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How Coaching and Mentoring Can Help You Succeed

Have you ever watched a top sports star and thought they do things so effortlessly? Or they have so much time to do things? Or they are so determined to succeed?

Some of these characteristics are there from their earliest days but many grow with time. But they do not all grow naturally. Even in the very best, nurture plays a role.

Consider Andy Murray, for example. Much of his success is down to natural talent. But do you remember the early days? A spotty youth who ran out of puff? He must have been helped through that. And then, later on, when he was so nearly at the top, a brilliant run of form saw him to the top of the world rankings.

This was not all down to his own efforts. His coaches saw and used the raw material that was there and helped it to grow. The best coaches watch, observe and help players to develop themselves, not necessarily by telling them what to do – imagine telling the world number 1 what to do! – But by encouraging them to examine their own practice and improve for themselves. This can include feedback on technical issues, but also has a fair bit of encouragement to reflect on their own activities.

In sports coaching, there can also be an element of mentoring involved. One of the hallmarks of Murray’s success was that he linked up with Ivan Lendl who, when a player himself, had had challenges with his temperament and kept coming second. He was able to play a more paternalistic role in supporting Murray to develop a mental resilience that was not there before. So his role was not just about observing technicalities and helping to draw answers to problems from within – coaching – but also to provide reflections on his own experiences, good and bad, and share these to help benefit performance – mentoring.

One of the interesting characteristics here is the similarities and differences between the roles of coach and mentor. The mentor must have some experiences that can help to provide personal insights. The coach, on the other hand, does not. Their role is to observe, question and then encourage those under their wing to find the answers for themselves. Very often, of course, the two roles are intertwined.

The role of the coach / mentor in these relationships is like that of a catalyst. For those of you who don’t remember your school chemistry, a catalyst is defined as an agent that is placed into a system to make a reaction work better, without changing itself. So the coach or mentor has the role of supporting the activity and the joy of being able to watch their input work and their protégés over time.

This approach is not only beneficial in a sporting sense. Imagine how it would be if coaching, mentoring or both were to be adopted into a business or organisational context, with leaders using coaching to encourage their people to grow and develop. Like Andy Murray, coaching and mentoring can help people go from good to great. Perhaps not always to be world beaters, but you get the idea.

There is an additional benefit to applying leadership through coaching and mentoring. Consider this. If every leader works as a coach and everyone has a mentor, then it is possible to devolve every single decision one layer down the organisation. Imagine what that would do to productivity!

Can this work in an organisation? It certainly can. There are numerous examples of organisations developing what has become known as a ‘coaching culture’. In such a culture line managers’ first instinct, when faced with problems, is to examine them through questioning and develop solutions through their people. Solutions are found from closer to the source of the problem, which makes them more likely to stick. There is also a beneficial impact on motivation, since people feel that they own solutions and that they had a significant part in shaping them.

Mentoring has also proved hugely beneficial in all sorts of situations. Most people can point to people who have had significant impacts in their lives, at a whole number of levels. This was recognised many years ago, through observations of natural mentoring relationships, which is the place from which the growth of business mentoring arose. Now, many business encourage their people to seek out mentors, either through formal schemes or informally.

There is also a significant benefit to be had from mentoring and coaching of owners and managers of smaller businesses. At start up, in particular, but also at other times, there is often not the ‘corporate wisdom’ that comes from experience. Small business owners are often very good at some things but not at others, sometimes just for the lack of education or experience. Mentoring and coaching can have a profound effect on this and often help people and businesses that are struggling to achieve great things.

Are great coaches and mentors born or made? The same question that is often asked of leaders. And the answer is the same, partly because coaching and mentoring is now recognised as a significantly important facet of leadership. Some of the characteristics of the greatest leaders, and therefore the greatest coaches and mentors, are facets of personality, whilst others are down to technique and approach. Many of these facets of personality, and all of the techniques, can be learned, though. For example, empathy, which is an important element of both coaching and mentoring, comes from the ability to ‘walk in someone’s moccasins’, as the First Nation Americans say. This comes from combinations of insights into personality and background, which in turn come from observation and questioning. Some are naturally empathic, but it can be learned. There are many other areas that can be developed, over time and, as with any leadership, benefit from practice and reflection.

So is coaching and mentoring an area in which you are interested? If so, why not look into it further. You can even undertake some formal learning on the subject. And remember, coaching and mentoring can change your business or even your life.

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