The Missing Piece in Mentoring

The Missing Piece in Mentoring 150 150 Laura Sicola


Mentorship, sponsorship, advocacy… call it what you will, but it needs to go beyond the perfunctory semi-annual meeting to discuss career goals. For most people in that kind of relationship, it probably does, but does it extend to seeking, offering or accepting guidance on the way someone speaks? This is a huge factor in developing executive presence. Short of generically suggesting that someone work on his or her communication skills as is commonly referenced on the annual review, leadership communication tends to be a major missing link.

So what are some of the things to look for in the leadership communication skills in your mentee, and how can you help them work on those areas?

Communication Skills to Look For

Let’s start with content. When presenting information to senior leadership, employees frequently tend to provide too much detail – or “get lost in the weeds,” as they say. Recognize that this is often because they want to convey the thoroughness of their efforts and thought processes, and justify any findings or recommendations that they provide. Reassure them that they’ve been given the opportunity to present this work because they already have the benefit of the doubt that they are qualified and capable, and their results are trustworthy, so get to the point.

Sometimes the challenge is not the quantity of the content, but the level of diplomacy that is used – or missed, as the case may be.

On the one hand, maybe they tend to be conflict-averse, getting tongue-tied at the idea of having to confront someone directly. If so, they often need help finding the words to frame critical feedback in a way that doesn’t beat around the bush, but still allows them to prioritize their relationship without upsetting the other person.

On the other hand, they may have a reputation of being excessively blunt, and come across as unnecessarily combative or defensive. They may need help understanding how their choice of words and delivery (see below) are harmful to their short-term discussion goals and long-term career interests. Then, they will also need alternative framing suggestions to help get their point across without alienating people in the process.

Getting more into the delivery, the ability to show poise and “grace under fire” are often demonstrated by how they control the pace of their speech. Does it sound like one giant run-on sentence? When speakers can articulate their thoughts in finite sentences, like when writing, they sound more in control. They “own” their material. Even if they are fast talkers, something as simple as remembering to pause, just for a second after each point, allows the listeners’ brains to catch up with their ears and digest the last point.

Another problem is that modern social patterns have popularized a bad habit known as “up-speak” or “up-talk,” which is where people sound like they’re always asking a question? At the ends of all their phrases and sentences? Even when they’re not? Which gets really annoying, you know?

The irony is that most people don’t realize when they do it – and it is just as prevalent in men as in women, and in Baby Boomers as in Millennials, contrary to popular belief. It doesn’t even sound like they are interested in what they’re saying… and if their own content doesn’t interest them first, why would it interest anyone else?

So if you are mentoring someone, formally or informally, start listening for some of these patterns. Neglecting to address these issues can undermine all the helpful and well-intended guidance you are otherwise offering.

And if you really want to challenge yourself, remember that taking steps to improve the effectiveness of your own leadership communication is mentoring by example.


Do you have trouble determining which of these patterns or others are negatively influencing someone’s image or reputation? Are you unsure of how to talk to them about it, or how to help them improve? Or do you have other questions or feedback about this issue? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!