One of the most interesting, privileged and challenging of my current projects is working with the London Deanery in training a large cohort of doctors who, once they have demonstrated what they can do through a rigorous assessment, work with other doctors as coach-mentors.
For most, the course comes as a shock. They discover that what they have been calling mentoring or coaching, though benignly meant, is actually simple, linear advice-giving which is unlikely to reach into the real needs of the mentee.
When I ask clients who their leadership role models are, they virtually always mention Nelson Mandela, a man who has eschewed pomp and money in favour of simplicity and directness
The influence of the medical model of problem solving with patients will not take you far when you are mentoring a younger colleague with complex career issues.
Many of our participants are eminent members of their profession. What I notice is that the more distinguished the doctor, the more likely it is that they will be humble about their lack of skill in mentoring/coaching. They bring good humour, enormous willingness to learn and a remarkable openness to feedback.
As a 28 year old full of the naive enthusiasm of youth, I commissioned a book which contained a chapter by Richard Hoggart, then as now the author of some of the best work ever written on class and literacy. Professor Hoggart submitted with perfect grace to my possibly highly impertinent requests for changes, unlike the never previously published academic from a neighbouring university who fought every suggestion, even if it was only to change a comma.
When I was new to consulting and coaching, I was taken in hand by a world weary colleague on the verge of retiring.
His advice was that I should conceal my lack of experience, never expose a weakness and pose at all times as smarter than my clients. The effect? You end up hating your job and fearing your clients because you can never be yourself. Instead, I find that clients prefer authenticity, the willingness to say you don’t know, to reject an assignment if you know in your heart it doesn’t fit for you, and to work with transparency at all times.
The US writer Patrick Lencioni calls this Getting Naked, the title of his new book about leadership. Naked leadership can feel scary because it is about facing up to ideas you may secretly have that you are an impostor.
When I ask clients who their leadership role models are, they virtually always mention Nelson Mandela, a man who has eschewed pomp and money in favour of simplicity and directness.
In the film Invictus, centred on Mandela’s first year in office, the white South Africa rugby team captain shakily asks his wife what he should say on meeting Mandela for the first time.
“Thank you for asking me to tea,” she says, smiling at having to remind him that he has no reason to be afraid.
Exactly: it is just a cup of tea, but with a clear sense of what the meeting may achieve - a total reversal of the team’s terrible performance. Naked leadership: this is your time!