jossey-Bass launches the publication of five pocket toolkits on mentoring excellence.
Katharine Halpin: Lois, tell us more about this whole field of adult development in learning and how it contributes to this practice of mentoring.
Dr. Lois Zachary: Many years ago, I was asked to develop a mentoring program. I went in to a corporation as a consultant, and I found that there were all kinds of different mentoring practices going on in the name of mentoring. Much of practice was very pediatric. And yet, here we had adults who were engaged in adult learning. What we’ve come to know about adult learning since that time (25 years later) has increased exponentially. So, we know more than ever before in terms of the depth and breadth of mentoring.
All that knowledge has come to inform and change the paradigm by which we practice mentoring. Now we look at mentoring as a relationship in which the mentee is an active learner, the mentor is a facilitator of learning. We have more than one on one mentoring: we have group mentoring, reverse mentoring, and much of our mentoring today is done virtually, even in face to face relationship. And instead the focus being on knowledge transfer, what we’re really talking about today is critical reflection and practice and application as a way of moving mentoring forward.
Katharine Halpin: In October of 2011, you came out with a revised edition of The Mentor’s Guide, your book that was initially published in the year 2000. I’m wondering why a second edition was needed.
Dr. Lois Zachary: That’s a great question. In the 12 years between when I wrote and published the first edition, our knowledge of adult learning has shifted, and it continues to shift with all this expansion in cognitive science. Technology has added a whole new component to mentoring. We have also come to understand the critical role of context. “We bring who we are to what we do.” So, it affects how we come to mentoring.
Mentoring is about learning, and it’s about relationship. You have to have all of those pieces. Context is the conditions, the circumstances that contribute to how we connect, interact, and learn with one another. And, there isn’t a mentoring a relationship that is not embedded in context. It is so important to understand context, because it determines how we perceive things, what we see as being possible, and what’s achievable.
Katharine Halpin: Yes, I can totally agree with that. So now why is the context of connection so essential in a mentoring relationship?
Dr. Lois Zachary: They add a layer of complexity to the relationship, and they also offer new ways to create and enhance our mentoring relationship. Let me tell you what I mean by that. First of all, it affects how we get together. So much of mentoring is taking place wholly or partially virtually. Understanding what’s going on in somebody else’s world, whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, is really important.
What’s also important is that a mentor may be at a different phase, age, or stage than a mentee. And we make assumptions based on our own experience and reality, and that might not be the same for our mentoring partners. It’s really important to check out our assumptions and to be clear about the context, and try and walk in the shoes of your mentoring partner.
Katharine Halpin: You have to be sensitive to the context that they’re coming from, their cultural or intergenerational issues. Now, in your new book, which by the way I understand is an even bigger best-seller than your prior book, you outline a new four-phase cycle for the mentoring relationship. Tell us about that cycle.
Dr. Lois Zachary: Katharine, it’s not so much that it’s new. I’ve added a full full section on to it. And, I received feedback from other folks on the names of the phases. So, I renamed a couple of the subtitles of each of the phases. But the important thing to understand is that mentoring goes through phases. You get ready, and that is, you prepare for it, you prepare yourself, you prepare the relationship, and then you establish agreements and negotiate that with your mentoring partner. What are your ground rules? What are your agreements around confidentiality? What are the goals you’re going to focus on?
Then you spend most of your time in what I call the enabling growth/facilitating learning phase. (That’s the third phase of it.) And that’s the time of the highest highs. That’s the time when you might come up against some mentoring challenges. You want to keep your mentoring fresh. You want to keep it vibrant.
The fourth phase is what I call the coming to closure phase, where you look back and you move forward. A moment ago, we talked about critical reflection. So, this phase is a good example of it. In the closure phase you look back at where you’ve been, and you move forward, and in the process you think about how you can leverage your learning and move forward.
Katharine Halpin: In your new book, why is there so much focus on conversation?
Dr. Lois Zachary: Conversation is how we come together. It keeps the lines of communication and connection open. It helps engage the mentee as an active partner or an author of his or her own learning. It needs to be front and center throughout a relationship or else mentoring becomes a transaction.
Conversation is something that people don’t readily think about; they take it for granted. As result, what they often do is shortchange themselves and engage in a series of transactions instead. So, if you think about the best conversation you ever had and what the key elements were and keep those key elements front and center in your mentoring relationship, you are going to strengthen your mentoring relationship and enhance your learning.
Katharine Halpin: Now, in your four-phase cycle, you talk about the second stage as one of negotiating and establishing those agreements and those ground rules. Why have a conversation so early in the relationship about accountability for each partner?
Dr. Lois Zachary: Katharine, that really builds the foundation. The agreements and ground rules that grow out of it define the work of the relationship, and they become a touchstone for staying on track. They are actually an accountability mechanism. With accountability, you can move your work forward faster.
Katharine Halpin: Of course. So even in a mentoring relationship, we can move our work faster by focusing on those ground rules and those agreements. Tell us more about your five mentoring pocket tools, because you know everybody’s attention span is so short nowadays. I imagine these pocket tools would be very powerful.
Dr. Lois Zachary: What we hear from the people who have used them is that they take them out and review them prior to a mentoring meeting. They serve as a reminder, a refresher of what you need to do to stay on track. They include strategies, concrete actions that people can take, and also include a checklist so that you can make sure that you are on track. They serve as a pocket accountability mechanism.
Katharine Halpin: I love that. And that’s the key, as you said earlier, to critical reflection, practice, and application. The application is the key. If we don’t apply what we learned, and we don’t apply these tools, then it’s all for naught. But those pocket tools give us a chance to be more mindful in the moment right before we go into the meeting.
Dr. Lois Zachary: Absolutely. And we’re very excited that Jossey-Bass has chosen to publish them. We have published themselves for many, many years, and Jossey-Bass has seen them as a companion to the other mentoring books that they’ve published for us.
Katharine Halpin: That’s great. If our listeners would like to reach Dr. Lois Zachary, I want to share a couple of ways. Her latest book, The Mentor’s Guide, is her best-selling book that you can purchase on Amazon.