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Supporting Your Employees By Mentoring Instead Of Managing

Supporting Your Employees By Mentoring Instead Of Managing

Old economy Steve might have been happy with two cars, a suburban McMansion, and a 100" home entertainment system, but recent studies are showing that all people – not just millennials – are happier when their money is spent on living, rather than on having.

This is similarly reflected in modern attitudes towards work; people are now far more inclined to value development and work-life balance over pay and benefits. Work preferences may have shifted, but management certainly hasn’t, which is probably one of many contributing factors to the extreme disengagement of today’s workforce.

Underlying this desire for “experience” is the human psychological need for growth and development – what Maslow referred to as achieving a state of self-actualisation. As a manager, one of the key ways you can cater towards this need is by focusing more on mentoring, what retired Harvard Business School professor David Thomas refers to as building a "developmental relationship".

Building a Developmental Relationship

Performance management is being (very) slowly superseded by more modern techniques, but it  is still deeply embedded in the psyche and behaviour of today’s organisations, as evidenced by the plethora of “performance reviews” or “performance targets”. Prof. Thomas argues that it’s far more productive to manage for “development” than “performance”. According to Thomas, managers who manage for performance are far more likely to be have disengaged teams and high churn rates, than managers who manage for growth and development.

So how do you build developmental relationships with your team? According to Li and Julian (2012);

“Developmental relationships are characterized by reciprocal human interactions that embody an enduring emotional attachment, progressively more complex patterns of joint activity, and a balance of power that gradually shifts from the developed person in favor of the developing person.”

Whilst this sounds quite vague and academic, there are concrete actions you can take as a manager (or peer). The following is a useful framework from the Search Institute:

Express CARE

Show that you like me and want the best for me.

  • Be Present: Pay attention when you are with me.

  • Be Warm: Let me know that you like being with me and express positive feelings toward me.

  • Invest: Commit time and energy to doing things for and with me.

  • Show Interest: Make it a priority to understand who I am and what I care about.

  • Be Dependable: Be someone I can count on and trust.


Insist that I try to continuously improve.

  • Inspire: Help me see future possibilities for myself.

  • Expect: Make it clear that you want me to live up to my potential.

  • Stretch: Recognize my thoughts and abilities while also pushing me to strengthen them.

  • Limit: Hold me accountable for appropriate boundaries and rules.


Help me complete tasks and achieve goals.

  • Encourage: Praise my efforts and achievements.

  • Guide: Provide practical assistance and feedback to help me learn.

  • Model: Be an example I can learn from and admire.

  • Advocate: Stand up for me when I need it.


Hear my voice and let me share in making decisions.

  • Respect: Take me seriously and treat me fairly.

  • Give Voice: Ask for and listen to my opinions and consider them when you make decisions.

  • Respond: Understand and adjust to my needs, interests, and abilities.

  • Collaborate: Work with me to accomplish goals and solve problems.


Expand my horizons and connect me to opportunities.

  • Explore: Expose me to new ideas, experiences, and places.

  • Connect: Introduce me to people who can help me grow.

  • Navigate: Help me work through barriers that could stop me from achieving my goals.


As Lisa Orrell, the author of Millennials Incorporated, says “People don’t leave companies; they leave managers, They’re not mad at the building. They’re mad at who they work with on a day-to-day basis. We may have tolerated it for five to 10 years. Millennials will tolerate it for five to 10 months.”. Bear that in mind next time you lose one of your team members!

Further reading


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