When do you need a mentor, a coach or … a cheerleader?

Executive Coach Exchange mentor coach cheerleader
Photo: Paula Liverani-Brooks

I am not a morning person. And not being a morning person means that the last thing I want to do when I wake up and have to get ready while the rest of the world is sleeping is eating. Breakfast is not something I can do early. So my lovely husband prepares some slices of toast and puts them in a paper bag for me to eat when the sun rises and I start feeling human again. But that is not all he does … he also decorates them as you can see in the picture. He may not be an amazing artist but I have to say I look forward to looking at what he has prepared for the day – whether it is a prompt of the happiness that we feel on a Friday to some funny exchange we had the previous night to a reminder that he believes I am lovely, strong or funny (which for those of you who do not know me personally I truly am). He is able to capture that motivational angle and give me an extra push to take on the day with a bigger smile.

But cheerleaders are not all we need. In this complicated world we need all the help we can get. So here is my list of the type of people we should aim to have in our lives and a couple of hints.

The first is a coach. Most of us have or have had a coach in our professional lives. The coach is someone who helps you acquire skills, overcome challenges and improve your contribution. I prefer to have clear goals when I talk to my coach, as that way I can get more out of our conversation. I also like to have a coach that has lived through similar experiences to what I am going through, similar businesses and similar challenges and who has a clear understanding of my role and the expectations that come from it. Finding the right coach is not always easy so don’t be afraid to shop around until you find the one who is capable of providing you with what you are looking for.

A mentor is also incredibly helpful, they provide long term support, tend to have known you for a long time and have seen you through the highs and the lows. They can be a former boss or colleague with whom you were able to establish that special relation in which they shared wisdom and experience.

If you have found both a mentor and a coach you already are in a good place, so here are some more ideas of people that you can add to your support group.

A connector is someone that does just that, connects you to others, takes you to events and organises for you to meet people who can help with a particular challenge or just to view things slightly differently. Having moved to Australia without connections 10 years ago I was lucky to find many people kind enough to sacrifice their time to connect me to others and I am still deeply grateful to all of them.

A collaborator is someone who is in a similar situation to your own with similar interests and similar goals. With them you can share road blocks and successes and support each other. These are not too difficult to find and you may form friendships that may last more than the job you are in.

If you work in big organisations (but not only), chances are you also need a sponsor. They are the ones that have witnessed your work and are willing to go out and spread the good news and promote your profile. Personally I have always found this a difficult figure to find. My trick has been to try and think outside the box – they do not need to be your manager … or even your manager’s manager. They can be influential people outside your direct line that you have been sharing insights with, and having conversations after important meetings about how to address issues and ideas. I have found this an easier way to create a sponsor.

Of course, you also need a feed-back giver someone who through direct observation can give you honest and direct feedback. As this is even harder than a sponsor, my only advice is to find someone with whom you can lay down the rules of how the feedback will look like: should always be coming from a place of good intention and if you feel it is not you may decide not to accept it. It is easier when you can find more than one feed-back giver and if you practice often on this one.

The last one is the cheerleader or the encourager the one that provides motivation, support and recognition.

My husband is a great cheerleader but is also a very good feed-back giver, which means that one person can have more than one role. So if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed with the list, see if you can use the same person for different roles.

My last recommendation is that once you have listed them all you make sure this amazing bunch of people is also diverse. And I am not only talking about gender. I am talking about race, experience, age – I am currently learning “lots” from a millennial feed-back giver. Make sure you surround yourself with different people who will be able to provide you with slightly different views. And while you are at it, also make a list of what role you can have in other people’s lives. At times just being a cheerleader for someone can make a huge difference in their day.

Contributor: Paula Liverani-Brooks is an HR consultant and executive coach, and the latest member of Executive Coach Exchange.

I need my team to rise to the challenge – educational scaffolding part 2

If you need your team to step up, you need to show them how.

