Coaching and mentoring to create a great working environment

I became a manager at the early age of 22 years old. I wish I could say I was a good manager but with hindsight I still had a lot to learn about coaching and leadership. Like a lot of managers I focussed on process, issues and actions without much due care and consideration to the human side of things. Without any training or experience it’s no wonder I made mistakes. In addition I never had the benefit of a mentor to help me understand where I was going wrong or how to do better. Mentoring was not an expression used in those days. It seems somewhat of a modern concept.

After a bit of experience and observing what effect my management style was having on those around me, I realised I needed to change. My thoughts crystallised after attending a course called ‘Manager as Leader and Coach’. This course basically taught the techniques and benefits of coaching and mentoring and trained you how to use questioning to get people to freely express their struggles and shortcomings. It showed you how to coach people to achieve. I was quick to implement these new coaching techniques and was pleased to experience the way employees reacted to it. The difference between management and leadership was never clearer from that point.

My passion since then has been in creating an environment where people looked forward to coming to work on a Monday morning. I realised that people work at their best when they are happy, valued, challenged and stretched. To create this sort of working environment you have to be prepared to invest a lot of yourself in supporting not only those directly around you but investing one on one time with your employees at all levels. You must become a consummate coach and mentor to all in your company.

In larger organisations the challenge is to hire or train directors and managers who share these values and the mentoring approach. The creation of a ‘giving’ and ‘supporting’ culture pays much greater dividends than the autocratic bullying style I have had the misfortune to witness in some companies.

Half of my work with private equity backed businesses has been in turnarounds. I knew I couldn’t turn companies around on my own. I had to somehow re energise and mobilise the employees to pull off the extraordinary and bring the company back from the brink. Engaging with the employees at all levels, asking their opinions, consensually agreeing actions and timetables, taking an active interest in their progress, and actively supporting those slipping behind, being there behind them coaching and mentoring, has made for many a successful turnaround.

I am sometimes asked what I believe the top characteristics are of a great coach and mentor and I list them as follows:


To be a good coach or mentor you have to be approachable. You have to show that your direct team or employees can talk freely about issues or their concerns without risk of being judged incompetent or being made to look ridiculous. I always say to my employees that I’m available to chat with anyone that feels the need for support or wants to bring issues or ideas forward. In lots of cases such as turnarounds, I refuse to have an office and take a desk in the middle of an open office. I tell everyone I’m available to all to hear about issues. I tell everyone that if they feel they are failing then I am there to step in and help them. From that point I’m in a good position to coach and mentor those who need it the most. Taking a coaching and mentoring approach creates a real bond between you and your employees and does so much to boost morale.


Coaching and mentoring is all about listening. Sometimes you have to hear what is unsaid and read what is unwritten because it’s often hard to prise out all worries at the beginning. Once you fully understand what’s going on you can begin to help build a path through their issues and style of doing things.


A good coach or mentor is not judgemental. No one is perfect and after all, some issues are complicated. Showing some understanding and empathy of why people are worried helps build a line of open communication.


Being critical in a coaching or mentoring session is a sure way of getting people to clam up. Sure, you have to help people understand where they are going wrong and this can sometimes be difficult when you are mentoring CEOs or other directors. Megalomania knows no bounds!


It’s important that a coach or mentor has a giving nature and doesn’t treat his or her knowledge as a personal possession. You are there to help and to give the benefit of all your knowledge and experience. The skilled mentor can use questions and challenges that result in those being coached or mentored coming to their own conclusions – what better way to get things moving!


I believe in the adage that people don’t leave companies but leave people. Yes, mentoring can be about helping people clarify strategy, help rewrite a business plan or adjust tactics, but an awful lot of the help people need is with the personalities and politics that surround them. They will need to share some very private worries and thoughts about these matters and need to trust their mentor not to divulge or use any of what’s discussed in a political way. A good coach or mentor will have a good political antennae but will not be political.


I’ve put together a collection of useful links for mentoring for those who would like to know more:


You can read more about my work on my Biography page.