Mentoring and the 1971 FA Cup Final

Everyone’s doing it

Mentoring is the thing so many people are saying they’re doing. But I wonder first:

  • if they are, and second, and far more importantly,

  • if they are delivering the value they really could.

But what is it?

When I ask, I find most people have no idea what a mentor is actually all about. And when you say “and how’s that different from a coach?”, few can differentiate. They think they know what each involves, but actually can’t define either.

Does it matter that we don’t understand what we’re doing?

If you’re getting results, then maybe not. But I would suggest because we don’t understand and we confuse the terms, we are probably operating at well below the level we could.

A story - my short sales career

I moved from teaching at age 33 into a role running my own business supposedly selling chairs that were good for your back. I say “supposedly”, because I arrogantly assumed you could walk into a sales role and be successful. After a year building huge experience of how not to do it, we were planning towards children, and I decided it was time to move back into a full time role, with some expectation of consistent income.

Sales training at Legal & General

Amazingly, I landed the role of sales trainer at Legal & General. When the existing sales trainers asked me what experience I had selling financial products, unlike some of them, I didn’t make up stories, I just said none. Several predicted I wouldn’t last a month. They said people would see through me, and make my life unbearable. I more than survived, loving my 5 years in the training department, and staying eventually 22 years in a range of roles.

How did I do it?

How come? Though I didn’t realise it at the time, the doom mongers were wrong because they misunderstood the definitions of mentors and coaches.

As you’ll find in the slides you can download off my website, the key requirement for a mentor is that you’ve “been there before”, with your success inspiring their action. I clearly hadn’t. I sold a chairs, mainly to very willing buyers, and I had no experience standing on a doorstep or hanging on a phone trying to interest someone in life assurance or pensions. So I was totally upfront with people and told them that wasn’t going to even pretend.

But I knew that what I could offer after 10 years successfully managing a whole range of school pupils was a genuine understanding of people and their motivations, and an ability to break down real skill into its components.

So to the FA Cup Final, 1971

The 1971 FA Cup Final was the central point of my introduction at the start of the course. Arsenal were playing Liverpool, and a 20 yr old, long haired prodigy called Charlie George was playing for Arsenal.

The Telegraph at shows him lying on his back celebrating the extra time goal that won the match.

My memory was that he was outside the penalty area, not facing the goal, and he just turned and hit a “blistering 20yds shot past Ray Clemence”.

In the post match interview the Telegraph quotes Charlie as saying “If Ray had got to that shot, he’d have broken his hand”. When asked how he’d done it, Charlie said “I proper caught it”.

I would explain that as a mentor, someone like Charlie George would have been very inspiring. But I would then ask if inspiration was enough to achieve? If I told them the sales equivalent of “just proper catch it” - how would that be helpful? It was unfair - of course it isn’t.

I’d then ask who they would prefer helping them become effective sales people -

  • someone who could inspire them but had no clear idea of how they did what they did, or

  • someone who could break down the process they were doing and coach them to take on those behaviours themselves.

No one ever asked for the “I proper caught it” approach. And I got a reputation for equipping people with skills, not bravado.

The lesson for mentoring and coaching?

As a head office sales trainer, there was a bigger need for a coach than a mentor - there were plenty of inspiring models in their sales offices, who were highly effective but had no idea why.

But I now go much further - what I’ve learned over the years is that to be truly and deeply effective, it’s not either or. And over the years, I’ve realised I could authentically take on some of the role of mentor, and with my coaching skills, I could be both the inspiration and means.

My model and my next post

As you’d expect, I’ve got lots of idea how to do this. Go to my website if you want to view the model, and keep an eye out for my next blog to grow some flesh on these bones.

Be inspiring and be the means to success …

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