04 Jul 2017 20:28 IST

Keep up with the times: coach as you mentor

This generation of millennials doesn’t like to be told what to do, rather point them in the right direction

Millennials now occupy almost half of the workforce in most industries. As a cohort, they share many common characteristics, although as individuals they may also have some unique characteristics. Studies across cultures have confirmed one thing about managing them — that they do not want advice, they just want to be coached! Even if they seek advice, what they actually are looking for is coaching. Period. There are many reasons why they do not believe they need advice. Here are some prominent ones:

~ They are street smart and can figure out what is good for them or useful to them

~ They do not want to cede their right to make decisions to anyone, no matter how high you may be in the hierarchy. After all, they do not expect advice even from their parents, let alone anyone at work!

~ They would like to weigh the pros and cons from their own lenses, not others’

Smart managers will stop short of advice by asking insightful questions so the next gen junior figures the way forward.

For an experienced manager, particularly used to a different style of managing, it is hard to fathom and accept. As Dr Gary Hamel mentions in his best-selling book The Future of Management: “Asking a manager to manage less is like asking a carpenter to pound fewer nails.” It is very frustrating for an average manager to hold back all their wisdom accumulated over the years, as they have been advised to share and educate people they manage. Now, they are confronted with a generation they have to “manage”. How on earth do they manage without telling them “what to do”!?

Change with the times

Managers will do well to reflect and realise that if they wished to part advice, they are doing a disservice not just to the smart juniors they “manage”, but also to themselves. It is not good for the juniors because they need to be coached to increase their self-awareness and accountability to make the right choices and decisions. Managers are not helping themselves because they are not freeing up their time for better contributions.

One of the most respected CEOs of an IT company I consult once recalled how he was coached by his manager a good 30 years ago. He said he attributed his success and rise to the CEO post to what his manger then did. The story goes like this. Every time he, as a young and talented engineer, had an issue to be resolved, he would approach his manager for help. And his manager would challenge this young lad by responding, “Concede your defeat, and I will help.” The competent and mildly-rebellious young lad would consider it an insult to concede. Instead, he would go back and solve the problem himself based on some questions his manager asked. Over time, he realised that had his manager obliged him the easy way out and given him the solution, he would not have grown to become what he is now. “Maybe the manager did not call it coaching then, but it was the finest way to coach” the CEO said.

Coaching is nothing new. For many decades now, managers keen on grooming their juniors adopted an empowering approach rather than a dependency-producing approach of advising what to do. It is here where coaching differs also from mentoring. Mentors are those who have done it before and can show the right path. In a complex world, there is need for mentoring and millennials will find their own mentors, either at work or outside, in their web of relationships. It is just that they do not appreciate advice that their managers are so generous with.

It is time managers took some “mentoring” on “coaching” so they do not mentor when coaching is what is needed.