What Can You Learn About Mentoring From the Game of Tennis?
In tennis, the mantra is that if you want to get better, you should play against people a little better than you. (Not a lot better, because you get smoked 6-0 and that’s just demotivating.)
The reason playing against people a little better than you is so important is that in doing so you start to notice moves you would not have made. The other person is playing a different, better game. It has been said that all the best moves are stolen.
At work, I recommend identifying people who seem to have a better game. In whatever domain, they perform better. It may be that they:
- Are more organized
- Are good at managing conflict
- Know how to gain cooperation and buy-in
- Create great presentations
- Connect with customers in creative ways
Whatever it is that you notice, and value, I recommend you take these people out and buy them a cup of the gourmet coffee. Maybe even lunch.
In this setting, you can ask them how they do what they do, and then sit back and listen.
Here’s the potential magic in this conversation: As your new friend unpacks his or her reasoning – a way of thinking about the topic – you will probably hear something new, something you hadn’t thought about. This creates new opportunities and possibilities.
For example, you might hear from someone skilled at conflict management that the first thing he or she does in a conflict is to listen and ask clarifying questions. This is contrary to how most people engage, which is more commonly to raise defense shields and counter-attack. And so the drama begins.
You’re really after superior “source code,” lines of instruction that create better “applications” that you can run. The reason for the O.S. metaphor is that the ways of thinking about performance and behavior are often beneath the surface and perhaps not immediately obvious – until you ask.