Why Mentor?

TreeAlthough the concept of the Mentor has been around since the time of Homer, it seems very much of the moment.  But why should anyone become a mentor?  And what does it involve?

The idea of mentoring seems to be having its moment in the sun, with both commercial and public sector organisations investing much time, energy and resources into mentoring programmes.  Charities exist simply to enable individuals to mentor others, and organisations like the CIPD enable their members to volunteer their time for mentoring activities.

So it seems sensible to understand what mentoring is, what is required of a mentor, and why an individual might want to become one…

What is Mentoring?

The more traditional concept of mentoring centres on the opportunity for experienced, senior members of a group, organisation or society to share their knowledge, expertise, experiences and views with the less experienced, more junior members, to help them progress in career and life.

More recently the idea of mentoring has been expanded, to include a variety of possible relationships in which an individual or individuals can share with others, for the benefits of all.  So now we have “Reverse mentoring”, group mentoring and online mentoring amongst other options.

At the heart of all these varieties lies the same core principle – Mentoring aims to be a meaningful relationship, with conversation, discussion, sharing and learning for mutual benefit.

Within the working environment there can be a number of reasons why a mentoring relationship, or a mentoring programme is established:

  • To support employee career development
  • As part of a talent programme to facilitate high potential development
  • As part of a focus on inclusion and diversity
  • As a key method to transfer knowledge throughout the organisation

The benefits associated with these aims are clear for the organisation; greater retention, increased expertise, succession planning, and for the individual; career development, greater opportunity and so on.  What can be more elusive to pin down is the real value for the mentor, particularly when we consider the demands placed upon a mentor…

The demands of a Mentor

To be a good mentor requires a number of qualities, without which the relationship is unlikely to be of value:

1. Interest and Generosity

As mentoring relationships are usually instigated either by an organisation, or by someone looking for a mentor, their interest is clear, but the mentor also needs to be genuinely curious about the individual they are involved in supporting.  Those who like the sound of their own voice, or are merely looking for the chance to demonstrate how successful they have been, won’t be of much value.  It takes a person who truly wants to understand you, your goals, your strengths, your weaknesses, and your interests to offer valuable, relevant guidance and support.  Allied to this genuine interest needs to be a desire to help, and willingness to spend time and energy with you, and a wish for you to succeed.

2. Honesty

A mentoring conversation has to be honest otherwise it’ll be of little use.  During the course of it there will be times that require encouragement and enthusiasm, but equally there will be times that require some home truths.  A mentor must be prepared to put forward their own views, even when they might not be easy to receive.

3. Trust and Discretion

A mentoring relationship can be very powerful, but also very intense.  You may be required to disclose deep concerns and fears.  In order for that to be possible, a high level of trust must be established between a mentor and the person they are mentoring.  Trust takes time to build, but one moment of indiscretion can destroy it, irrevocably.  Mentors must be the souls of discretion.

4. Self Awareness

Finally, self awareness.  In order to be of real value, a mentor must be aware of their own qualities, their own development, the actions they took to get where they are and the consequences of those actions.  This ability to identify the cause and effect of different situations, to “join the dots” as Steve Jobs put it, will allow the mentor to help you uncover the patterns in your own life and work. As many have said, in order to share your wisdom, you need to have wisdom to share.

So why Mentor?

Given all the demands placed upon you, why would anyone mentor someone else?  For a number of great reasons!

  • The sense of satisfaction you gain at helping another is not to be underestimated
  • You have the opportunity to add real value to your organisation
  • In the process you get some great feedback on your own skills, such as your communication
  • And you have the chance to learn as much from the relationship as the individual you mentor

Having started by referring to Homer, I’ll end with a quote from Plutarch;

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled”

Mentoring is a great way to do that for both people involved in the relationship.

The Developing Manager Series – Feedback

personal-leadership2The Developing Manager series – providing information and support to leaders and managers of all levels.

Our aim is to share ideas and experience around a different monthly theme, in the process starting a conversation about what it means to be a leader and manager in the 21st century.

2: Feedback

For some, the word feedback always has a mild death knoll sound attached to it. ‘I’d like to offer you some feedback….’ automatically heightens many peoples’ adrenalin levels, raises their hackles and puts them on edge. The very idea of being required to ‘give’ feedback to someone can make leaders at all levels take an extra deep breath.

