Why You Should Mentor

The word Mentor in magazine letters on a notice board

Today I’m running a Workshop on Mentoring Skills at the CIPD Regional Steps Ahead Summit in Manchester. With over 4,000 mentees already in the programme, 7 out of 10 young people find employment after engaging with Steps Ahead and the CIPD credit local mentors with this success.

It’s got me thinking about Mentoring again, and why it is one of the most important roles anyone can play, personally, professionally and socially. My first deep-dive into mentoring started in 2008, project managing the internal Mentoring scheme for the Scottish Government. When I first took over, it was a small and fairly exclusive affair, designed for the those who showed high potential to be introduced and mentored by Senior Leaders they might not otherwise get access to. It was an excellent scheme, with good training and careful matching… and it had the potential to be so much more…

By the time we handed the Mentoring Scheme over in 2012, we were working with over 400 matched pairs internally and had established other mentoring relationships across the Public Sector in Scotland. The scope of the Scheme had grown to enable specialist mentoring groups to access and use both the scheme and the training content, from LGBT groups to the General Legal Council.
We achieved this by talking to people and finding out what was needed. To encourage interest & also self-selection, I was running 1 hour briefing sessions, 4 times a day, one day a month. This meant potential Mentors and Mentees could hear what it was all about and meet other mentors and mentees, at a time that suited them, and decide for themselves if this was something useful.
Mentors were trained – full day covering skills, ethics, role of mentor and peer support networks
Mentees were trained – 3 hours on what to expect, what to bring, role of the mentee.
If I had my time again, I’d use video footage, podcasts and other things to get the message out, but it was 8 years ago and we are in a different time….

It was an astonishing thing to watch as it grew. The skill and the will of the Mentors, the questions and hunger of the mentees. The tricky issues they faced together, the championing of mentees, the respect for mentors… not all the relationships worked. We put guidance and clarity in for what happens if you are stuck, or it’s done… and sometimes the issues weren’t mentoring ones and these needed to be worked through by mentors and mentees

And as ever, when I became aware I was espousing the good stuff about mentoring, but wasn’t ACTUALLY doing it myself, I started looking at where I could Mentor.

Napier University runs a Mentoring programme for students from Non-traditional background who are about to Graduate. They researched the correlation between successful Graduate Employability and if, for instance, you are the first in your family to go to University, or in a minority group.

 I’m about to do the research a horrible disservice and I can’t find it on Google – so if anyone knows better, please comment below- but broadly the research said: Students from non-traditional backgrounds often see their degree as the goal and stumble slightly at the Employability stage – in other words, if you come from a family who have already done the degree thing, your parents, siblings etc are already pushing you think about the job-at-the-end.. whereas if you are the first ever to go to uni, that alone can be seen as the pinnacle for a while… add on to that if you are from a minority group, all the known barriers to entry and the current difficulties around social mobility in the UK… and these Graduates need a helping hand.

I had the privilege of working with two young women. Each for a year. Each with very different needs and backgrounds. My mentorship involved many coffees, working through application forms, challenging lots of “no. I can’t. that is too audacious” type thinking. I set up a mock panel interview. I help organise a visit to local businesses and got them talking to other Graduates. It was tough at times, figuring out what the right thing to do might be and not getting involved in some of the family dramas that played out in these young womens’ lives… I’m eternally thankful to Claire Bee at Napier University, who was boundlessly positive and supportive in times of doubt.

What I brought was experience, a different perspective, a belief in my mentees, the willingness to listen and offer thoughts and views…. I brought action-orientation, I pushed them to go explore.. Practical stuff like the interview was great… the fall-out learning from it was harder than expected for the mentee and there was a lot of work around confidence and determination….but that’s part of any journey.

What I learned was probably as much as I offered. Applying my coaching training… but also bringing myself in a different way. The actual difficulty of getting a job at the start was brought back home to me, and then add the barriers they faced and I have nothing nothing nothing but respect and awe for these young women. I learned what it’s like to be invested in someone’s future in a different way to friends or family. And how there is nothing quite like the moment your mentee texts you to say: I got it.

Think about what you have to offer someone – someone younger or older, someone in the same field as you or in a different situation… and if you can find a way to offer your time, your skills and your energy? Do it.

More information on the CIPD Steps Ahead programme here:

Organisational Structures & Leading through Relationships

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I’m thinking about structures. Organisational structures and restructures and the way we organise ourselves at work – how we plan, decide, action… you know, that configuration-y stuff. Partly, this has been sparked by recent work around matrix stuctures, and partly by reading this article on how to build a self-managed organisation.