Last week I introduced the topic of educational scaffolding, a method that enables a student to learn how to carry out a task independently by gradually removing the support of a person with greater knowledge and expertise. In the workplace, this concept can be really useful for the manager as coach.

If you use a ‘sink or swim’ approach when assigning work, you are pretty much guaranteeing failure. The most likely outcomes are that your staff member will fail at the delegated task and lose confidence; and you will have to clean up the mess. It’s bad for productivity and bad for morale. It can also leave your own boss wondering about your skills as a manager – and your technical skills, since you are now doing work at the level of your reports instead of at your own level.

Fortunately, most managers assist their staff to develop skills by assigning work and providing feedback over a period of time. This is a good start but what’s missing is the structured notion of scaffolding.

Highly effective managers provide levels of support tailored to the individual skills and knowledge of each staff member. Depending on the task and the individual, the degree of support ranges from high to low and takes more or less time. Here is how it works.

  1. Start by clearly explaining what needs to be done and how.
  2. Assess how much support your staff member will need. This will help you adjust the next steps.
  3. Provide examples of good practice and models to copy.
  4. Provide opportunities for your staff to work with you and other more knowledgeable people as they develop their skills.
  5. Next, give them opportunities to attempt a task or elements of a task without initial support, followed by feedback and support. A lower risk task should be attempted first.
  6. Finally, let them do the whole task from start to finish on their own and then help them bring it up to standard.

One example of how to apply this method is with high level meetings. Here a staff member might first accompany a manager to senior meetings and listen only; later they might attend less critical meetings with peers; and finally begin to represent the organisation at increasingly high stakes meetings.

I have used this method to introduce aspiring leaders to the Managing Director and then the Board. In this case, they were subject matter experts with no experience in presenting to senior meetings. By supporting them through the process, I gave them the chance to show the Managing Director and the Board just how much they knew.

When you take this path, you get the credit for their expertise. You get the credit for bringing the best out of your staff and training them as future leaders.

I also had this experience as a junior member of staff. My boss, a wonderful mentor and teacher, asked me to draft a letter, then shared the final version with me. I was embarrassed to see only one of my sentences remained in the final version. But then he patiently explained every change he had made. Next, he gave me another letter to draft. Again, he shared the final version and explained the rationale behind his changes. As I progressed, we co-wrote a lot of documents and I learned to understand the sophisticated approaches he was using. Finally. the day came when one of my documents came back unchanged. I was delighted and so was my boss.

Managers I have coached have found this approach really helpful, particularly the idea that the amount of support given must be tailored to the skills and knowledge of the individual staff member and to the task. They have found that, over time, they have been able to delegate far more effectively, having ensured their team knew what they were doing.

Although applying educational scaffolding to workplace learning is time consuming, my experience has shown that it builds not only skills but independence and self-confidence in the team. Its success will mean that managers are able to confidently delegate work over time, knowing that their staff member will have the skills, knowledge and learning to complete the tasks themselves.

Contributor: Dr Catherine Burrows is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting.

What are you looking for in an executive coach?

Executive Coach Exchange doors pixabay qimonoAs you start your search for an executive coach, have you jotted down some ideas about what you are looking for?

  1. Guidance on a challenging work issue

Do you need help to make your communication with team members more effective? Or perhaps you are dealing with a person you just can’t seem to get along with? Working with an executive coach can provide you with insights on how to manage these situations, and on how to build and maintain effective relationships, which can provide you with huge benefits and make your workplace more rewarding and enjoyable.

2.  A mentor

A mentor is usually someone working in your organisation who can give you an insider’s view, while a coach usually comes from an external organisation. However, an executive coach who has worked in your industry or sector can be invaluable, bringing both objectivity and relevant experience, and combining the skills of coach and mentor.

  1. Career progression

Making the transition from team member to team leader is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do in your career. Reporting to a board for the first time can be a very daunting experience. An executive coach can assist you to adjust your approach to meet your new challenges.

