Coaching and Mentoring
Coaching and Mentoring (being one)
When someone's been hired to do a job, particularly if it's a well paid and/or high-flying job, they're supposed to know everything, be able to handle everything with ease, deal with other people's problems and in general be super-person.
Well, not exactly.
There are loads of people who get hired for or promoted to, really good jobs because of the skills and capabilities they have demonstrated.
Yet six months later they are floundering and don't appear to be up to it all.
You may be someone who manages one of those people.
It's not unusual for people, even at the beginning of their careers, to feel they are supposed to know more and be able to do more than they are currently able to. A common and recurrent nightmare is the feeling that somehow they will be 'found out' as not being up to the job and thrown out on their ear.
What can get left out when people are appointed for a job - wherever they are on the career ladder - is that they will need some form of guidance and support along the way. Some companies know this and part of their employee care is to have a coaching and/or mentoring programme in place. Unfortunately, many do not.
For people who do work for such a company, it may feel uncomfortable or embarrassing asking for support internally, and so they go without. This is where the 'I should know it all already' belief kicks in, and the offers of coaching or mentoring go unheeded because:
'I'll look weak.'
'I don't want want people to know I've asked for help.'
'My staff won't respect me if they know I'm seeing someone.'
'It's counselling isn't it I don't need counselling.'
'I think it's great our company has this terrific programme, I'll recommend it to my staff not my kind of thing really.'
'If they thought I needed coaching I wouldn't have been hired in the first place.'
'They must think I'm not doing so well if they think I need coaching.'
And so on.
Let's take David Beckham (we know, we know, there's plenty of us who'd like to take David Beckham), who obviously got hired for his manifest talent but also his potential. He brought a lot of his innate ability with him, but what has developed his talent has been careful consistent and constant coaching. This has been both for his skill as a footballer and his maturity as a human being. He didn't start out as England's Captain but got there through his hard work and the hard work of many others. No embarrassment there in having coaching.
See, if you were a sports person, you'd know what to do: you'd have a coach who'd work with you on your fitness, your training and eating regimens, your attitude, your goals. You'd be supported by someone who had your best interests as a priority. You wouldn't even question that coaching was part of the deal; it would be integral to your development.
Coaches help us get better at what we already do.
All of us need guidance and motivation at different times in our lives: someone to 'coach' us into the corporate equivalent of swimming those extra laps or helping us make those crucial adjustments to our golf swing.
Good coaching is unbiased, objective support that sees and identifies the qualities and abilities in other people and helps develop them; it sees and identifies which hurdles are hard to get over and finds ways to get over them or circumvent them when appropriate. Good coaching comes from someone on the sidelines who has their 'mentee's' best interests as a priority.
A coach or mentor is a guide; an adviser; loyal, interested, trusted and most importantly, experienced in areas that others may not be.
This person can be someone senior or on an equal footing, but who helps steer their colleagues' careers through both the good and the difficult times. They provide motivation and inspiration and help find ways to deal with immediate difficulties as well as helping plan a long-term career strategy.
That all makes sense, doesn't it?
So why don't more people have coaches and mentors? Why don't people just see it as 'normal' and expected, rather than something out of the ordinary?
Indeed, many companies tend to call us in to help when someone is on their knees, gasping for breath and going down for the third time, to mix a few metaphors. Not at the beginning of their career, or when they've got a promotion. No, only when they can't possibly hide for one more minute that they are in trouble, might they moot that a spot of help might possibly be OK.
What a shame.
It is possible for all that floundering to be avoided.
That's where you come in. Whether you're an unofficial or official coach or mentor, you can have a tremendous impact and influence on the future career and well being of people who work in your company.
Coaching and Mentoring - Now What Do I Do?
You need a few good qualities, but don't panic, they can be learnt.
You need to have patience.
Back to our sports analogy. A good coach sees what the end result could be where the potential could end up. What they don't do, however, is to work someone as though they were already there. They see what's needed to get the person to the next step and train them up to that point.
Ah, but in business, we need things done yesterday; we need speed; we can't wait around for someone to develop slowly.
