Coaching Is the Name of the Game
Among successful women, the conversation often turns to a discussion of people who have helped them along the road to success. Call them coaches, mentors or advisors, almost every successful man or woman can name at least one person who took the time to help them polish their skills, round off the rough corners or just simply listen.
With today’s fast-paced life, it is important to remember our responsibility to serve as role models for those who follow in our footsteps, and to take the time to listen and help where we can. Often it’s just a simple conversation here and there dealing with specific problems, but occasionally we have the opportunity to step into the role of coach or mentor.
Fast becoming a fixture of the business world, corporate “coaches” make a career of working with key managers to help them acquire the skills they might need for an upward career move; working with people to change abrasive behavioral styles; or helping transition teams during business mergers.
The situations that call for “coaches” are as varied as the companies that use them. Far from being just another buzzword, coaching or mentoring has become an important tool in corporate leadership training.
Mentoring Through the Millenniums
Coaching or mentoring is nothing new; in fact, its origins are based in ancient mythology when Mentor was charged with educating and safeguarding Odysseus’s son, Telemachus, while his father was on his long journey. The role of the mentor has only grown stronger through the centuries, and today’s dictionary defines a mentor as “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”
In our competitive environment, mentoring can give tomorrow’s leaders a better chance of success by providing them with the wisdom and experience of those further up the corporate ladder. However, mentoring is not always a senior/junior partnership. At some progressive companies the tables have been turned, and younger workers are providing their senior colleagues with the benefit of their advanced technological expertise.
So what is mentoring and what can it achieve? When is it appropriate and what can realistically be expected from a mentoring program?
“Formal or planned mentoring is not appropriate for teaching basic skills, solving perceived or actual discrimination problems or overcoming organizational problems such as inadequate hiring practices or understaffing,” according to Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones, a leading authority on mentoring and the author of “The New Mentors and Proteges.”
On the other hand, “Mentoring can be useful for orienting new employees; helping newly promoted individuals learn new roles and responsibilities; developing managers and other leaders; and assisting minority group members and women in professional development,” she says.
In today’s multicultural society, coaching programs often address cultural issues in the workplace and assist companies in developing an atmosphere of tolerance and mutual respect. While fairness and tolerance may be mandated by law, in actual fact professional help may be needed to resolve issues in toxic situations.
Cross-Training Another Plus
Another benefit of mentoring, whether formal or informal, is cross-training employees in new skill areas and exposing students and others to various career fields and advanced educational opportunities, according to Philips-Jones.
In the past, the approach to mentoring was hit-or-miss and the partnership developed almost by chance. This was frequently a prescription for failure, when the individuals did not define their relationships and their needs, or were not sensitive to the common courtesies that are required for successful interaction.
Becoming a mentor or a protégé requires commitment and effort, but the results can be highly rewarding for both parties. Sometimes it is even possible to be a mentor to someone while remaining a protégé of another.
Philips-Jones defines these various approaches to mentoring:
- Informal mentoring. This includes unplanned pairings and interactions that occur among experienced and less experienced individuals.
- Enhanced informal mentoring. Interaction is still informal to the extent that mentors and their protégés choose each other and are not matched or monitored in a program. However, both partners are acquainted with the concepts and strategies of the mentoring process and establish a more focused relationship accordingly.
- Formal mentoring. This involves an agreement between the mentor and the person they are helping that spells out the goals of the relationship, formal or informal rules, contractual provisions and procedures.
- Mentoring program. This is a structured set of activities designed to enable formal mentoring relationships to occur within or across organizations.
In the “old days,” many companies used a structured advancement path or a “learn by watching” approach in their apprenticeship programs. But in today’s busy workplace where people are expected to demonstrate their productivity quickly, there simply isn’t time for these approaches. A mentor who can help by supplying the benefit of his or her experience in an informal way is a plus in this environment.
The recent spate of downsizing also has eliminated many middle managers who provide a source of counseling and advice to help others develop their potential.
The benefits of mentoring are many, and the process helps not only those who are directly involved, but the participating organizations as well. Companies report faster integration of new employees, more commitment and loyalty, greater enthusiasm and greater visibility in the community.
Successful women in the building business have an even greater responsibility than their counterparts in many other industries. Because there are fewer role models available for women in construction, we must all do our part to help others achieve success in their profession.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can only coach someone if you have an advanced degree or are in a high-level position. Coaching is just as much about teaching the value of life experiences and lessons learned at all levels, as it is about imparting formal knowledge.
Be open to helping people and look around for opportunities to provide a helping hand or a word of advice. You will find the rewards of watching those you coach become more successful well worth the time invested.
Lee Terry is the immediate past chairman of the NAHB Women’s Council Board of Trustees and president of Lee Terry & Associates, Inc., an executive search firm for the home building industry. Terry was honored as the 2003 NAHB Associate of the Year. She can be reached by e-mail, or call her at 650-570-7913.