Reflections on Mentoring and Coaching during Covid
The coronavirus outbreak has left many people feeling frightened, worried and overwhelmed – and this is affecting my mentees in different ways. How mentees experience the current situation will be different for each individual, and this is also true for those you might coach. I thought it might be worth reflecting on lessons I have learnt in working with my mentees over the last 6 months.
As I often do mentoring and coaching sessions online this has not been a big change for me, although for some it will be a new experience. However, the topics talked about, what the mentees have brought to the sessions and how I have led the sessions has been very different. Topics such as anger, upset, anxiety, despondency, a sense of isolation or difficulty dealing with the lack of control have been discussed in sessions, and I have had to meet these with more empathy and understanding than ever before.
It is important that we lower our expectations of what can be achieved. COVID-19 is taking an emotional toll on everyone and this might cause us to transfer our stress onto others — often in the form of poor communication and emotional reactions. This needs to be unpacked in mentoring or coaching sessions, so you may not be able to cover as many topics as before. As I tend to mentor women leaders their situations have changed a lot: many are trying to juggle home working and looking after elderly relatives and children. Grandparents who provided child care are no longer able to do that in some cases and so mentoring is done with children in the background and with some interruptions. As a mentor it was hard to focus at first, but after a while you get used to it. I have learnt to be adaptable and accept that we will not have the same focus as we have had before.
Many of my mentees have expressed a lack of motivation, which is very uncharacteristic for them. Some of the time spent with them is simply encouraging them to keep on keeping on. They are struggling with the uncertainty of everything – the experience of not knowing from one week to the next if their home/work situations will change again. This is very unsettling for people who are used to routines. Helping them to navigate this uncertainty is really important. Asking questions on how they are managing on that day is vital.
As we get used to working at a physical distance from each other, mentees can start to feel disconnected from personal and professional relationships. This is very hard for those mentees who are extroverted; working from home on their own can be hard when you want to interact with others. Give your mentee plenty of time to process their new reality.
Tips for Mentoring in Covid Times
1. Whilst you are being gentle with your mentee, don’t forget to be gentle on yourself as well. Many of the issues that your mentee talks about – senses of loss, uncertainty, anxiety, lack of motivation – are issues that you may be struggling with too. We need to recognise it and talk to our mentor about it. Put on your own oxygen mask first!
2. Give those you are mentoring time and space to share their emotions. Listen more than you would normally. Whilst you may share your situation and emotions to demonstrate understanding, keep this to a minimum. Focus should always be the mentee.
3. Encourage your mentees to continue with a healthy lifestyle and well-being – make sure they get plenty of exercise and eat healthily. I talk about this much more with mentees than I have in the past.
4. Encourage mentees to focus on the positives of the situation – this can be hard, but it is so important. Not everything about Covid is negative. Get them to write down three positives about their current situation. This helps them to see beyond the doom and gloom.
5. Whilst sharing how they feel can be cathartic, it is more empowering to think about hope for the future and what is within their control.
6. Action plans may look very different. I am finding mentoring is currently less about mentees’ leadership development and more about: managing home working, coping with virtual relationships, juggling child care, and concern about losing their job.
7. Probably the most important thing is help mentees to focus on what they know and what is certain – God is still God, He is still on the throne, He is still in control, He still loves them and still has a plan for their life. Jesus is still the same yesterday, today and forever.