Top down, hierarchy? Matrix working? Self-organised systems? Which is best?

It kind of strikes me that they all survive or fail through relationships..and how we get information to each other effectively (aka that illusive catch-all “communication”)

Mostly, I suspect, if a group of folk get together and are unable, unwilling or ill-equipped to have the types of discussions, the information sharing, the good will and trust that generates good outcomes and understanding… it sort of doesn’t matter how the hell you organise them.

I have some sympathy with top-down hierarchical structures, at times. There is an apparent simplicity and obviousness to the process- I tell: you do – which is tidy and neat. Only… it never really works that way. Not properly and consistently…but I still like the story on occasion – the illusion of control and orderly lines…..

Then I remember the start of my leadership journey, back when my top-down authority extended precisely to the lines in my team….on paper. Off paper, my team did what was needed, irrespective (at times) of my decisions. I’d have been annoyed, but often what they ended up doing was better than anything I was coming up with – that’s when I started to let go a bit, listening properly and asking them stuff… Potentially, I grew up a bit.

My reality? Of a role in HR, then L&D/ change? I never had one of those jobs that demanded instant respect… whatever they may be…. If I wanted my authority or opinion to matter beyond my direct reports, I needed to actively build my network, my credibility and my usefulness. Frustrating as this has been, at times, that reality has been.. well, kind of character building.

Now I work in a world where any “leadership” I take or show has to be negotiated through others. There is no top-down hierarchy here…and that comes with its own set of stuff. Credibility and respect have to be earned. Collective models for leading and decision making can be bloody time consuming – building relationships, developing the ability to gather views and hold everyone to a core intent; whilst acknowledging that, actually, at some point there will be a series of corridor conversations, email, DM’s etc that support or detract from that core intent… and working to do whatever is required to make the thing happen anyway, surfacing the gnarly bits where you can either through direct action or subtle means….

If you are in a self organising team, or working in a matrix structure, your capacity to lead and influence is awarded or denied by those around you – a constantly shifting morass of opinions and relationships.. no-one is in charge so everyone is in charge, but the authority to be in charge might well depend on your confidence and capacity to talk a good game….that can feel or stressful and actually a little thankless – where do you get recognition if you lead in this model? To “take the lead” or be awarded it through circumstance of expertise, or opinion or function necessitates  you are slightly “out there” – apart from others…. yet in a collective structure – you can’t be “out there”leading  and also “in here” with everyone… it’s paradoxical and not for the faint hearted. How do we help folk hold that paradox?

Being held up as leader, or actively taking the lead and being “out there” means a risk of being misunderstood or maligned – beyond your immediate team or the folk who really know what you are up to. Some times it’s worse…. Sometimes you are venerated and revered… pedestals are, I suspect, precarious. For me, this is the stuff we need to think about and design learning interventions for – how to work with uncertainty and hold your authority in a unstable operating environment.

So what am I saying? for me, however we structure ourselves to plan, organise or act, it always comes down to the core stuff –, the need to build relationships– to develop and maintain our abilities to listen, to articulate our viewpoint (kindly, if possible), to work to remain open-minded. It’s about striving to develop our maturity, our capacity to work with uncertainty and our commitment to have positive intent to those around us.

This is not about structure, or technology or revolution or disruption.

This is about committing to developing the core skills we already have to relate and committing to designing Learning Interventions in our organisations that deeply support that for the long term.

Organizational Charts drawing by Manu Cornet, http://www.bonkersworld.net

Noodling

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This has come out of the #ldinsight chat today on what have we learned from the Friday Twitter chats.

In response to the plea to let things emerge and the very lovely open space principle that “the right people will be arrive” to be in a conversation – I’m thinking about the difference between being interventionist & making stuff happen vs being non interventionist & letting stuff happen as it happens.

So I’m thoughtful that most of the client systems I hang out in err to the interventionist – lock it down on a plan, with dates and budgets. Plan. Organise. Control. THIS intervention means THESE are your Learning Outcomes (Really? They are? How do you know? Are these my only Learning Outcomes? Am I allowed more? Fewer? Where’s the part where I got a say in this intervention?)
See… too much of that stuff & it all gets a bit daft.
I’ve worked with people and systems who cannot leave well enough alone – changing for changes sake, just because they need to intervene… it’s arguably harmful.

