The Mentor Manager

For some time now, we’ve seen many organisations encouraging their managers to learn the art of coaching as a key approach in their suite of management tools.  I’ve witnessed first hand many situations where the ‘manager as coach’ approach has helped lift members of a team, or even whole teams and positively enhanced the performance of the managers themselves. 

But is a ‘manager as coach’ style enough to lift a team and provide longer-term sustainable performance? I’m not so sure. I think that the ‘manager as coach’ strategy stops short of helping a team reach the heights of performance that are possible, simply because coaching remains a conditional approach that is driven by immediate outcomes. Coaching is task oriented and the main focus is on tangible issues such as giving effective feedback, thinking strategically or how to provide better customer service.  For this reason, coaching has a shorter-term focus with the emphasis being on how to perform more effectively today. An effective manager understands when to use coaching for good impact, and we could say that coaching is a situational tool; just as the ability to have courageous conversations or use the right tools at the right time are situational decisions.

The key to helping your team enhance their performance is to move beyond the conditional aspects of your relationship and adopt more of a mentoring style. ​​

 In my own experience as both a leader and a team member, I know that the times I have seen sustained peak performance are the times when relationships move beyond the conditional ‘something for something’ stage and towards a level of professional intimacy.  And in these uncertain times when teams are remote, and it’s hard to know how your team members are ‘really’ doing, the ability to take a mentoring approach could be a constructive leadership approach that acts as a life saver for those team members who are struggling but don’t feel comfortable to explicitly share their feelings.

Mentoring & Coaching: Take Care of the Long & Short Game 

Mentoring in itself is about relationships and quite unconditional.  This is a big shift for those managers who are attached to more traditional leadership styles, as it tends to offer up a level of vulnerability that puts the manager on the same level as their people.  Managers who understand this provide a level of safety in their team that makes it ok for their employees to share issues that may be affecting their professional and personal performance; which may lead to some coaching, training or something else to help address the gap.  The reality is that a mentoring approach relies on sharing who you are and not just what you know. A leader who is able to integrate mentoring into their style will likely learn that the root of many performance issues lies in self-esteem, work/life balance or other personal issues that don’t lie that far beneath the surface.  This raises the question; how often has coaching or training been incorrectly used to deal with issues that may simply have needed an ear or required a simple word of acknowledgement for them at least start to be addressed?  And right now, when things seem unclear, and for some unsafe, a mentoring approach be just what’s needed in tandem with more situational or directive management.

When used together, both mentoring and coaching combine to be a holistic leadership approach that provide a focus on both the long and short term.  An example of this is shown below with a situation that is becoming increasingly common – career development:

1. The mentoring leader is able to learn what the employee really wants to do, and where they see themselves in five or ten years.  
(long term focus)

2.  The manager as coach is able to help them address any gaps required to help them on their way; or if those possibilities aren’t available in the organisation, (short term focus)

3. The mentoring manager will put them in touch with someone in their network who can give them more information on how to achieve their career goals. (long & short term focus)

As simple as it may appear, by being genuinely interested in what motivates your people you have established a level of trust, especially if you’ve been prepared to share what motivates you as well.  Having the conversation around your differences in motivations can build levels of trust and engagement in a short space of time that could otherwise take months or years to build.  

Integrating a mentoring style doesn’t require extra time in your day as a manager, nor does it mean you have to give up other styles or tools.  It just means that you are able to use them more strategically and for greater impact.  It also requires that you take the opportunities to build relationships with your people and seek to understand who they really are.  

Out of all of this though, it’s possible that the hardest thing will be for you to have the courage to make the first step and offer up a little bit about who you really are!

Ponte Valle Insight: The Mentor Manager

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