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Who Needs a Coach or a Mentor?

"I'm a leader. Why would I need a leadership coach or mentor?"

It's been my experience both as a leader and as a follower that far too many people find themselves taking on a leadership role without any preparation, training or guidance in leadership skills. And so, of course, when they first step into the role, they struggle.

Novice leaders often don't really understand themselves, so they find it difficult to understand anyone else - and if you don't understand your people and what makes them tick, you can't effectively lead them.

Inexperienced leaders usually don't have a clear vision for what they want to achieve and consequently they don't have anything to excite and inspire their people. Without an inspiring vision, how are you going to motivate your people? Wield a big stick and issue orders? Good luck with that.

It's quite a shift, going from being a team member with responsibility only for your own job to being a leader with responsibility for the team as a whole. Now, you must be able to communicate clearly and unambiguously, both with your own team and with the heirarchy above. If you can't or you don't do this, team members will get confused and unsure of what's happening and what they're expected to do. Your boss, and the rest of your organisation, won't know what you and your team are doing. Chaos and conflict are almost guaranteed to ensue.

Talking of conflict, it takes a bit of experience and understanding of working with people to see potential conflict coming and head it off, and to deal with it when it does happen. Ask yourself, how good are your conflict resolution skills?

When you're the leader you can't be everyone's friend. Most people automatically shy away from having a "difficult" conversation when there's bad news, or when a disciplinary matter must be dealt with. Now that you're the leader, you must have the courage to initiate such conversations, and follow through afterwards.

Being the leader isn't always seriously hard work, particularly when things are going well and when you know how to celebrate your team's wins and make your people feel valued and appreciated. That part of your role might seem like fun, and it often is, but you must know when and how it's appropriate to do it.

Until a new leader has developed some confidence in themselves, they often don't know how to assert themselves as the leader without puffing out their chest and throwing their weight about. Leadership is not about wielding authority like a big stick. Do you know how to be the boss without adopting an abrasive, authoritarian approach? Can you be assertive and yet remain humble at the same time?

There are so many fundamental things that a newly appointed leader probably doesn't know. And here's the worst part: even if they do know these things, they probably aren't confident that they know them nor confident that they can put them into practice.

If you're an aspiring, or newly appointed, leader then you'll find that a bit of coaching by an experienced leader will help you to learn the things you need to learn, and to develop the confidence you need to put those things into practice.

A Coach will guide you through the learning process and help you to become more confident in yourself, and in your abilities as a leader. This is a far better approach than reading leadership manuals (or worse, management textbooks) or taking a few online courses. You get the benefit of the experience that your Coach has acquired in their own career, and you get to ask them questions and explore topics in depth.

If you've been in a leadership role for some time and you have learned these things, either through trial and error or by some other means, then you'll already know what works for you (and your team) and what doesn't. That's great. There is no substitute for experience. But what do you do when an unfamiliar situation occurs? How do you know that your current approach to leading your team is the right one? How do you figure out the best things you can do to help to improve your skills and develop yourself as a leader? That's where a Mentor comes in.

A Mentor is someone who has already been where you are now and who has gained many years of experience as a leader. Your Mentor's role is to support you, encourage you to think about the issues that confront you, guide you to become a solutions-oriented, "big picture" thinker, and to regularly challenge you to step out of your comfort zone.

Looking back over my career I see so many things that could have been different - mistakes I could have avoided, opportunities I could have taken better advantage of, people I could have done more to effectively lead, angst and frustration I wouldn't have had to endure - if I'd had the benefit of a Coach or a Mentor to guide me. That's why I'm strongly recommending that anyone who seriously wants to become an inspirational, transformational leader should start working with their own Coach or Mentor right away.

Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

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