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:

Back to Basics

back_to_school_2010

The ebb and flow of work in this consulting life is always fascinating. I have, for quite a while now, neither actively sought nor said yes to doing face-to-face classroom-based skills training for managers. If I’m brutally honest, this is partly due to some sort of sniffiness on my part (I’m not proud of this by the way) It’s the work I cut my teeth on and I suppose I feel I’ve sort of graduated, it’s not big meaty change stuff, it’s not gnarly coaching stuff… it’s starting back with basics. My story: I’ve kind of done that. Others are better at it than me. Not my bag.

And so it is, as it always is, that the universe conspires to remind me to get over myself. I’m in the midst of two pieces of work, in very different circumstances, both of which have the requirement to go right back to basics and pass on some skills mainly around coaching & feedback.

It’s been an interesting journey. One thing I realised is I know a lot now. Still got a lot to learn, but no point in pretending otherwise anymore. I’ve been round the block a few times, sat in a lot of situations… if you work in this field, you get to dip in or deep-dive into many cultures, circumstances, scenarios… it is astonishing what you pick up.

The other is the importance of knowing the basics and how much you actually rely on them. Coaching, for all the stuff written about it, for all the skill and practice required, seems to come down to three things: Listening, Questioning, Self-management. (I’ll come back to this)

This particular realisation came when I was asked if I could “do” coaching skills in 4 hours. Me? “do” coaching skills? In 4 hours? Are you serious?
It’s a deep and in-depth, terribly important thing…..
And when I lost my pomposity and started to listen to what the client was needing, the answer to that was: you can and you can’t.
You can stand for 4 hours and bestow your wisdom and a few old chestnuts to a group of new/semi-new managers. Run some exercises. Give out some handouts. You could rock up and slightly dial–in your efforts, find old notes, reconfigure that which has been done before, blah blah blah…. And they would leave with some 2D stuff – on paper or in their heads, which may or may not be relevant or used… and I can make a fairly strong case for why this is rubbish work, scattergun and a likely waste of budget.

Or.. you can use the 4 hour frame to get to the heart of what might be required. Cut it down. Get specific. Get efficient. You can talk to the client about the time before and after the 4 hour frame – what “pre-work” works for this group? What might they like, appreciate or actually pay attention to?
If you make it look good & it is short and relevant – if it is welcoming and makes a compelling case for turning up to find out about how coaching & feedback can be useful management tools…might that be better work?

Then seek to make the 4 hours matter….take seriously the notion that folk can learn stuff in 4 hours – people can have lightbulb moments and discussions that can open them up to try – to feel encouraged. If the design revolves around LESS content and more sensemaking of that content, surely that’s a thing?… how about we do 4 things well? Would that be good?

How about we look at it like this:
Listening – the active stuff where you pay attention to what is being said and HOW. Also Listen to yourself actively.. what are you experiencing? Practically? How do you to this?

Questioning – the art of curiosity – good questions, asked from a place of cheering someone on to do more/ different/ better. What does that look like? What questions do that stuff? What demeanour helps the other person believe they can do a thing?

Self management – holding silence, acknowledging your own limitations, being willing to talk to others to get a perspective on how you handled something, seeking to find a co-created, shared solution WITH the other person. Including them. Not dancing by yourself.

The importance of practice and reflection – try. Try listening so you can summarise someone else’s words – Try listening to yourself and the guff you muddle your head with. Try asking questions kindly. Try staying curious when you thing you know. Practice these – 3 times a day. Then talk to other folk about what’s working and not working for you – get their perspective – this is skills development – this is HOW you learn and shift behaviour.

OK – It’s not Masters Level – but the importance of this stuff – and how well it can serve you in YOUR WHOLE LIFE and the joy of where it can take you… you can get that across. Can you make it compelling enough that they want to know more, seek more, try more for themselves? Those ripples go beyond 4 hours. That sounds good….

And then in the aftermath – what? The client has no budget for follow-up? OK – so what will they do to support the 4 hours? For me, this was a deal breaker. If I was to agree to squish my beloved stuff into a short space of time, I needed guarantees that it would have places to grow and expand beyond the classroom.

So I made the argument for the follow up – coming up with ideas, cheap solutions, means to continue the learning – buddying up, coming back together at a later date – I’d prefer to do this with them, but in this instance it was never on offer – and now at least there is someplace for the 4 hours to go… and I’ll check in to see how that is happening & keep nudging a little.

Don’t get me wrong, my preference is to work with depth and discernment… but it has done me no harm to distil what I know, to draw it right back to the heart of the art and work with that. And I haven’t run the sessions yet – it’s coming up soon – so it could be a disaster, with terrible timings and folk leaving without proper handouts with neat models… or it could be the start (or continuation) or a journey for loads of folk and ripple out to the folk they manage. OK. That’s pretty cool….

Coaching. Walking. Thinking. Changing

foot-prints-vector-176664The first time I met her, I was struck by her energy and boldness; her ambition and enthusiasm; her physical presence. She was direct and clear. She knew precisely what she wanted from coaching. She was organised and focussed. We met in a slightly grim, windowless, stuffy room in her Public Sector workplace and we more-than filled it. It could barely contain us. Halfway through the session, we had flip paper laid out across the table and she was showing me the inside of her head using big pen strokes and fast words.

