How can you use mentoring skills to grow your leadership and maximise impact?

Developing mentoring skills to reduce turnover, transform relationships and get more effective impact out of your team.
Nicki Deeson

When I was FD at Amnesty International, a survey showed my team was demotivated, wanting better management support and more control over their own areas. If I could improve finance staff experience, that could transform relationships with stakeholders and impact the whole organisation.

How did I use mentoring skills to address this, and what was the result?

What is mentoring?

As a young child asking questions, I remember my father would listen, identify the core of my question and encourage my ideas so I could work out the answer. This was mentoring, and it made me feel valued, inspiring me to try harder and achieve more at school. When I moved into adulthood, it was a natural step to believe in the benefits of a mentoring approach to leadership: if you take time to listen and understand your staff’s situation, you can point them in a more valuable direction and help them learn to find their best way forward.

Note – The words “mentoring” and “coaching” can be used interchangeably as the skills are 99% the same. I use “mentoring” throughout this article for consistency.

How do you implement mentoring in your team?

Step 1: Be brave and change yourself first. I told my direct reports that I was going to repurpose our regular one-to-ones. Instead of sharing updates and handing out work, I would be mentoring them to reflect and resolve their own issues. Updates and operational issues would be managed separately.

Step 2: Develop a mentoring style for your one-to-ones. Before joining the meeting, consciously change your mindset from ‘manager’ to ‘mentor’. Take a breath and focus on your mentee, be ready to listen deeply to the issue they want to discuss, and ask open questions to help them dig below their issue, acknowledge assumptions they may be making and identify all possible options to move forward. If you have a strong desire to give advice, write it down, keep quiet and save it til the end. This gives them space to think, and improves the quality and relevance of your inputs.

Step 3: End every session by asking your staff member to summarise where they have got to, what their actions are, and what one thing would improve the session next time. Requesting regular feedback is important to embed your new approach, as well as self-reflection. After each session, take 5 minutes to note what you did well and what you could do better. A new way of working takes time and practice, so be patient and kind to yourself. For practical advice, read The Mentoring Manual by Julie Starr.

Step 4: If you have a large team, encourage your managers to use mentoring with their staff too. Set up half-hour manager practice sessions, get into pairs and roleplay the skills of active listening, powerful questioning and giving advice that is more focused and useful.

What was the result?

After doing the above, the time spent managing my staff plummeted, staff turnover reduced, relationships were transformed, and the team’s effectiveness ratings shot up. My staff soon started taking over my job, and I decided to become a full-time coach and mentor. I hope you’ll love developing these skills too.

Nicki Deeson

Nicki Deeson is an ex-FD, leadership coach and mentor for charities.

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