Mentoring in Practice
A Conversation with Adam Heflin, Vice President of Nuclear, The Callaway Plant, Ameren Corporation
Q: Can you give me a quick synopsis of where you are and how you got here?
A: Coming out of high school I joined the Navy as a “Navy Nuke” on a submarine. After six years in the Navy, I joined Arkansas Nuclear One as an equipment operator. I went up through the ranks of operations, became the outage manager for a period, then the operations manager. I was plant manager when Ameren called about 6 months ago. I have been the Vice President at Callaway since then.
Q: If you think back through your career, who were your mentors who helped you figure things out, move along, move up, move ahead?
A: Everywhere I have been there has been somebody that has acted in a mentoring role. One of the best mentors was a shift manager I had while I was an equipment operator at Arkansas. He gave me a lot of feedback and encouragement. He encouraged me to keep going forward in the organization. He said, “There are a lot of people that hold themselves back because they are afraid to take the risk of going forward.” One of the directors there took an active interest in making sure I understood the role of the manager. As a manager, I couldn’t be as hands on as I was as a superintendent. So, I think mentors are extremely important in an organization, whether they are formally assigned or whether it is informal.
Q: Does the Callaway Plant have a formal mentoring program?
A: We have one for shift managers, the heads of the crews who run the plant. Everyone in senior management is assigned to be a mentor for a shift manager. We mentor them on leadership and good operational focus. When they are running their crews, we give feedback on things they are doing well, things that they need to do better.
Q: How do you think about your role as a mentor at the plant?
A: I think that once you reach senior management, mentoring is your role. You need to be constantly giving people feedback, challenging them in a positive way to do better. You need to be looking for holes in the organization. If the people that work for you don’t see those, mentoring them on “Okay here’s how I saw it and this is how you need to be looking for things”. That is your role. You are a mentor almost all the time.
Q: What do you get out of being a mentor?
A: Every time I have worked with someone, I learn something new about them and myself. There is a lot of satisfaction in being a mentor because you can watch someone improve. You stay connected as a team by being open and honest and being willing to give people feedback. I think that is the only way a team can truly function.
Q: What advice would you give people as they are moving into mentoring roles? What would you tell them about what they need to do to be successful?
A: Being a supervisor is much different than being a worker, especially if you have moved from worker to supervisor. That is a very hard transition to make. Get some specific training on supervisory or managerial skills. Also, seek out a mentor that can help you learn your new role. Ask, how do I balance staying engaged and staying involved with not being overly directive and micromanaging? Another piece of advice that I give everyone is, “The best person to manage your own career is you.” If there is something that you need, go get it.
Q: What would you tell someone working with a mentor to make being mentored effective?
A: You need to ask for real feedback that has something measurable. If the mentor says, “You need to do a better job of communicating”, that is not measurable. You need to say, “What exactly is it about the way I communicate that I need to do better. Do I need to talk louder; do I need to look people in the eyes? What is it about the way that I communicate that is ineffective?” The other thing would be, don’t just wait for the mentor to come find you; Go find the mentor. If you are assigned a mentor, don’t just sit there and wait until he comes and finds you, because that may never happen.
Q: Is there anything else you have thoughts about mentoring or coaching in general or at the Callaway plant?
A: You need to approach coaching from the positive side. You may be talking about a deficiency, but you need to approach it from the positive side. And, always be respectful, both giving and receiving coaching. The idea needs to be, “I am telling you this to make you better”, or “I want you to tell me so I that I can do better.” When you are coaching you always need to be very honest and up front about what you see, what you hear, what you think. And then, after you give the coaching, you need to listen. You need to say, “Okay, you understand what I have talked to you about? How do you feel about that?” You always need to let the person have a chance to give you feedback on what you have told them. I roll mentoring and coaching up into a category called “engagement”. I think engagement is critical to the success of any big organization. Most organizational problems are usually because there was no engagement, no accountability for the activities that were going on.