Good questions to ask scary people

Written by Martin Lucas

Have you ever heard something like this? ‘Give me $500 and I will solve all your problems; just look at my experience, just listen to how important my way of doing things is.’

The world of coaching and mentoring is a minefield to negotiate. I personally feel Linkedin is awash with people peddling their own one-trick-pony way of doing things. That’s not to say they don’t have skills BUT is their way of doing things correct, and how do you know who to trust?

I think it’s a scary proposition, especially when you meet someone who spent all their money on support that was not quality!

If you are planning your career or running your own business or just wanting to become the best version of yourself, I went direct to the experts to find out how they define mentoring and coaching.

First up is Jackie Jenks, CEO & Founder of Leapfrog Mountain, who has received an OBE for her work in Mentoring. Jackie is literally the leading voice in the UK for Mentoring.

“What mentoring means is to me is that it is simply the most powerful way to make a practical difference. It benefits  people, organisations and the UK overall by achieving collaborative, developmental and positive relationships.”

Next I spoke to Noelle Dye,Human-centered innovator. Based in Boston, she is a highly celebrated Design Thinker and über-qualified Coach:

"Seeing another, actually seeing them, outside of our own thoughts and needs is the biggest gift we can give, as leaders, colleagues, and family.  And when we respect others' experiences as their own and help to open their perspective to the possibilities, they master their own journey, and we create a productive, happy world.”

What we see beginning to form is a concept that Coaching and Mentoring is less about telling and more about helping. I describe the best coaching as being when the mentor waits for the right time to ask the right questions, which allows the mentee to connect the dots for themselves. This is absolutely key because it means the mentee won’t resist change, simply because they have ultimately worked it out on their own. That’s the neuroscience difference of what quality coaching is.

Next I spoke with Adam Mitcheson, the founder of My2BE, a platform being built to help mentors and mentors meet each other AND with a backbone of ensuring quality is maintained throughout the experience. Here is what he had to say:

“Mentoring is a relationship of shared learning and experience. Mentoring can be both formal and informal, and the relationship should always be driven by the mentee.

There is a misconception that Mentoring is about the grand old sage imparting wisdom to the young protege, the Yoda and Luke type relationship, but mentoring can be peer to peer, it can be from someone a step ahead of you, and can be people from your direct vertical as well as people with an outside and objective view. There is also reverse mentoring, think about the older generation learning from the younger generation - I teach my parents how to use their phones, but they taught me how to use a spoon.

To get the best out of any mentoring relationship, there must be respect and a clear set of expectations.

People can complicate finding a mentor by elevating the people they want to be mentored by. Don't believe the hype - some people have inflated opinions of their achievements (check their linkedin bios! for examples of this), The best way to find the right mentor is by starting with who you know already. Ask the question and see where that gets you.”

Another advocate of not simply trusting Linkedin profiles!

My final conversation was with Philip Alexander, CEO of People Platform

“Mentoring is about finding the right person or people to help you. Finding one person who can help you with everything is impossible; instead consider finding the best people to help you with specific problems. This way your will gain the most, and the mentor will be able to add real value.”

Four people whose lives are dedicated to creating quality experiences for those who desire coaching or mentoring. My own experience focuses on free coaching for startups on how to manage their emotional state as they deal with all sorts of challenges of starting a business. I believe you should start by identifying if your potential coach is simply selling you their bias (or not) - more on this in a moment. ALL you need to understand will come from asking these three questions:

What is your process?

What is your experience?

What do you believe I need the most to develop and find success?

Here is my why to each question:

Process - Determine whether they have agility which respects everyone as being unique. Many people who profess to be coaches and mentors are following a one-track method of working. Like me, you are unique; make sure their process is flexible as that is what you’ll need.

Experience - Bias is a big challenge when it comes to mentoring. By understanding their experience, you will be able to pick up if they are helping you walk your own path in life now or trying to make you walk the one they did. That’s the bias - if I am different to you, then why should I do the same as what you did? That is not mentoring and it’s certainly not coaching. Experience is the wisdom gained from screwing stuff up and helping others to not do the same.

What I need - This question must be asked last, once you now know the coach/mentor and their process. Their read of you needs to show they have researched you and that they understand you, and it will also reveal if they are swayed by their own experience or are actually there to help you and understand you.

From my perspective, I believe that listening is what matters the most. Listening done well is not just the words we say, it’s what we don’t say. Our fear, our self-belief, our confidence, our conditioning in life - it all needs to be listened to. You don’t listen as effectively when you are just waiting for your turn to speak, that is, to push your agenda and bias onto someone else. If you understand the right questions to ask, you can look at people with less fear of who or whether to trust.

Quality mentors and coaches aren’t scary; just qualify them by asking them the right questions (or speak to Jackie, Noelle, Philip & Adam)!