A common trait amongst the best leaders in any environment is their awareness of the multiple roles that they need to play as part of being a 'leader'. In our Team Head Coach programme we discuss the 'five hats' that a leader within a recruitment team must constantly juggle between and in this blog, I am going to discuss one of these hats, 'the mentor'.
If you take a second to think about what the term 'mentor' means to you, who comes to mind? Have you ever had anyone in your life or career that you would consider a mentor?
If I think back to when I was at school and then progressed through university and then starting my career in recruitment, I have been very fortunate to have had a number of key individuals that I would consider mentors. A mentor for me is someone who shows a genuine interest in my development and gives me their time to help nurture a certain talent. I can pin point key conversations in an office or in a pub, where the stresses of my normal environment are taken away and we just 'had a chat'. From my perspective I always appreciated anyone giving me their time and it meant that my respect for them grew and also from a motivation perspective I wanted to prove to them that I was worth their time and investment. There are theories about the importance of external motivators when it comes to performance and for me repaying those who have invested in me was exactly that. By investing their time in me, they knew what buttons to press when I needed to hear it and could therefore create a change in my performance in a positive direction.
As I became a leader in my career, it was these conversations that I kept in my mind as I wanted my team members to have that feeling of investment from me. One of the things that you learn first when starting your leadership career is that there is not only one way to manage people. Not everyone is the same as you and so really understanding the individuals in your team will enable you to manage each of them in a way that has the greatest impact on their performance but also increases their engagement with the team and its goals.
Being a 'mentor' to someone is different to being a teacher, it is not a conversation where you sit and tell them what to do. A good mentor builds confidence in their team members by talking them through certain challenges they may be facing and helping them realise that they do have the necessary skills or resources to overcome it. If they do not, then the conversation should involve developing a plan as to how they can overcome it. These conversations are a great opportunity for you to develop the cognitive abilities of your team and get them to do the work in providing a solution to the challenge. The way you go about doing this is by asking questions, this is a 'pull' conversation where you are extracting the information from them so they come to the answer via their own thinking. From a confidence building perspective this is a hugely powerful activity because it shows them that they can overcome their challenges if they take some time away from the desk to analyse what options they have available to them and then set a plan.
We introduce a management tool called the Cycle of Performance Excellence or COPE (we look at this in more detail in another blog) which gives mentors a framework to base the conversation around which provides some structure to the activity and prevents it taking up too much of your time.
Something to bear in mind when facilitating these conversations is that as you are giving the platform to your consultant to speak, you must not allow the conversation to turn in to a forum that allows them to blame external factors as to the reason behind their challenges. A good mentor has the ability to challenge the individual to focus on what their role in overcoming their problem is and then holding them accountable to their agreed actions. Otherwise the consultants will see this as an opportunity to moan which is counter-productive and not a good use of your time.
My last tip on these mentoring conversations is to make them feel different to other performance reviews that you may have as part of your usual management structure. There needs to be a clear change in environment so that the consultant feels as if they can relax slightly and be open to discussion and potentially saying something wrong. In these conversations, they need to be prepared to do the work themselves, so try not to take a notepad or have KPIs in front of you to refer to as this will provide a different picture for the consultants to have in front of them. Why not host these conversations at a coffee shop, or if the weather is nice then a walk outside, its amazing how much the environment alters the mindset of those within it.
To conclude, the ability to understand the individuals within your team will enable you to drive performance at the desk in an effective way. Take time away from the desk to have these conversations to build up confidence but to also show that you are invested in them and their development. The best leaders in the world have this ability to know who to put an arm around when times are tough and who needs a kick up the backside in order to drive performance in the right direction!