When I joined the workforce 3 decades ago, we didn’t know about coaching or mentoring. When I look back in time, I realize that 2 of my bosses who influenced my own managerial and leadership style were in fact mentor-coaches rolled into 1 package. They served in this capacity to many of us not because we were under-performers but because they genuinely cared about their people.
When one of them passed away a few year ago, the jungle drums beat on LinkedIn to let all of us know that Michael was no more and even though we had all gone our separate ways years ago, we reunited in genuine grief for the man who had brought out the best in us, our Boss, our Hero.
My second Mentor Gerard was very much like Michael and had no issues rolling up his sleeves and digging in the trenches when his team needed his wisdom and experience working in an economy that was newly opening up to the West with bosses and supervisors sitting in Paris and New York who didn’t know the first thing about working in Central and Eastern Europe or the culture of the people.
In fact, he’s mentioned in my Kindle book Get Noticed for one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received.
It wasn’t any wonder that when he quit a company that he had worked for over 20 years after having a difference with the Powers back at HQ (some things have to be confidential) there was a slew of resignations in his country office over the following 6 months despite his motivating us to continue with a phrase that I still remember “The King is Dead, Long Live the King”. For us, there was only 1 King, 1 leader.
Organizations that want to improve the efficiency and productivity of their employees often hire coaches or have a system of appointing mentors for employees who are under-performing or need that extra hand holding. One of the companies I worked for even had a Buddy System which frankly speaking wasn’t very effective because nobody was properly inducted into the program and there was no system of follow up or monitoring.
There was no compatibility check and I suspect that HR was not involved in the selection of buddies. We were dumped into relationships with people and expected to make it work – like mothers who push kids together in playgrounds to play with each other thinking they will make friends if thrown in together in the sandbox.
While I know that these systems work, I believe that anyone of us can bring out the best in our colleagues if we know what to do.
Even though every situation and every person is different, there are some common reasons. The key to helping your colleague is to first find out the right reason. During the course of my corporate career these are the ones that I saw the most.
They lack the required capabilities
The job isn’t challenging enough or not right for them
They feel they aren’t appreciated or they’ve been overlooked in some way
They don’t get along with their colleagues
They have personal problems
They’ve been branded as having an attitude
How do you help your colleague?
As Michael used to tell me, speak less to and listen more to your colleague. In other words, get to know your colleague properly. It doesn’t mean learning everything about them or things that aren’t important like their having had chicken pox at the age of 21 or they know how to wriggle their ears. It means becoming aware of them as individuals and as professionals. This helps us to hone into things being amiss and helping our colleagues give their best and demonstrate that we have empathetic leadership skills.
This 1 tip helped me intervene in the case of a stellar younger team member who suddenly began performing below par and making a mess of areas of an audit that was his forte. It was a Thursday afternoon and as the Manager, I sent him home despite the fact that we were working towards a deadline for an audit. Naturally the boss was angry when he found out what I had done but to his credit, he was willing to listen to me.
The background story was that this team member’s mother was due for a major operation. She lived in another but nearby city and he was preoccupied with this event. He wanted to see his mother before the operation but too scared to take leave.
The boss appreciated what I had done and for also letting him in on the reason because this professional’s sudden change of behavior had been noted by others and there were murmurs of his developing an attitude.
The deal I made with my team member was that he should head home and stay the weekend but return on Monday with full commitment. To his credit, my team member honored our deal and gave me more than I had asked for. He worked late into the night to make up for his absence and proved to me that my decision was the right one. As I write, he is now the Managing Partner of his own audit firm and making a difference for the audit profession in his country.
The second piece of advice comes from my late father who as an accomplished diplomat and administrator told me to make sure that feedback was given even for the times that the work is done well. Sincere praise for a job well done goes a long way to reinforce performance. When it came to giving less than satisfactory performance feedback, his advice was to have specific instances to demonstrate a point rather than a general sweeping statement which gets the other person into a defensive mode.
I remember working for another boss who had been influenced by the corporate politicking backbiters in one of the offices where I worked. I was called in to get a dressing down. I turned it around by simply asking for specific incidents that did indeed madden my boss but he got the point when I started giving instances of harassment and bullying in the workplace.
His advice at the time was to report things immediately rather than allow others to get through the door first. Fortunately I never needed to because the word got out that I had held my own – something that had never been done before and that too by a female Manager. Thus began the era of assertiveness among colleagues who had been too scared of the bullies (yes, they do exist in the corporate world). As for the bullies, I made it a point to be extra nice and charming towards them but kept my antennas up for any more mischief. (Learn more about how to deal with backstabbers at work in this post by clicking here).
The third piece of advice is from my own experience relating to our role as team leaders or bosses ourselves. Think of your team as your family. We spend enough time at work and might as well establish a positive rapport. If you are in charge of the job, make sure that the work that you delegate among the team members will be within their comfort zone but with a stretch that challenges them to learn more.
If you find that they are lacking expertise in some area, be willing to get hands on and show them how to do it and then let them get on with the job. Don’t micro-manage but be there for them when they hit a roadblock. Make a note of their training needs and champion them for courses, whether in-house or external to help polish up skills that they need. They will remember you long after you have both moved on.
The beauty of making your colleagues shine be they your supervisors or the professionals who are working under your supervision is that when they shine, some of the star dust rubs off on you too. You demonstrate that you have the skills and talent to nurture and develop talent. You show that you can lead your people to success. That is what true leaders and mentor-coaches in the workplace are. Like Michael and Gerard.
Have you ever been in a situation where you helped your colleague shine? What was the outcome?
Additional Posts for you
What exactly are you criticizing, Mr Monday Morning Basher? (for giving feedback and being assertive)
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Where politics and promotions meet, you need to have your finger on the pulse (helping colleagues who are branded as having attitude or difficult)Follow Me
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