Well, we're not talking about slowly; we're talking about patience. We know that if people are given some latitude in the pace of their development, and it's done properly, they tend to excel; push them too quickly and they will get disheartened and de-motivated.
You need to have the ability to step back
We were about to say you need objectivity, but that's a really hard skill to develop. We think it's nigh on impossible to be completely objective there lies 'saint or Buddha-hood'. However, being able to take a step back and see a situation from a number of points of view is a fantastic skill to have.
That way you can help your 'mentee' step back and see the situation from more than their own perspective. You can point out where others might be coming from that they can't see just yet, or you can even act as devil's advocate and challenge their point of view.
Avoid feeding the problem
Sometimes your 'mentee' may come to you with some gripes; things they want to get off their chest and complain about. That's all fine. People should have a place where they can off-load. However, one of the worst things you can do is collude with what they are saying and feed their negative feelings. So if someone comes to you full of unhappiness about, say, Mr Philips, who's dumped them with a load of extra work, you need to avoid agreeing with just how awful Mr Philips is.
Your job is to listen, reflect back what you're hearing and then explore what can be done about it. Your job is to be on someone's side without taking sides. That way, the guidance you give helps feed the solution not the problem.
It's OK to give advice
We think it was Jung who said something like, 'Good advice is rarely harmful because it's rarely listened to.' Well, when it comes to coaching someone, it's your expertise, experience and understanding that are of value, so use them. The other person is still the one who's going to have to put it into practise it will be up to them whether they heed your words of wisdom or carry on as they are.
It's also OK to lay it on the line
Although being a coach/mentor is about creating a safe, confidential place in which people can develop without too much fear of making career-limiting moves, it is still part of your job to be straight with them. In a sense you are doing 'reality checks' by being clear for the other person about what you see is going on and some of the things they could do about it.
It's also OK to do nothing
Sometimes, people just need a place to have a good moan, cry in their beer and then they're OK. They don't need advice, they don't need a good talking to, they don't need anything sorted out.
They just want a friendly, empathetic listener. You don't have to agree with their point of view, but you can make neutral comments like "It sounds as though you've been going through a rough time" as opposed to "What a bastard he is! No one should be treated like that!"
Equally important is to let people have the feelings they're having. You don't need to fix anything; you don't need to make it better; you don't need to solve their problems. We believe one of the worst things you can do to someone is to tell them how they should be feeling, or to say cheer up, or things will get better.
When we're in the midst of feelings we can't really hear any of that and it can be really annoying to be told you should be feeling differently.
Doing nothing is another version of having patience.
Let them make mistakes
Oh boy, is it ever tempting to try to get someone else to avoid the pitfalls you fell into. Here you are sitting on all that experience and wisdom and it's painful to watch someone else screw up. Now, of course, if you see those big abysses opening up in front of them, you do need to offer cautionary words. Let them at least know your point of view and what dangers lurk ahead.
However, the real key here is that they are not you. They may breeze by the mistakes you made without a hitch and then fall flat over something unexpected. Cliche though it may sound, mistakes are there to learn from, not to be chastised over.
We said at the beginning that part of the mentor's role is to be able to see where someone else's potential could take them you see the possible end result. It can be thrilling, inspiring, rewarding, etc. to have had a hand in another person's development; to see them excel because of your guidance.
Sometimes, the results can be startling and visible; everyone can see the changes. There's something very gratifying about public recognition and knowing your input made an obvious and noticeable difference.
However, sometimes, the results are far more subtle. To the outside world, it may not look as though much of anything has changed; but internal shifts can be as, if not more, significant than the external ones.
Either way, coaching and mentoring is an important, and we believe, essential gift you can give others.
Yes, they will have to do all the hard work to get there, but you will have contributed and the personal satisfaction of watching someone blossom can be tremendous.
Not only that, working on someone else's development develops you. You can learn an awful lot about yourself and your own foibles, quirks and talents when you experience, in a close way, the foibles, quirks and talents of others. A double bonus!
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