mentoring works

Mentoring works. A Tale of Two Mikes…

(OR, Why I Had to Become a Learning and Development {L&D} Professional)

It was 1979, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Margaret Thatcher had become the UK’s first female Prime Minister. I ‘fell’ into a job in banking because it looked like times were about to get very hard economically in the UK, and it appeared to be a case of ‘get a job whilst you can’. My mother spotted the advert for a role in my local bank, so I applied and I was successful.

However, some of my early experiences weren’t great!

I was a 16-year-old bank clerk working for the old Midland Bank before it nearly went bust, having invested in Crocker International, an American Bank (who gave away cocker spaniels with personal loans would you believe!?)

I distinctly remember the day that a 40-something year old under-manager told me off, for being ‘too enthusiastic’. That was a seminal moment in my career. Of course, I chose to ignore him.

A short while later, having been moved to another local branch, it seemed clear to me that the under-manager at this branch had taken a dislike to me, for no apparent reason.

Unbeknown to me, she recommended my dismissal at the end of my probation period. This would have been a devastating blow to my 16-year-old self. I was shocked to be told the news of my imminent departure.

However, two sisters who worked for the branch took it upon themselves to approach the branch manager in order to influence him to overturn the decision. They recognised that I was actually a very enthusiastic, diligent worker and their view was that I was clearly being victimised. I lived to fight another few years, before moving to another bank as one of the youngest qualified bankers of my era, but facing ‘dead men’s shoes’ at Midland!

It wasn’t until practically 8 years into my career, in meeting new managers, Mike Buxton and Mike Williams, that I realised what it meant to be coached and developed properly.

I also clearly remember the day that I was promoted to the commercial department of the TSB, with no prior training (who does that to people these days?) and feeling totally out of my depth. On day two into the job, I was ready to throw in the towel, when Mike Buxton sat me down and ‘counselled me’, putting me back on track.

As a wealth adviser for another division of the Bank a few years later, and this time reporting to Mike Williams, I was struggling with a particular product line.  My job involved working evenings, after a solid 8 hours in a Bank branch, and the first thing I noticed was that Mike would happily accompany me to client visits in order to support my development, coaching me ‘on the job’ whenever and wherever needed. He would sometimes sensitively take over an interview where he felt that I was struggling, or even properly out of my depth, and would literally show me ‘live’ in front of a client, what to do.

In a branch office environment, he would visit me to coach and develop me on the job. I’d never have any fear of his visits, knowing that his intentions were always positive.

Mike would explain to me that there was always ‘more than one way to kill an elephant’, not particularly politically correct, but it was a useful way to get a point across. He was brilliant with his use of metaphor and would make complex concepts crystal clear to me.

Ultimately, his professionalism, dedication and coaching led to a direct improvement in my performance, from just above average, to great.

I recognised that if he could have this sort of impact on those around him, then I could surely do the same. Using a sporting analogy, I guess I was the equivalent of a striker, regularly scoring goals, but my impact was limited. I realised that if I could learn to become a ‘team coach’ and/or trainer, my positive impact on the performance of others could be huge.

Shortly after starting to work for Mike, I began looking for roles in L&D. The obvious place to start was my current employer. I applied for a role and I experienced my first ‘knock back’. It seemed I just wasn’t the best candidate on the day. I continued my day job as diligently as ever, but kept my eye on further opportunities in the world of L&D.

About a year later, to the day, another role came up and I applied again, this time successfully securing the job. I was ecstatic and keen to start developing others.

My employer suggested that I undertake the CIPD’s Certificate in Training Practice, as it was. I completed this, giving me an all-round academic view of the Training Cycle, and I subsequently undertook the Training Foundation’s Delivery skills programme which gave me the practical skills that I needed to train people effectively. It wasn’t until nearly 20 years later, in applying to work for the company, that I realised I had been trained in what are now recognised as the fundamentals of the TAP® Training Accreditation programme’s methodologies.

In the 20 something years since devoting my career to L&D, I’ve trained, coached, managed and developed literally hundreds of people, some delegates of our employee programmes, many employees in my teams.

Whilst several people I have personally managed and coached would have undoubtedly advanced on their own efforts, I’d like to think that many of them derived benefit from my support and coaching, as much as I did from the input of my managers, the two Mikes.

For their efforts; the under-manager who told me not to be so enthusiastic, and the two sisters at Midland Bank, I remain eternally grateful. You helped shape my career, prepare me for management and in turn ensured that I made a positive contribution to the lives of others. OK, it’s not as worthwhile as a copper, nurse, teacher, ambulance drive or doctor, but I hope in my own small way that I’ve made a difference and will continue to do so.

Adrian Stokes is Managing Director of The Training Foundation, father of two small children (one of them adopted), husband, brother and son.

One comment

  • What a GREAT read Adrian. It is so good to read how much a person with the power of positive impact can influence our choice and help us onto the right track. Knowing you as I do, I am certain you too will have had a positive impact on others you’ve worked with. Thanks for sharing.

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