I was grinning from ear to ear at times … She demanded to be heard and seen. She was quick and certain, pacey and knowledgeable. She was already doing a lot of reflective work. I noticed I was finding it easy to listen, encourage, agree… but I was there to coach… Repeat to self: don’t collude, but don’t crush. Agree and still question. Disagree and hold to the counter-view. Don’t get sucked in to the presenting narrative….what’s the different story that could be told?

And so I started to look for the different story. Under the certainty and lovely noise, where the pauses and silences emerged. Where the lack-of certainty might lie. What was underneath….?

In the aftermath of the first session, I felt kind of ecstatically knackered – the sense you get when you have been engaged full-on in some sort of creative process…. Sort of done, but in a really good way…. I remember sitting on the Tube heading to my next destination just a little bit spaced out…..

As I reflected on what was going on – there was something niggling me about doing the work in that small, confined room. She needed space – a LOT of space. I needed that to work with her too. And so, after some reflection, emailing and a phonecall, we agreed to try walking as part of our coaching process. I was curious about what a shift to a bigger landscape might do for the conversation and the coaching process – she was curious about the health benefits of getting out and walking.

The first time, we walked out from her place of work, steady paced and I was fearful that without my trusted notebook to note down the “what are we working on today” stuff, I would lose a thread or a topic or something…. It never happened. Over the next 4 sessions (not over Winter months, so we didn’t get any rain.. more about that anon) we walked out from an agreed fixed point (mostly Kings Cross .. once Piccadilly Circus) and we worked together.

So here’s some stuff about walking and coaching that I/ we noticed

Getting out of the room was useful. It unlocked and unblocked issues and ideas in ways I can’t fully explain. The motion and the lack-of-binding walls helped big things seem smaller and somehow more in proportion. There was inspiration to be found in the changing landscape, at times.

Speaking out into the air was freeing… and sometime scary: not having to look at another’s face and put your interpretation of what they think/ believe took away some inhibition and occasionally added some anxiety. Sometimes she needed to look at me, she felt. We sort of worked out this was for reassurance sometimes… when the unsayable came out – when she was at her boldest – she needed to see I was alongside her still.

The sense of “beside” needs a little attention, at times – “Walking alongside” could assume I was alongside her thinking – it wasn’t always so. I could be walking alongside her and still feel baffled or doubtful or delighted. I found walking meant it was sometimes easier for me to voice disquiet or a counter-view to something she was attached to. We weren’t intensely face-to-face. Discord could fall in to a bigger space. Her inherent “niceness” that so often shone through at work, could be muddied up a bit here.

Our pace varied. Sometimes we noticed we were walking slowly – carefully considering this or that. Other times, it picked up. We kept pace with each other. The physical rhythm was important, somehow… and yet rarely consciously expressed – it sort of just happened and we would notice it later.

Her ability to remember the conversation correlated with points in the walk. She remembered saying Y as we waited for at the traffic lights leaving Kings Cross. She could say to me: “when we were just a bit away from Upper Street, I said: X “ and I knew where, exactly, she meant – both verbally and geographically. If we had spent 2 hours in a teeny-tiny room, or a café or somewhere fixed, this wouldn’t have happened. We both remembered the route and the conversation as it happened along it… and at some point we would begin the walk back to where we started… and somehow in as we returned, she began to gather up her thoughts and plan some actions.

We walked in silence, at times – as she got lost in her thoughts and wandered the routes her mind took her to, I walked quietly beside her. It was generally a companionable silence. Not one weighted with expectation that I sometimes experience in a room – sitting waiting is different from walking and waiting, somehow. It’s a different quality.

We practiced with physical elements of her leadership – standing straighter, Walking with confidence, breathing more slowly, speaking at different paces, how it felt to be balanced or off-balance. In the context of walking, these elements were more easily, naturally perhaps, combined with the work. Again, if we were static, we would have had to move from sitting to standing to practice some of physical elements… and whilst sit-to-stand is not a big move… it’s somehow a big move, if you are used to the conversation being mostly without physical movement.

The weather mattered..and didn’t matter. In the hotter days, we did need to walk with water or coffee at times (the sessions were 2 hours long). We never walked in the rain – We could have of course. I have a notion the drumming of rain on an umbrella might be quite nice – or might bring in a element of physical discomfort that distracted. The practicalities of both our jobs meant we needed to be elsewhere after we saw each other. Soggy working didn’t appeal to either of us. Anyway, in the event of inclement weather, Plan B would have been to walk through a museum or art gallery….it would have been different again.

We got results:  I can’t say we got better results than if we had staying in the room, but I can say that the process was certainly more rewarding and physically better. The outcomes and the actions she chose & implemented were things that stuck.

The note-taking issue: I am curious about if I should have built in time for note-taking at the end. I took my own notes, usually 24 hours or so onward. She did too, but we didn’t close off the session with something more tangible. As I often use drawing, doodle, diagrams with my coachees – encouraging them to express or show me/themselves stuff in non-words… and we didn’t have that slightly more permanent record of the discussion and action, relying more on sensation and experience…

Walking and coaching worked. It demanded different things from “usual” coaching conversations, but on the whole I’d recommend it.

