Contributed by Marvin Kemp
Long time friends and readers know that mentoring the next generation of professionals is very important to me. In recent presentations I've given on mentoring, I've drawn a strong distinction between the mentor and the coach. In short, the coach helps you do your current job better and the mentor helps prepare you for your next job.
While out for a run the other day, I listened to NPR's "Marketplace" podcast (the specific episode can be found here). In one piece for this episode, several people involved in corporate coaching were interviewed: both coaches and the professionals utilizing their services. It is a growing trend for busy professionals, usually upper management or sole proprietors, to spend some time each week with a coach to help them organize themselves, tackle important issues in the appropriate order and generally do their jobs better.
For the past few years, I have co-led one of our four architecture studios in our firm. That means working with the project managers and anywhere from 10 to 14 architectural staff to ensure projects are staffed, deadlines are met, and our employees have what they need to be successful. As our firm goes through a leadership transition, we are asking junior leaders to step into new roles within the office. A group of us were promoted to principal and are working on strategic initiatives and need others to step in to day to day management roles. In that vein, a group of our associates, senior associates and principals met recently to review an initiative that will be presented to the senior principals. The idea was that a small group of associates had created this initiative and they were looking for buy in from the principals before presenting it to the senior principals. While listening to the podcast yesterday, I realized that what the associates really needed was coaching in what and how to present that information to the senior principals.
For a number of years, our firm has had a formal mentoring program. We pair volunteer mentees and volunteer mentors for a year of goal-setting, reflection and growth. It has been highly successful and we enjoy broad involvement through most portions of the firm. I'm wondering now if there is benefit to a formal coaching program. Historically, coaching has only existed between project manager or project architect and the younger staff or through our QA/QC processes. As we ask junior leaders to take on larger leadership roles, perhaps there should be some coaching, even if it is just one hour per week or less, but a formal time when junior and more senior leaders can meet to discuss expectations, goals and priorities to make the transition these junior leaders are going through smoother and more meaningful.
In the coming months, we are going to be relooking at our studio groups both from a staffing standpoint but also a leadership standpoint. There are some of us promoted to principal who should probably step out of the studio leader role to allow others to fill it. Many of us were thrown into leadership without any training, coaching or mentoring. We want the next group to be successful, so I am looking for ways to make that happen and set up the next generation to succeed.
One way to help might be a meeting prior to our weekly studio leaders meeting to review agenda and discussion points along with a follow up after the leaders meeting to review what we learned. I've been trying to do that with the associate that I co-lead our team with. Sometimes deadlines, out of office meetings and other things get in the way, but generally we can meet to review our studio personnel and their needs. From time to time, that meeting does expand into a discussion of broader ideas about leadership. We have not been as good about the follow up meeting on what we learned, though sometimes a brief discussion does ensue at the coffee pot following the 9:00 AM studio leaders meeting.
The important notion I want you to take away from reading this is that we all need help. We all need coaching and mentoring, no matter how old we are or how long we've been in our chosen professions. I see young people in construction thrown into the fray by their companies without appropriate coaching or mentoring. They struggle because they didn't learn the nuisances of our industry in college. I used to get upset when I had to help train young project engineers on our construction sites. I now realize that if I don't train them, the companies they work for may not so they don't get the training they need.
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