Despite many years of being ‘fed back’ to (and trying really really hard to become open and receptive to the idea) it still conjures up notions of judgement, opinion, deconstruction and post-mortem for me. And from a very large stack of conversations with people in the workplace, I know I’m not alone.

I’ve had so many interesting and insightful discussions with leaders in the workplace over the years around this subject. I’ve poured over the principles of ‘giving effective feedback’ and tried out frameworks endlessly. I’ve even tested them out at home, which doesn’t always go down so well…

So the other day when I embarked on another discussion with a leader about ‘feedback’ I was surprised when it took an interesting turn. In our quest to support leaders in becoming the very best they can be we wanted to share what we think is an insightful angle on this critical leadership capability.

Preparation Beats Feedback

Let’s go to New York, and look at an approach to feedback being used by leaders with great levels of success. High performing schools in challenging areas – the Uncommon Schools undoubtedly achieve amazing things. Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion, and his co-author of Practise Perfect Katie Yezzi posted a link to his Blog, which encapsulates their angle on feedback.

In short, they believe (and see in practise) that preparation beats feedback. They believe that investing time in practising and planning before an event far outweighs the value gained from a traditional feedback session after an event where judgement is awaited and passed.

Now back from New York to London. The leader I was talking to had adopted the principles of this approach and was seeing significant positive changes in his team members as a result. So what is he doing?

He holds regular one to one sessions with individual teams members (of which he has a large number). The focus of these sessions is ‘developmental’. It’s not an update meeting – not an opportunity to talk about tasks, make requests or answer questions.

Together – prior to the meeting – they agree and identify what is to be explored, planned and practised. The example he gave me was a manager who wanted to work through how to give a difficult performance message to one of their direct reports. They were nervous as they knew it was likely to be contentious.

During their meeting they discussed the outcomes the manager was looking for, the message to be given, and explored the possible responses. This you will recognise as a classic coaching conversation. Then – and most significantly – they PRACTISED. They literally practised the words to be used, the responses available and the reactions possible. In short he equipped this direct report to have a successful and outcome focussed conversation.

After the manager held the conversation he sat down with his leader and they reviewed the events, outcomes, next steps.

So, what is different? In essence this approach focusses on spending time practising before a event rather than deconstructing in a feedback postmortem after the event.

Our Thoughts

It’s this simplicity of this approach that makes sense to us, and makes it an interesting angle to pursue. Shifting the balance to preparing together beforehand as opposed to deconstructing afterwards.

The idea of setting people up to succeed as opposed to sorting them out after they have fallen is a principle that flows through all of our work at Motion Learning. Bouncing ideas around with your leader has to result in strengthened relationships and increased collaboration. Our years of experience tells us that strong relationships and open communication positively impacts on productivity and results. So all in all – everyone wins.

However, this approach requires a leader to have some basic coaching skills under their belt. The ability to question, listen, demonstrate, advise and guide. It also requires a forward thinking leader who can see that time invested in setting people up to do well is more sustainable and effective in the long term than constant fire-fighting.

Your Next Steps

As managers of people, we encourage you to try out this approach and see what results it delivers you. We recommend you follow a few simple steps.

1 – Set Up Individual Development Meetings

Agree a regular time that suits you both, and agree to focus on individual development needs at each meeting

2 – Agree Your Developmental Goal

Discuss and agree the developmental focus of the meeting prior to each one

3 – Structure Your Meeting

Allow for collaboration, discussion and most importantly practise. Observe wherever possible and share thoughts afterwards

You may also want to reflect upon your own coaching skills. Do you have the ability to set goals, listen, question and guide? Keep reading our upcoming Blogs and Tweets and we will do our very best to keep sharing ideas on these and other skills with you.

Please contact us if you’d like to know more about how we help managers develop into great leaders – learn@motionlearning.com

Look out for further communication about leadership on our blog, and from @mindinmotion and @motionlearning

We’d love to hear your views so please let us know your own experiences of leadership and leadership styles.

The Developing Manager Series – Leadership

personal-leadership2The Developing Manager series – providing information and support to leaders and managers of all levels.

