CorporateCoach eNewsletter

Issue No. 79, 15th November 2004


  1. Editorial: We are the programmer
  2. Coaching notes: Twelve habits of the toxic mentor

1.     Editorial: We are the programmer

Richard Winfield - editor and principal consultantIt continues to surprise me how much I do not know. Earlier in the year I discovered the definitive book on consultancy that had been published twenty years ago, soon after I started consulting.

This week I finally traced references to Pikes Place Fish, which had been mentioned earlier r by Robert Dilts. There is a series of books based on it available in most bookshops, as well as a video. In the same week I received a newsletter with a headline "We are not the program, we are the programmer." Both had the same message.

Pikes Place Fish market is a real place in Seattle where the staff decided that they might be doing a boring job but they could decide to make it interesting. As a result of introducing fun to their activities and to their relation with their customers, they have become very successful – and world famous.

The book Fish! is a story about Mary Jane, a manager who was promoted to take over a very low morale department doing boring work. It was known as the toxic energy dump! One day at lunch time she strayed into the Pikes Place market and came across the fish stall and its enthusiastic staff. The story is about how she and they transformed her department.

Here are her notes of what she learned from the team at the fish stall: -

Choose your attitude - The fish guys are aware that they choose their attitude each day. One of the fish guys said, "When you are doing what you are doing, who are you being? Are you being impatient and bored, or are you being world famous? You are going to act differently if you are being world famous." Who do we want to be while we do our work?

Play - The fish guys have fun while they work, and fun is energising. How could we have more fun and create energy?

Make their day - The fish guys include the customers in their good time. They engage their customers in ways which create energy and goodwill. Who are our customers and how can we engage them in a way that will make their day? How could we make each other's days?

Be present - The fish guys are fully present at work. What can they teach us about being present for each other and our customers?

Mary Jane sent out these notes and then asked her team to meet with suggestions.

The book is less than 100 pages of large type and is an easy read. But, like so many of these metaphor stories, it is full of good content.

I have commented before on advertisements that have unintended meanings. One night this week I took my father into the local hospital for a bandage. On the wall was an advertisement that I believe was intended to dissuade you from smoking. Here is what it said:

Saving Lives

Not a great motivator for the hospital staff!

I am a mentor for Birmingham Future, an organisation that supports young professionals in Birmingham. On Friday I attended a dinner addressed by Professor David Clutterbuck on the subject of mentoring. At the end of a serious lecture on coaching and mentoring, he added a slide about how not to do it. I list below David's take on "The Toxic Mentor".


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2.     Coaching notes: Twelve habits of the toxic mentor
David Clutterbuck

Here is a light-hearted look at how not to mentor!

  1. Start from the point of view that you - from your vast experience and broader perspective - know better than the mentee what's in his or her interest
  2. Be determined to share your wisdom with them - whether they want it or not; remind them frequently how much they still have to learn
  3. Decide what you and the mentee will talk about and when; change dates and themes frequently to prevent complacency sneaking in
  4. Do most of the talking; check frequently that they are paying attention
  5. Make sure they understand how trivial their concerns are compared to the weighty issues you have to deal with
  6. Remind the mentee how fortunate s/he is to have your undivided attention
  7. Neither show nor admit any personal weaknesses; expect to be their role model in all aspects of career development and personal values
  8. Never ask them what they should expect of you - how would they know anyway?
  9. Demonstrate how important and well connected you are by sharing confidential information they don't need (or want) to know
  10. Discourage any signs of levity or humour - this is a serious business and should be treated as such
  11. Take them to task when they don't follow your advice
  12. Never, never admit that this could be a learning experience for you, too


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