by Craig Mindrum
Coaching and mentoring can be effective ways to help diamonds in the rough - employees who appear to have potential, but who are underperforming for one reason or another.
David Joyner, executive vice president of sales and account services for pharmaceutical services company Caremark, said he occasionally sees employees who are "a bit rough on the edges. In many cases they are incredibly talented people, but they need refinement in a few specific areas that are holding them back."
A 360-degree feedback tool is one way to get them to notice those areas, but Joyner said, "They also need the personal coaching and modeling that shows them the right way. I've had some cases where we've had middle-of-the-road salespeople become our top performers, year in and year out. It's because they got that coaching and feedback early on in their careers."
Bruce Fisher, director of the Leadership Academy at Illinois Institute of Technology and director of an organizational psychology consulting practice, makes an important distinction between objectives for coaching and those for mentoring.
"Coaching is to a great degree targeted around specific developmental opportunities, or even behavioral issues with employees," Fisher said. "It's driven primarily by the organization's agenda and needs. With mentoring, on the other hand, the employee or protege takes on a role almost like a client; it's about his or her needs and career development. Mentoring takes more of a whole-person approach and thus is highly personalized to an individual."
That need for personalization becomes challenging when designing and delivering leadership development programs, however. Coaching has general lessons and thus can be incorporated into leadership training. Mentoring, on the other hand, can actually suffer if it's treated as a program.
"You can't structure a mentoring experience, match people up willy-nilly and tell them to go do it," Fisher said. "Research suggests mentoring is not effective when administered that way. An authentic mentoring experience is based on chemistry, charisma and mutual values; it happens or doesn't happen as part of the natural workings of a relationship." Can mentoring be taught? Maybe.
"There are certain types of leaders who have it in them to mentor effectively," Fisher said. "And there are others who just don't care about it and who aren't good at it. I don't think it's necessarily impossible to turn those people into effective mentors, though certainly it's difficult."
[About the Author: Craig Mindrum, Ph.D., is a strategic talent management consultant.]

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