Our aim is to share ideas and experience around a different monthly theme, in the process starting a conversation about what it means to be a leader and manager in the 21st century.

1: Leadership

There can’t be many subjects which have had more books written about them, more talks delivered, than leadership. And yet leadership is as challenging and elusive as ever.

We know great leaders when we come into contact with them, but what makes a leader great? And how can we as Developing Managers act in a way which provides leadership to others?

We believe that leadership is an evolving practice, a skill to be learnt, developed and honed over months and years in management roles, with different teams in different situations. The requirements of leaders change as younger generations come into the workplace, and the nature of work also changes. So ideas about leadership also need to be flexible, adaptable and reflective of the current workplace and workforce.

Whilst there are many great books on leadership, and many great ideas contained within them, the work of Daniel Goleman has particular resonance for us. In our work with managers and leaders at all levels, the feedback we receive, and the evidence we see, suggests to us that his ideas strike a chord and offer a path to follow in the search for leadership capability.

Daniel Goleman on Leadership

For the last 15 years, in articles and books, Daniel Goleman has been sharing his view of the New Leader. For Developing Managers, the key ideas centre around the belief that leaders are most effective when they are responsive to the needs and mood of their team, and use their emotional intelligence to lead their team in a positive and productive manner.

Goleman identifies 6 leadership styles, with benefits but also costs to each. Here they are, in order of positive impact on the emotional climate of the team to which they are applied.

  • Authoritative/Visionary – “Come with me”

The most strongly positive style, which is all about articulating a compelling vision for others to follow. It requires and demonstrates confidence and empathy, and is particularly effective when a new direction is needed.

Adopting this style, leaders motivate their teams by providing clarity about the purpose of their work, and how it fits within the wider vision of the organisation. They enthuse their people with their own excitement and passion for the goals and objectives at all levels.

  • Coaching – “Try this”

This style is all about developing people for the future, and is another with a very positive impact upon the climate of the team. Leaders help their employees improve their performance and develop long-term strengths.

In adopting this style, leaders are demonstrating their interest, their concern and their respect for the individuals within their team, giving them time and ideas to enable them to develop. It increases communication and understanding, enabling leaders to remain close to their teams. It requires competence, empathy and self awareness in both parties.

  • Affiliative – “People come first”

The affiliative style is all about creating harmony and building emotional bonds. Leaders encourage communication and freedom in work, rewarding and providing feedback as they go.

Leaders who adopt this style create fierce loyalty by caring deeply for their team members. This can be particularly effective to bring a team together, or to help a team through stressful times.

  • Democratic – “What do you think?”

The democratic style is about working together with the team, gaining input and participation to reach a consensus. Leaders search out other views, drawing on the experience and expertise in the team to achieve the best solutions

Leaders adopting this style do so because they recognise the value of every contribution. In the process they allow team members to raise and discuss their concerns, which can have a positive impact upon morale. Leaders need to be conscious of the limitations of the democratic style as well though, as too much “management by committee” can be exasperating and slow things down. Overreliance on this style can create a sense of leaderlessness within a team too.

  • Pace setting – “Do as I do, now”

The pace setting style sees the leader setting extremely high performance standards, and exemplifying them in their own behaviour. The leader will identifies and addresses poor performance and demands more.

Whilst sounding good in theory, in practice this approach should be used sparingly, as it can be overwhelming and demoralising. Team members can end up simply trying to guess what the leader wants, and delivering it, rather than working in their own most productive way. Trust and flexibility are reduced as work becomes very task focused and feel micromanaged.

  • Coercive/Commanding – “Do what I tell you”

Viewed as the traditional “command and control” style, the coercive or commanding style has only short term benefits at best. Used in moments of crisis, or with problem situations or employees, it can produce a necessary compliance, or increase in performance.

However over the even slightly longer term, the manager who relies on the coercive style will suffer from decreased motivation, falling morale, higher staff turnover, and reduced productivity and results.

Our Thoughts

Based upon our years of interaction with managers, and their reflections upon these styles, certain aspects of Goleman’s ideas become clear to us:

The Visionary Style should always be considered and attempted

Even team leaders, supervisors and first line managers have a need to bring a group together and infuse it with a sense of purpose. Over and over again our contacts discussed and agreed that increasing the amount of “visionary” can increase a team’s purpose and achievement.

