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Being the Best Agent Possible: Coaching

For many years I have been talking with frontline supervisors about the importance of coaching.  I believe being a good coach and a good mentor is probably the most important attribute of a good leader.  If you are fortunate enough to work for a leader that is a great coach, consider yourself lucky.  But if not, what do you do?  How can you get the feedback you need and the career-direction that you crave to move forward?  The reality is that coaching and mentoring comes in many forms. 

Some of the best mentors in my life were not my actual manager.  Mentoring has come from fellow-colleagues, friends and even clients.  Sometimes it just happens by the nature of the situation.  But, there are some steps you can take to find a mentor and build a relationship that will help you improve at work (and in life).

Seven Steps to Finding a Mentor

1. Define why you need a mentor.  Are you looking for a long-term relationship (maybe a year or more) where the person meets with you on a consistent basis or are you seeking someone to help with a specific challenge?  Do you want the person to be an external sounding-board or do you need someone in your company to help you find a new or different path at your job?

2. Write a “Why I Need You” overview.  It is important that you are prepared when you reach-out to ask for help.  This is your time to share your thoughts in a concise way – to perhaps share the positive things that you have done lately and of course, why you need their help.  You don’t have to make a formal request and ask the person to be your mentor.  You can seek advice with a specific question – and see if the relationship can blossom into a full-blown mentorship opportunity.  When thinking about why you need help, share the situation as you see it and what is troubling you (the problem).  Discuss your ideas for solving the problem (your perspective) – it is better if you show that you have thought about the solution or tried different things.  Then ask for help - confirm if you are on the right path or if there are better paths that might be better (seeking feedback). 

3. Be positive.  The last thing anyone wants to hear from someone is a whine session.  Even if the situation is a bad one (example: my manager is not very good), your goal should be to find a mentor that can help you find alternatives to what you’ve already tried.  See if you can add some humor into the situation – laughter is good medicine – and self-deprecating humor is the best.  And don't be defensive when the mentor seeks to show you how you are the problem. 

4. Ask for follow-up.  Ask the person if you can follow-up after you try the new recommended path.  This will give you a chance to share success (or failure) and seek more feedback.  And this is the path to building a long-term mentoring relationship. 

5. Show gratitude for their help.  One of the best forms of appreciation is to write a personal note thanking them for the help.  Hand-written thank-you notes are a lost art – it will make you stand out.  No – and email is not just as good. 

6. Seek out opportunities for future sessions.  Find opportunities to reconnect.  Share with them your successes as well as your challenges.  Remember that lunch is always a great opportunity to share life stories and seek feedback.

7. Repeat the process!

The great thing about exploring this type relationship is that you sometimes end up with a friend for life.  Many of my mentors (and those that I have had the opportunity to mentor) are some of the best friends in my life.

There is one more thing you can do to help you grow as an employee – be a mentor to someone else.  Seek out that new employee or that younger employee or that person on your team that is a little-bit lost.  Ask them questions and just be a friend.  You will have the opportunity to learn from their successes and their mistakes – and you will fulfill one of the best things in life – being a coach and helping others.