And then there is an alternative route – emergent possibilities – working in a way that is inherently more complex (LOADS of stuff runs, mostly all at the same time, as many ideas as you have folk) Slower – it takes time to work with emerging agendas, you need to let stuff run to see where it is running & if that’s working. It’s free thinking, self-organising and non-interventionist. It’s arguably a tougher route. Certainly it requires a whole bunch of personal maturity and resilience to just kind of let stuff go.. inner control freaks start rearing their head, people can feel very unsettled …

Both suit folk. Lock it down, intervene to ensure an outcome, seems safer, faster… and then generally, in the long term, the unlocked stuff leaks all over the place, muddying the nice neat boxes constructed.
Emergent agendas – going where it goes, with whoever happens to be around, working with what is new – seem more creative, more fluid, fairer…

Which leads me to noodling.
I can noodle. It’s a bit of a fuchsiablueism – by noodling I mean I can work with a big bowl of muddled up noodles and love the complexity, follow the threads, play with the forms.. work with what emerges. I can do this for ages – it’s fascinating.
I’m also guilty of some personal noodling – blogging might be part of that – hanging out with a thought – poking at it and considering it… noodling away by myself without fully paying attention to the world around me, my context, the relevance of my stuff.
I like a bit of noodling. I like the emergent, slow stuff. I had to learn how to sit with some of it, because most of my early working life geared me to NOT NOODLE and get to the point/ purpose…that and I was not bestowed with infinite patience… it’s an ongoing battle for me

My point is: if I don’t want to disappear into some strange noodley ether, I kind of feel I have to find anchors and reality, structures and systems that allow me to come back.
When I’m facilitating, it’s as important to bring stuff back to the core point, the purpose, as it is to enable and encourage folk to go away from it. Emergent work just doesn’t work for some people. It’s freaky and weird and scary. Just like a neat 16 box matrix is likely to make me want to gently bang my head off the desk… but you kind of need both.

If I’m going to be useful to clients, to the folk in my life, I can’t just noodle.
If I want my practice to be enriched, lively and stay relevant… I have to do a bit of noodling.
It can’t be all or nothing.

Now mulling on if I can get the concept of noodling into a 16 box matrix and sell it worldwide for interventions…….

Thanks to Meg Peppin & Jo Stephenson for the inspiration

The Power of Humble Leadership

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The words I carried away from the recent CIPD Scotland conference were unexpected. Not “engagement” or “performance”, although these were ostensibly the topic areas being discussed; the words were: “humility” “humbleness” and “humanness”

The notion of “humble leadership” is one I kind of just love. For me, humble leaders work at being in service to those around them, yet still hold their power and purpose. There is strength in holding to a simple truth.
This stuff is about working with grace and dignity.
Listening.
Saying what you believe to be true, even when it upsets… then sticking around to work with the upset it causes. (the very opposite of seagull management – swoop in noisily, shit on everything and swoop off.)
It’s about sticking with folk through the gnarly stuff.
Surrendering control, but not responsibility.
Admitting your mistakes and limits.

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It Should Be Different….

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Oh Should.

How you haunt my change practice & my coaching conversations.

You hold a tempting promise of possibilities, marred by a vague whiff of judgement:

I should

We should

It should be…

 

Yup. Quite possibly. But it isn’t. Not right now.

So can we work with that? With what is real and present?

Can we look at the world as you currently experience it?

Can we look at this mythical “culture” that “should” change and spend time here, now, picking through what is, before lurching off to what should be?

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Advice you’d give to someone starting in L&D?‬

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I’m not used to being a “list” blogger…but this is following on from a #LDInsight chat a couple of Fridays ago (follow @LnDConnect on Twitter and #LDInsight on Twitter on Fridays, GMT 8am)
I was on “broadcast mode” that morning, Tweeting a bunch of stuff I would say to new (and existing) Learning and Development types.
I’ve been thinking about it and this is a slightly extended version.

‪1) Stay open to new ideas. Keep challenging your own thinking. Constantly. Others will need that from you‬… If you don’t want to continuously learn, you are in the wrong job.  Keep your thinking fresh & embrace your ability to be critically evaluative of what you hear.

2) Get a good dose of “in the room” experience under your belt. You learn more about yourself/others when working in a confined space with a bunch of semi-strangers than any textbook/course can‬ ever teach you.

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Think For A Minute – Reflections on Learning & Leadership


Stop for a moment, good leaders of organisations and people.
Pause, Practitioners of Learning and Development.

Cease acting for a moment, or two, or longer and just….. Hold. Breathe. Be.
Relentless activity.

Constant striving.

Be Better.

More for Less.

Faster.

Now.
Alright. Fine. There is that.

And there is more.

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