Although painting the big picture can seem quite daunting to a newly promoted or inexperienced manager, taking simple steps along the road to sharing their own vision for their department, and then exploring and articulating the organisation’s goals, are vitally important.

Senior and experienced managers also need to ensure they don’t forget to put the time and effort into sharing the important larger picture, bringing the journey and the purpose to life for everyone within the organisation.

The Coaching Style predominates

The most commonly observed and most comfortably employed style is the coaching style. Which is great news, as it has such a positive impact!

Even managers who have never received coaching skills training instinctively use this approach as a natural way to engage with team members and increase their performance. Managers who have taken the time, and had the support, to develop their coaching skills continually bring their team members on, with great results.

Your Next Steps

As managers we encourage you to consider Goleman’s leadership styles and to explore their relevance to your own situation. We suggest three steps:

  1. Explore your own style

Think about the styles you use, and consider their impact. Do you always resort to the same approach, or do you actively consider the best style to adopt in every situation.

  1. Observe the leaders you respect

Watch the great leaders and see what they do. Take the chance to discuss their style with them when you can, and see if they are conscious of their own approach.

  1. Flex your style

Try something new, particularly the Visionary style. Take the time to share the big picture with your team, and do so in a way that demonstrates your own enthusiasm and commitment.

Please contact us if you’d like to know more about how we help managers develop into great leaders – learn@motionlearning.com

Look out for further communication about leadership on our blog, and from @mindinmotion and @motionlearning

We’d love to hear your views so please let us know your own experiences of leadership and leadership styles.

Does your organisation make the most of workplace coaching?

Line Manager Coaching Word Cloud

Complete our online questionnaire to find out

At Motion Learning we spend a significant amount of time with our clients looking at ways to help them maximise the impact of formal and structured learning back in their workplaces.

Because we recognise that a huge amount of development really happens through experiential and social learning. In other words either ‘on the job’ or ‘near the job’.

Over the last 10 years, it has become apparent to us that there is an obvious – but frequently overlooked – skill area which is woefully under-developed and under-utilised; that of line manager coaching.

We know through experience that a line manager who can…

  • Identify coaching opportunities in a timely way
  • Address these coaching needs through skilled and structured conversations
  • Offer ongoing support and clear feedback to the learner

…Is considerably more likely to maximise an individual’s performance on the job.

The line manager who takes time to identify performance gaps, who exposes individuals to tasks that give them the opportunity to learn and who supports these people as they go on their learning journey is undoubtedly an incredible asset to a business.

And what’s more – when we work with line managers helping them learn how to coach they absolutely love it.

So it’s a winning approach all round – isn’t it?

How much more effective and rewarding will a development programme or workshop be, both for the individual and the organisation, if the skills and insights gained in a formal environment are then followed up in the workplace through focused coaching?

Line manager coaching helps learners put their newfound skills into practice, provides encouragement and guidance in the face of difficulties, and reinforces new behaviours.

In many situations the coaching becomes the key learning tool. Why send an individual on a workshop when they have a line manager who is more than capable of helping them develop the necessary skills whilst also understanding their unique challenges?

We believe that line manager coaching is a critical element of organisational and individual development.

Taking all of this into consideration, why are so many line management populations devoid of clear coaching capability? Or if not devoid, then at least seriously lacking? To us it seems like a opportunity that businesses can ill afford to miss out on…

We’d like to get your thoughts and offer you the chance to assess your own workplace capability and potential.

Follow this link to complete our questionnaire and receive your report on how close your organisation is to developing a coaching culture.


My Mindful Battle!

‘There’s always a first time…’ my doctor said kindly and gently when informing me that I’d just had my first migraine attack.

‘Are you finding things unusually busy or stressful at the moment?’ he went on to ask.

Explaining my home and work life antics he just as gently replied ‘that will most likely be the reason then…..’

I left the emergency department at Moorfields eye hospital, armed with a new found focus on drinking more water, breathing more regularly, taking 5 minutes to sit down and do nothing (!), and ironically a strong commitment to do anything that would avoid a second migraine experience.

Logically I know what to do, but in the real world even these simple things I find difficult.

Inevitably along came migraine number 2… Ouch!

