The art of mentoring
Mastering the art of mentoring We asked seafaring professionals how mentoring has helped enhance and advance their careers, whether they were on the receiving end or were acting as the mentor themselves.
It was on a cold winter’s night on the northern coast of British Columbia that Captain Wedgewood and I were engaged in what was his usual evening routine. He would come to the bridge and we would discuss the past day’s activities, what went right, what went wrong or what lessons we had learned. This was mentoring at its best, as we calmly discussed events. What made this evening particularly important to me was a simple statement: “Duke, you’ve got this job down… you need a challenge.” I was in fact very comfortable with my position and my working relationship with the crew and Captain, but somewhere, somehow, the Captain knew something was missing. “You need to get on a ship where you have to fly by the seat of your pants, you need to go to the Arctic.”
I was taken aback by this advice. A position on board a specialised shallow draft Arctic vessel on a six-month rotation didn't seem a terribly positive career advancement. What would I learn running back and forth on the 1,500nm of the Mackenzie River? Captain Wedgewood quietly persisted, explaining how the remote voyages, in waters for the most part inadequately surveyed, dodging river shoals and offshore ice would give me a new outlook on navigation, and how to deal with things that go “sideways” without being a short helicopter ride away from technicians, repairs or other support.
Captain Wedgewood pointed me in the direction that would become not only my professional focus but my personal passion that has lasted to this day. Within days I was hooked on the challenge, and most unexpectedly on the ice. Without that advice, I would not have gained the experience and learned from other great Captains about the subtleties of working a ship in ice that has guided my career ever since.
Captain David (Duke) Snider FNI
As a cadet, I was tasked to carry out chipping using the dreaded chipping hammer. The captain came to check on my progress. He saw me knocking away at a rusted steel plate and did not like the results. So he took the tool away from me, put on a pair of goggles and started hammering away at the rust himself. It made a lasting impression and his words still linger: “You should know how to do everyone’s job on board, right from the cleaning and cooking. You have to know the bosun’s job, be better than the pump man at what he does and be able to handle the officer’s responsibilities. Only then you shall be worthy of wearing stripes on your shoulder.”
On board training programs need to include more hands-on training by senior officers for the juniors and trainees. I believe that hiding trainees behind the veil of paper and not showing them how to get their hands dirty could come back to haunt ships of tomorrow.
Throughout my career, many individuals have acted as mentors to me, offering experience, aptitude, knowledge and skills. But I learnt most from those who also showed me empathy, flexibility, understanding, respect, teaching and the ability to inspire others. As I progressed in my career, I started to study older and/or more experienced crew members to identify their positive and negative attributes.
On the other side, mentoring has been one of my own prerogatives and I have done it with great pleasure. I always take deck officers through a navigation audit, to make sure that they have the required competency level and know how to use the equipment in a safe and efficient manner. One time, I realised that the person I was guiding didn’t know how to use the gain and weather adjustments on the radar equipment. The weather was foggy and once I had explained everything to them and they had made the necessary radar adjustments, they suddenly discovered a fishing boat coming up close on our starboard side.
Captain Cristian E. Ciortan MNI
One time when mentoring helped avert a potential incident was during cargo operations in port. There had been a few changes in C/O during the previous trips on the vessel and the Captain was relatively new, having only sailed for two previous month-long trips on the vessel. We needed to load a number of different bulk cargoes during the port call. The previous C/O had patiently explained the cargo systems on board the ship and allowed me to undertake the majority of the operations.
Due to his guidance, I was able to assist significantly in the loading processes and even spot potential problems before they arose so that the operations were completed without incident. If I had not been mentored in this way, the operations may not have been quite so successful due to my lack of familiarity with the ship and its systems.
Ailsa Nelson MNI
Very early in my career as Master of a container ship we were asked by the port management to depart the berth prior to the completion of lashing, as the lashing gangs were on strike. Port management had told the Chief Officer that the previous ship had just co-operated in this way, clearing the berth and anchoring in the harbour where the crew completed lashing.
I was initially keen to assist as the strike had seriously delayed our schedule. However, I needed to confer with the owners, but it was a weekend and they were not available. So I made a telephone call to a Master with whom I had sailed several years ago. His first question was: “Do you want to be a hero?” That was all the mentoring I needed to decline the port manager’s request. As things worked out, the lashing gangs returned to work shortly afterwards and we were away by the end of the day.
Captain Kevin Coulombe MNI
Good mentors allow enough space for the mentee to make their own decisions but are there to guide and, more importantly, assist if the planned action is not achieved.
I was lucky, in that I have continued to be mentored as I moved ashore. I have been trusted to carry out tasks that align with my abilities and recognise my qualifications, but have also been given guidance recognising my inexperience with working shore-side. Mentoring should continue as you move ashore and if you are mentored in the correct way, your seafaring skills will prove invaluable in the office environment.
Deidre Lane MNI
We want to hear from you!
Have you had a mentor who has changed your career? Or have you been able to make a difference to someone else? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org! We want to collect your stories to encourage everyone to be a mentor. Read more about mentoring on the Navinspire blog http://www.nautinst.org/