To mentor or not to mentor? That was the question I asked myself when NUJ Training Wales advertised its two-day mentoring/coaching programme, which would lead to qualified status.
I had already spent the previous few years trying to persuade my colleagues in public sector communications in Wales that it would be really good to offer coaching and mentoring.
I figured that this would be particularly useful for those colleagues who work in small public bodies, who do not have the benefit of a communications team around them and therefore access to more experienced colleagues.
When I saw the advert for the NUJ Training Wales course I decided that I really ought to put my money where my mouth is and become qualified so that I could offer my services to colleagues.
The two-day course leads to a qualification from the Institute of Leadership and Management and there is a gap of about two weeks between the one-day sessions.
But this course is no two-day picnic leading to an ILM qualification. Oh no, to become qualified requires more then just eating really lovely lunches – the chicken skewers and fruit platters are especially good.
After the two training days with the patient and excellent Pam Henerberry you have to coach/mentor two people for at least six hours, and keep a detailed diary of each session and evaluate your own performance.
Is that all there is to it? Hell no, the process of coaching other people is actually quite hard. Forget any notion about exhorting someone to try harder, it is not that sort of coaching.
The coach has to be very careful not to suggest answers, or even steer the conversation to particular solutions.
Instead the coach has to forget their own preconceptions and desire to offer answers – not easy for someone who has worked in communications for 15 years. My default position when presented with a problem is to try and find a solution.
That is most definitely not the way to achieve an ILM Endorsed Certificate. Instead you have to ask questions that help the coachee find their own solutions.
Asking relevant and good questions is not easy, especially when you have to ensure you don’t take the person down a path you think is the right one.
It also requires a fair degree of trust between the coach and coachee. That was the first test we had to include in our written notes: How did we put the coachee at their ease and how did we help them identify what the issue was?
The sessions are also confidential and it is important that the coachee is reassured about that.
I found my two coachees by asking for volunteers through the CommsCymru network. This meant that I was faced with two people from different Welsh public bodies. It also meant I was unfamiliar with both of them – this turned out to be a blessing and a curse.
A blessing because it meant I was coaching for real, in the sense that these were people I didn’t know, from workplaces that I knew little about. It was nerve-wracking and a curse precisely because I did not know the two coachees and felt an enormous responsibility to help them with the issues they identified.
There are other options which some of the other course members took up, which was to coach each other for the assessment, or people from within your own workplace.
It took real discipline not to slip into advising solutions. It also means that you have to really listen to what the other person is saying to you when they are describing their issues.
It means not trying to think of your next question while they are speaking because that means you are not listening properly.
Think about it. How often have you been talking to somebody and while you are meant to be in listening mode you are mentally rehearsing what you want to say next?
By concentrating on somebody else’s issues, and reflecting on how you helped draw that out and help them find their own solutions, does help you become more reflective about yourself.
This course is a big deal. NUJ Training Wales receives funding from the Welsh Government to improve communication skills and we received our certificates from Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Ken Skates, AM @WG_SkillsMin (left).
Coaching somebody was a very positive experience. I found the whole process tough but invigorating.
It has helped me become a better listener and more reflective about my own faults and issues.
I know the qualification and work I have done will help my CV, but that is a byproduct. I know that the skills I have learnt will help me in any job I take and will especially be useful to help others.