  1. Leading organisational change

Today, organisational change is a constant. Leaders need to be able to establish a new course for their organisation and implement change effectively and efficiently. Managers at all levels of an organisation are expected to lead their teams effectively during times of organisational change. An executive coach can be a trusted ally who provides a confidential environment for you to test your concepts and work through the challenges of leading change.

  1. Help with career transition

Taking the big step to move a new career, either by choice or as the result of a redundancy, is extremely challenging, both emotionally and professionally. When you have been an expert in your field, the first year in a new sector can make you doubt your ability and question your self-confidence. An executive coach with experience in career transition can help you make your change successful.


Starting out with some ideas about what you are looking for will make it easier for you to find the right coach. Different coaches bring different skills and experience. Some coaches specialise in particular skills, like team building, or strategy and business planning. Others work with particular professions, such as lawyers or doctors, or particular sectors, like government. Others still focus on particular points in your career, like on-boarding or career transition. At Executive Coach Exchange you will find a diverse group of executive coaches who cover all these area and more.

Don’t make your plan too detailed and inflexible, however. A coach can shed new light on an old issue and help you see it differently. The process of working with an executive coach can be a catalyst for change.

Diversity – part 2 – saying it, meaning it, showing it

When we were looking for stock photos for our posts recently, the results prompted us to reflect on the importance of embracing diversity for business– saying it, meaning it and showing it.

Executive Coach Exchange team unsplash pixabay
Is everyone treated as a valued team member?

Despite the outstanding efforts of initiatives like #wocintechchat, it’s difficult to find images which show a really diverse mix of people and even harder to find groups in which all those pictured look like equal participants in the business.

Media representation generally often just doesn’t reflect the reality of the incredibly diverse employee, customer and stakeholder base for most Australian companies, government agencies and NGOs.

According to the ABS, of our 24 million people nationally:

  • 3 per cent identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Peoples, with many areas where the proportion is far higher;
  • 28 per cent were born overseas;
  • slightly more than half are women;
  • around 18 per cent have a disability;
  • almost 16 per cent of Australians are aged between 55 and 69 years of age;
  • 23 per cent speak languages other than English at home; and
  • there are 34,000 same sex couples in Australia.

ABS sources here, here and here.

The HR Council in Canada have looked at the issue from a staffing perspective.

Executive Coach Exchange team #wocintechchat
Can we do more to reflect the reality of our workplaces? Image: #wocintechchat

“Recent statistics indicate that diverse employees are three times more likely to leave an organization than non-diverse workers because:

  • They don’t feel part of the organization
  • They don’t feel valued
  • They don’t feel they have an opportunity for advancement
  • They feel that cultural barriers exist
  • They believe a competitor is more likely to develop career paths for a more diverse range of employees.”

Managing diversity means minimizing the challenges or barriers to a productive and diverse workforce. The more effective an organization is at supporting diversity and inclusion, the more engagement that organization will experience among its employees.

As Australia continues to become more diverse, failing to manage diversity effectively is becoming an increasingly expensive practice, as Julie Kantor explains. She cites a study conducted by the Center for America Progress: “… losing an employee can cost anywhere from 16% of their salary for hourly, unsalaried employees, to 213% of the salary for a highly trained position”.

A failure to put diverse individuals on the promotion path can significantly decrease job satisfaction, and lead to the departure of talented juniors who cannot see people like themselves represented at senior levels.

Kantor notes the effectiveness of mentoring in increasing staff retention. Anecdotal evidence repeatedly shows that people from diverse groups find inspiration in being mentored by others from that same group.

Does your organisation promote diversity and inclusion? Does the diversity of your staff reflect the diversity of your customers? What sorts of images do you choose to represent your company?

How do you acknowledge the Indigenous Peoples of Australia? What does your organisation do to support reconciliation? When you go to meet with clients, who do you choose to take along? Is the diversity of your staff reflected right through your organisation at every level?

Last week’s post talked about diversity in board representation.  Next week – part 3 – what are you missing out on?