So – in search of mental ‘me time’ for both my health and my sanity I returned to a world I had briefly entered a few months ago. The world of ‘Mindfulness’.

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose,

in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Paying attention quietly and peacefully to the present moment… sounds lovely… right up my alley. Crikey it’s difficult though!

A few months ago I spent some time with a group of brilliant senior HR colleagues. Forward thinking, energetic and engaging people. We discussed Mindfulness.

In preparation for our meeting I had undertaken an online Mindfulness course, and spent a sunny Sunday in a basement with some Buddhist monks learning the basics of meditation. This alongside reading and researching the core principles.

We shared our experiences. The core principles surrounding Mindfulness made sense to us all and we agreed any reduction in stress, anxiety and increase in focus and present moment thinking would be of huge benefit (commercial and personal) for all concerned.

We all supported the focus on personal wellbeing and its’ direct impact on workplace happiness and effectiveness.

So the principles all have a big, bright, green light…

My battle remains with the ‘reality’.

I’ve been reflecting on what gets in the way. It’s not the time, as I can find the time to practise some Mindful activity should I choose to. So what is it?

Habit, Skill, Will, Capability, Capacity?

In search of a little ‘present moment’ free thinking time, I’ve found myself with another item on my ‘to do’ list. Must practise being Mindful…

Hmmn. Now that really makes my head hurt!

Any thoughts, ideas, tips, comments, observations very welcome!

Social Media, HR and Learning and Development

So, can social media be of real use to HR and L&D professionals, or is it all a timewasting distraction?

This question was at the heart of a lively and amusing discussion held last week at Motion with a group of senior HR and Marketing professionals.

In amongst the laughter caused by the knowledge check of the different brands in social media (after all, how many of you know what all of the following really do: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Yammer, Pinterest, G+, Pinstagram, Foursquare…) was a serious discussion about the value, but also the challenges that social media offer the HR and L&D fields.

Some conclusions were as follows:

  • As a means of communicating the brand to the outside world, and particularly to prospective employees, tools like Twitter and Facebook can be of real value
  • As a way of communicating internally, again Facebook, along with Yammer can add a new dimension, whether to general communication, or for particular groups such as participants on a training programme
  • Tools like Pinterest and Shelfari might offer opportunities to share information in energising and interesting ways

As innovation is at the heart of Motion Learning, we’re doing our best to explore these options and introduce them where relevant to the learning and development activities we offer.  We’ll keep you posted on our progress.

The Importance of Resilience

At Motion Learning we run regular taster sessions on a range of topical subjects.  One that has attracted a lot of interest recently has been on the subject of Developing Resilience, and it’s not hard to understand why.

A recent study on reactions to the current global economic crisis highlighted the range of reactions and depth of emotions that are stirred up by the uncertainty we all currently face.  At the same time, the study, by the American Psychological Association, suggested that people have the ability to “bounce back” in even the most challenging situations.  But the quality that enables this to happen is not a simple one to define, or develop.

Our level of resilience appears to be the result of a combination of our genetic make up, our upbringing and experiences, and our own desire to improve.

Whilst looking into this area we came across a number of interesting thoughts and ideas.

  • A piece of research on the impact of  “licking” on rats http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/epigenetics/rats/ which supports what many will instinctively feel, that our level of anxiety is related to the treatment we receive as children
  • The work of Andrew Shatté, and the 7 factors for developing individual resilience.  Some of his thoughts can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iUs3ZEBDjo
  • The enduring value of Stephen Covey’s work, and in particular his ideas on focusing on what we can control, rather than becoming preoccupied with what we can’t control.
  • The work of Bruce Robertson and Cary Cooper, on the opportunities organisations have to create environments which allow employees to cope more effectively with the changes that take place at work
Our view on resilience is that we do have the power to increase our ability to bounce back.  It can take time and effort, but there are specific aspects we can work on:
  • Our mindset
  • Our energy levels
  • Our communication
  • Our focus
In working on these areas, in creating a positive mindset, in ensuring we have sufficient energy, in communicating with the right people in the right way, and in focusing on what’s important, and what we have control over, we can increase our resilience.
It’s not easy, but it’s a hugely satisfying challenge, and one we relish taking on with the people with whom we work.

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