A very well-meaning leader wanted some advice this week on how to advise an excellent young employee that the way she dressed and responded to situations was potentially holding her back.
This leader cared a lot and wanted so much to be able to help this young woman to see her potential.
He was struggling with the right words to say to her to address this very personal issue.
My suggestion was to try a completely different tack. What if you let her work out what she wants to do and how she is going to get there? Ultimately she needs to work this out herself; this is her lesson to learn. You can’t 'fix' this situation.
We often end up 'rescuing' people because we can see their potential or we can see a way to correct a situation. In those moments we are not mentoring people, we are not empowering them, we are 'saving' them from themselves. Which means, and it’s hard to hear, that we are acting as though we are superior to them and that we know better. We are caring and kind in our actions; so it doesn’t feel initially like we are being superior. But we are ultimately saying we know better than you. We don’t trust you to work this out yourself.
So I suggested that maybe this leader could ask this young and capable young woman where she would like to be in the next five years? What would she like to achieve? What do you think you need to do to get there and how can I support you?
If she asks you what she could do differently, you could ask her how she wants to be perceived by the people who might be able to promote her in the future. She has to work out who she is and what her 'brand' is. That’s her call.
Ask her lots of questions. Get her to work out her priorities. Let her know you think she is amazing and that she has extraordinary potential. Empower her to develop relationships with other people in the organisation that could support her. Then just see what happens next.
It’s her journey. And you can support her in that journey as a valued mentor.