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The Coaching Corner with Michael Riegel: DIY is Overrated

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My cell phone rang last week. For a change, it was not a telemarketer or spam. I recognized the number and immediately picked up. At the other end was a former team member who I have stayed in touch with over the years. Actually, we last worked together in 2012. Clearly, that was not the end of our business relationship. Over the years we have talked about career goals, professional licensing, and workplace challenges. I am happy to report that she has been professionally successful and recently got her PE license. So, what was the call about? She had read an article I wrote and wanted to give me some feedback. Falling back into old roles, I asked her about her current situation, future plans, and how I could be helpful. Essentially, without stating it out loud, she considers me a mentor and I could not be prouder.

As both a professional coach and a mentor, it’s important to distinguish between the two. While both coaching and mentoring take on a forward-looking lens, coaching focuses on helping a client identify and meet goals through accountability. A coach is less focused on offering their own advice, opinions, path or experience, and more focused on facilitating their client’s own learning and discovery. A coach is also unattached to a specific outcome – they’re attached to whatever the client wants for themselves and their life and career. As a coach, I ask questions, listen for what’s being said and what isn’t being said, help my clients clarify their goals and anticipate obstacles to those goals, and support them on their path towards success.

As a mentor, I tend to take a less structured approach. I’ll ask, “what can I do to be helpful?” and go from there. Mentors share their personal experiences, successes, failures, and will offer an opinion or advice. They also have greater personal investment in your success and will open professional doors by making connections or introductions. As a mentor, I see mentoring as the continuation and deepening of a professional relationship and letting someone learn from my mistakes.

I find that the term mentor or mentor program is taken out of context. I managed a small business development program for construction contractors in New York. It was routinely called a mentor program, as were the similar programs provided by municipal agencies and prime contractors for subcontractors. They provided training and consulting services, not mentoring. By calling them mentor programs, it created confusion with true mentor programs delivered through HR or Talent Development departments. If you think about the mentor in your organization, the mentors are typically older, more experienced, and more advanced in position, title, and responsibility. Formal programs will pair a less experienced team member with someone who has already navigated the career path or corporate ladder. Companies see value in mentoring for a variety of reasons.

Team members that get mentored experience a boost in self-confidence and greater self-awareness. A mentor can help their mentee recognize and correct behaviors and patterns that are limiting advancement and, consequently, that will increase the likelihood of promotions. And in most organizations, promotions come with more money which is a nice side benefit. Mentor programs also heighten a sense of loyalty and employee engagement while maintaining and promoting the corporate culture. Here are just a couple of statistics from a recent survey you might find interesting:

· 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs

· 67% of businesses reported an increase in productivity due to mentoring

· Mentoring increased minority representation in management from 9% to 24%

· 89% of those who have been mentored go on to become mentors

· 79% of millennials see mentoring as crucial to career success

Interestingly, I only worked in one organization that had a formal mentor program. I did not let that get in my way. I still maintain relationships with my mentors and each is helpful in a different way. You can and might consider more than one mentor. How did I get a mentor without a formal program? I identified people who did work that I admired or had an approach that I appreciated. I developed a vision for my career and looked for someone who chose a similar path. I made it my business to go to them for guidance or advice. I can say with some confidence that you will not be turned away. I never was and I never actually had to ask, “will you be my mentor?” It was an unspoken agreement that was as rock-solid as any contract I ever signed. As a result, I am part of the 89% who went from being a mentee to a mentor. I view being a mentor as my chance to give back – no, my responsibility to give back – and help others in the way I was helped.

After almost 30 minutes on the phone with my former colleague, we covered her medium- and long-term options that included moving back to the private sector, starting her own company, or staying with her current organization. I offered my opinion on each, knowing her and her personality, and helped her think through her next steps and who I could connect her to for more information. As I was about to hang up, she got the same affirming message I like to leave with – “you know where to find me and let me know what I can do to help.” I won’t be surprised when she calls me in the coming months.

If you would like to learn more about mentoring, coaching, or training programs, you can email me at or on my cell at (516) 238-0859. If you’re not spam or a telemarketer, there is a good chance you’ll get me by the second ring!


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