——————————————————————————————————————————————-

Shout-out to people I’ve had conversations about walking & coaching with of late:
Jayne Harrison, Hilary Gallo & Euan Semple.

Shout out to Richard Martin for his Walking- Inspired Blog, Pace

artwork shout to SRNR

About me:

I’m a Organisational Consultant, Coach, Facilitator, Speaker, Blogger & Dialogue Guide. Working with people & organisations to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue

Contact fuchsiablue to find out more

Feedback as a Gift?

image This post is in response to the invitation from Helen Amery to take part in a “Carnival” where different bloggers and thinkers write and post their take on a topic – in this case, feedback. You can find more posts through the #feedbackCarnival hashtag. She posed the following for consideration: Feedback would happen all the time if…..

The first time I remember anyone telling me “feedback is a gift”, I was mercilessly cynical. A gift? Always? Are. You. Serious?

I still have moments when someone helpfully decides to gift me with their insight and it feels less like a gift, more like a raid on my person… but on the whole, I try to hold to the notion that all information is information and that, mostly, to be informed is better than ignorance….mostly….

Continue reading

Learning Edges…..

 

City-on-the-Edge-of-Whatever-by-Erik-Blad-c

What do you mean when you say “learning edge”? He is frowning at me slightly, possibly mildly irritated, possibly very curious but definitely wanting to know.
I have a moment where I feel the tug of “Coaches Should Not” – the received wisdom that suggests I ought not to direct, disclose or offer in my theories. The training that suggested I ask the questions – You grapple with the answers….
An I/You binary model which I think I once bought into.
In this model, I am glacial and impervious – I ask good insightful questions and stay out of the way when the answers come. None of my business. The learning is all yours. I am here to open up and allow and enable….
I evade a little. “Why are you asking?” – well.. it’s ALMOST a coaching question..

Continue reading

The Thing That is A Bit Ugly

beauty-in-ugly-days.american-apparel-unisex-long-sleeve-tee.heather-grey.w760h760

I have a coach. I’m a firm believer in do as you would be done by.

I believe part of keeping any business sharp (and unhelpful assumptions checked) is to work with someone who offers a different perspective on the thinking and actions being played out. I have to believe that, or I couldn’t do my job.

Or rather, I have to believe that.. It IS my job. Continue reading

Focus Shift

IMG_3833

When mid-year swung into view a couple of weeks ago, I found myself doing one of those Scooby-doo double takes… Huh? How? What?

Perhaps this has been the cause (or the symptom?) of some recent conversations I’ve found myself in about focus. I’m not a precision junkie by any stretch of the imagination. I’m a lover of life, a connector of ideas, someone who relishes experiences over hypothesis. This means, fairly often, I am playing with and working on all sorts of things – seemingly disparate – and I have to remind myself, as I would my clients, about balancing my focus and my energy.

At a recent Leadership Retreat run by Wendy Palmer, I reconnected with the embodied part of my practice. This is the bit where, when I’m coaching or facilitating, I ask you to pay attention to yourself more fully… to lose some of the rapid thought, ambition, judgment, fear, busy-ness, that stuff….  It’s the bit where I invite you to breathe a little deeper, stand a little taller and cut through a lot of the crap you sense around you. It’s the bit where I invite you to focus on what is real, what is important for you and then work on how to make that bigger, more figural, more present in your life.

I’m not sure what the technical or academic term is for this. To me? It’s focus shift. It’s the part where we work together move your focus either up and out – way way beyond the issue at hand to look at the broader picture…. Or it’s the part where we move from the broad morass and life-stuff-hubbub to focus in on the quiet spaces and begin to unpick what matters most.

This is my job – to work with you in a way that is meaningful; to cut to the very crux of what action you want or need to take…. Then to cheer you on as you move to action. This is my job and I love it.

So it was I found myself wondering where my own focus has been so far this year – noticing the lack-of–contact I’ve had with certain friends and family and how others have absorbed me. The folk I feel I have let down, the folk I know I haven’t. The work I’ve done that has delighted, the work done that has distracted. The miles clocked up. The money spent. The conversations.The learning. The dissertation that I both love and loathe in a bizarrely complicated fashion. In the midst of all of this gloriously full-on life of mine, I found myself pretty knackered and a bit… hmmm…. Where did my year go?

Now I’m all for physician heal thyself. The last time I checked I wasn’t perfect and dropping back in on myself more fully of late, it seems that still stands. So I have been lucky enough and hopefully discerning enough to get into some conversations with people who have helped me focus more (shout outs in particular to Amanda Ridings, Jon Bartlett @projectlibero, David Goddin @David_Goddin, Liz Tyson, Rhona Graham @rhonaoGraham, & Joanna Pirie) – to pick what is important and true for me, at this mid point in the year.

Focus shift? It’s the way forward.

Feel free to contact me if you’d like to experience it….

Oh… and the peacock? He was strutting around Samye Ling whilst we were on the retreat. Is this boy a master of distraction or focus I wonder?