Great Mentors - could you be one?

The Islander – March 2018

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70% of learning occurs on the job, with just 10% coming from formal training

How much learning occurs on the job? We know that a ‘greeny’ fresh out of school and clutching their STCW will join your vessel keen as mustard and ready to learn all they can. As senior crew on board you are expected to support that development and regularly do so. No surprises then that 70% of learning occurs on the job, with just 10% coming from formal training and the final 20% through observation.

However, as crew progress into more senior roles there are increasing expectations that much of the learning occurs in the classroom. For many this is true, and they will work to attend formal courses and pass exams before taking the next step up the career ladder. However, the more senior positions often encompass issues that are much broader than just a set of technical skills and some of the decisions that will need to be made. Whilst running various courses, we ask Captains to name their biggest challenges, and hiring the right people was up there near the top of the list. However, nudging ahead of this were the daily challenges they face in managing crew and poor team working. Crew attending a recent HELM course reflected this sentiment during a discussion about the issues that ‘keep them awake at night’. No one mentioned ‘driving the boat’, for everyone it was ‘managing the crew’. In the corporate sector many organisations encourage those wishing to progress in their careers to find themselves a Mentor to support their growth and development.

What is a Mentor and how is it different from being someone’s senior? A Captain or Chief Officer could make a great Mentor to one of their own crew, however, this is unusual. Better still they could make a great Mentor to someone from a different crew, which helps to maintain a professional distance. A Mentor is generally defined as someone who is more experienced and senior than their Mentee, and who wishes to pass on what they have learnt to someone else. It is possible to trace the origins of mentoring to the works of Homer in Greek mythology where the term was synonymous with someone older and wiser, preparing another for the tasks and responsibilities that lay ahead. More contemporary definitions describe a mentor as being a professional person who is wise, experienced and knowledgeable.

A mentor can support their Mentee in a number of ways, from improving their performance and knowledge, to career development and acting as a sounding board. The arrangement is usually entered into voluntarily by both parties, and they will spend an hour every 2-3 months in discussions with them for a year or so.  And oh yes – Mentors, unlike coaches, are not paid!

The role of the Mentor is very much driven by the needs of the Mentee. As a Mentor you may help your mentee to clarify their goals or review an experience and help draw out key learning points. There will be times when you will be able to offer advice or suggestions, or even challenge some of their decisions and thinking. However, ultimately it is the Mentees decision, and a good Mentor does not force their thinking onto their Mentee or tell them what to do.

To be a great Mentor, aside from the relevant technical knowledge, skills and experience, you will also need to be a great listener, have patience and a genuine desire to help someone else, along with the time to give them.

The benefits to a Mentee are obvious, but why would you want to be a Mentor? For the greater good of the industry, for altruistic reasons, or just because it feels good to help someone else! It can also bring you other benefits, such as developing your leadership and coaching skills.

If you would like to develop yourself to be a great Mentor, Impact Crew is here to help. We specialise in supporting and developing your leadership, coaching and mentoring skills on board and ashore, individually and in groups, bridging the gap from classroom to on board practices. Call us now to find out more.