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Effective mentoring

Posted: 30 Mar 2006     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Philip Chatting  management  employee  employer  manager 

Chatting: Good mentoring is a fundamental tool in the box and by its effective use, the management job becomes easier and objectives are more likely attained.

When mentoring is mentioned to many managers, there is often a tendency to nod thoughtfully in public, while in private becoming totally mystified. Like coaching and counselling, mentoring is a buzzword more likely to be remembered from study and overheard conversation than knowingly utilised in work.

Like much in modern management, mentoring has been formalized into a very precise technique in the United States and now percolates into the wider business world through the presence and practices of multinational corporations. Neither we, nor any other organisation should mindlessly import every conceivable fashion turned loose on an unimaginative market. But there is more than a case for picking and adapting ideas that best suit our purpose.

Whether there is a formally adopted programme, or not, my experience is that all good managers instinctively practice some form of mentoring. They would be most unlikely to call it mentoring, but carefully nurturing staff is exactly that. If we look around us we can see which supervisors are providing the appropriate level of support, where people increase their skills and grow, and ultimately from which departments promotions and managers of the future come. Very little of this is an accident, or indeed a surprise; plants living without sunlight or water will inevitably whither, and those that are well fed and placed in the window will blossom. If there is a puzzle, it is that human beings could conceivably, do without the basics to maintain a healthy and valuable life.

Are we consequently saying management is a product of personality and that those born under a different star are unlikely to ever become good managers? Well, there is more than an element of truth in that proposition, but there is hope for the rest of us. With intelligence and application, most people can learn how to perform most tasks. We will not be as fluent and easy as those with the innate affinity, but up to a point we will be able to perform to a reasonable standard. It is a little like teaching a dog to walk on his hind legs; we should not expect it to be done well, but we should marvel and be content that it is done at all.

This is why senior managers should not promote a person just because he or she is the best accountant, or salesman, or best anything else, into a manager's position unless we are satisfied the appropriate management skills are present. Achieving objectives through other people is quite different to doing it by yourself.

So what are the arcane mysteries of mentoring that some people have and others lack? In an environment that is used to direction, formulae and hierarchy, there can be an assumption that seniority and status will somehow confer ability on us. Unfortunately, that is not the case. The closest parallel I can think of is that of a preferred parent, or uncle. A child is on a long journey to adulthood; you could say that he or she is on a career path to become an adult. The parent's role is not just about making sure homework assignments are completed and teaching the child to keep a bedroom tidy under threat of a big stick. Not all parents are ideal and having children does not imply any special wisdom or parenting skill. Good parents know their task is to bring a child to maturity through learning, not teaching, by gradually trusting and rewarding growing skills and abilities, by introducing a value system, by offering good advice and physical and emotional support, to encourage and to caution, to provide a good role model and being there in times of need. To achieve these objectives, the parent must be an effective communicator and an empathetic listener capable of providing objective feedback. All of this is to be manifest in an environment where the child is valued and recognized. Rocket science? Not really; but not simple either, if you don't have the right disposition. All of the above skills and personality features are required in an effective mentor.

Mentoring in Global Sources exists on three basic levels: the first is a very formal programme to which high-potential individuals are invited; the second is the type that mostly exists in small sales offices across the organisation and where a comparatively large number of new staff need rapid support and integration; and the third is the instinctive activity that all good managers provide. We can all see where the successful outcome of the third type is in place.

But if any of us have serious pretensions to be successful managers, good mentoring is a fundamental tool in the box and by its effective use, the management job becomes easier and objectives are more likely attained.

In the words of one of the great management gurus: "If managers are not trainers, educators, coaches and mentors, they are nothing at all."

Philip Chatting
Global Sources

About the author
Philip Chatting
is the vice president of Human Resources and is presently based in Hong Kong.

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