From Team Member Friday To Team Leader Monday



This is a great story about what can be achieved through mentoring, especially when the mentee is a highly motivated professional. This situation – moving from team member Friday to team leader Monday – will be familiar to many of you reading this. I hope it inspires you, but more importantly, demonstrates how highly charged situations like this can be handled very constructively.

Jane * was one such mentee of mine that was totally committed to her professional development. We had worked together over about 3 years on and off. She came back to me whenever she hit a hurdle or obstacle and we worked together to find a way through. This time it was different because she’d just been promoted to her first leadership role. On Friday she had been a member of her team. On Monday she was its leader. This was the on-going issue we had been working towards.

Moving from Team Member Friday to Team Leader Monday.

Jane came to see me 6 weeks into this new role. She had a problem with a close friend, let’s call her Emma, who was a member of the team. She was coming in 15-20 minutes late most mornings and would often leave early. Some of the team, however, had come to Jane and raised the issue of Emma’s come-and-go-when-she-pleased attitude and the fact that Jane appeared to be ignoring it. They felt they did not have that option and that Jane had only been ignoring it because Emma was her friend. It wasn’t something Emma had done with the previous team leader.

Jane came to this session of mentoring wanting help to address with Emma this issue of coming in late. She felt very caught between her role as leader of the team and her friendship with Emma. She was deeply concerned and anxious about how to approach it because she knew she had to show leadership but also didn’t want to damage the friendship. The other dilemma for Jane was that Emma was extremely good at her job, always met expectations so the fact that she was coming late and leaving early was not impacting her performance.

Being the Mentor, The Guide on the Side.

Jane thought she had a leadership issue, how to deal with Emma’s lateness and still maintain a friendship. One of the first things I always want to do with those I am mentoring is clarify why they are here. Some come with what they believe to be the issue and they want some strategies and tips for managing it.

This was Jane. From our time working together she expected it to be straightforward and that we would resolve it quickly. I suspected, however, that wasn’t really why she was so emotionally charged about this. It was important to help Jane discover what she was really feeling. So, I asked Jane to tell me all about her personal relationship with Emma which she told me had been from school days and how they had worked together professionally.

What emerged from that discussion was Jane discovering that it wasn’t Emma’s coming late and leaving early that was the issue. It was her feeling and realisation that her good friend was using her, taking their friendship for granted and in the process jeopardising Jane’s credibility as a leader and ability to lead her team.

This realisation escalated Jane’s anxiety about how to approach the situation. She had thought she may be able to use the complaints of other team members to get Jane to change her behaviour. That approach wouldn’t harm the friendship. She just needed some tips and strategies from me. Now she had to go into some deeper “stuff” and only the most committed to transforming and changing themselves are prepared to go there. I knew from experience that Jane was one of those people.

My role as the mentor is not to tell Jane what she should do, but to ask leading questions that eventually lead her to that aha! moment of insight where she herself realises what she needs to do.

She wanted a win/win outcome. She didn’t want either of them to lose because then the relationship was lost, both personally and professionally. She wasn’t therefore going to raise the issue of her coming late and leaving early at the outset.

Jane’s Plan of Action Following the Mentoring.

She decided to sit down with Emma on neutral ground and have a talk with her about how she was feeling about having Jane now in a leadership position that impacted her work. At the outset, she wasn’t going to raise the issue of her coming late and leaving early.

Jane had already realised that this should have been addressed when she found she had this job,  not just with Emma, but with all the members of the team. This is a good lesson for all those reading this who may find themselves in the same position.

Jane also wanted to let Emma know that she did not want her relationship with her damaged by the situation they now found themselves in. She wanted to discuss with Emma ways they could work together constructively so that didn’t happen. Jane and I worked through together how that conversation might go. We talked through what might go wrong and how Jane might restore the conversation back to her desire for a win/win outcome.

Jane and Emma went out to a coffee shop and had a very productive conversation, both believing that they could work well together and Emma realising, for the first time, that at work she needed to be a team member first and Jane’s friend second. Jane was then able to talk about the coming in late and leaving early and the challenge for her in how to approach it. Jane was very responsive to changing that.

Jane Followed Up.

It was a tribute to Jane’s leadership style that she scheduled another coffee with Emma a week later just to make sure that Emma was still at ease with her being the leader of the team, and in effect, responsible for Emma’s performance.

That proved to be an inspired move because Emma, while trying to be a committed team member, was feeling some apprehension about the situation. Jane had anticipated this and had a Plan B.

She asked Emma if she had aspirations to take on a leadership role. She indicated that she believed Emma had qualities and skills that would make her a good leader. Emma was quite taken back by Jane’s question and indicated she hadn’t even thought that way. Jane asked her to think about it and said that if she decided she’d like to work towards that Jane would mentor her in finding a leadership position in a different organisation and give her a high recommendation for the position.

Jane suggested she take a week to think about it and they talk again. But what happened was that later that night Emma rang Jane and with great excitement indicated that if Jane believed she had leadership potential, she would love Jane to work with her towards that end. Meanwhile, she would stay in the organisation and learn as much as she could from Jane.

Final Reflection on the Mentoring.

This was an outcome that went way beyond what Jane had foreseen when she first came to the mentoring. This is very common in my mentoring. Mentees go away with outcomes they never imagined or thought possible.

Jane says to me: “But I couldn’t have done it without you.” Most mentees who end up effecting great change say this. There is an element of truth in it, but I am merely the guide on the side, albeit a highly experienced one. The outcome, however, is due to their absolute commitment to being the best, to high performance and to their openness to examining their approach and style. It is also important to note that Jane’s commitment to mentoring over 3 years, albeit on and off after the first intensive 6-month period, has seen her become very self-aware, emotionally intelligent, confident and competent and able to manage her people in a highly skilled way.

After some weeks Jane told Emma about her mentoring with me and suggested that Jane come and talk with me which she did. Within 2 months, Emma had left the organisation and taken on a leadership position in another organisation, a position she is enjoying immensely. Now Jane and her “use” one another for support and discuss work over their regular coffees. I see them both from time to time when something comes up where they need a sounding board.

This was certainly the win/win outcome Jane wanted.

* Not her real name, but the story is told with both Jane’s and Emma’s permission with distinguishing details omitted.

© Maree Harris, PhD.

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