Mentor of the Year 2021: Steven Wheatley

Winner - Steven Wheatley, Specsavers

The Mentor of the Year is awarded to a Manager, Team Leader or Mentor who have supported an apprentice as they complete their Intec Programme.  The stand-out winner and our first ever Mentor of the Year is Steven Wheatley of Specsavers. 

Steven has been fundamental in apprentice Kirby Raper’s development. His transformational leadership style, valuable support, advice and guidance has allowed Kirby to grow exponentially in her role. Kirby, also an apprenticeship award winner in 2021, has progressed from apprentice to Specsavers’ Clinical Manager in less than 4 years.

“Steven took me on as an apprentice nearly 5 years ago and has been nothing but supportive ever since. When I first started at Specsavers, I was shy, quite negative and lacked massively in self-belief and confidence. With Steven’s help, I have really come out of my shell and I have been able to achieve what I have.”

“When Steven first found out about the Intec leadership apprenticeship Specsavers were offering, he put me forward. Throughout the course he’s supported me whenever I needed him and always gave me time away from the shop floor to ensure I had my work completed on time.”

“Steven helps me grow each week which has helped me become a Manager of a store, achieved a Distinction in my Team Leader Level 3 and move onto the level 5 Operations Manager programme. He has pushed me beyond my comfort-zone but he sees the potential in me and wouldn’t do this if I thought I couldn’t achieve it.”

Kirby initially saw Steven as quite cold in his management style but as she has developed on programme, she now understands how his constructive feedback has challenged her and how he has a strong belief in her abilities.

Steven comments: “Chimp-paradox is a book which was ground-breaking for me. I recognised a lot of this book in Kirby’s approach to life, so I purchased it for her Christmas. I’ve always wanted Kirby to realise she can’t always be ‘the best friend’ and the need for tough love.  The key is always being able to justify your feedback. I give Kirby freedom to do her role as I trust her, however, any self-inflicted issues I will feedback to her.  She is well aware that I will always be able to justify my comments be it positive or negative…this is the relationship we have now and this feedback is two way.”

“My main support for Kirby has come in the form of changing her mind-set.  Through my own experience, I know the transition to Manager can be tough mentally. The best learning experiences I had were sadly due to ‘mistakes’. My goal for Kirby (and all my staff) is to make sure they have a better support network.”

“Our store has around 40 staff, many with long tenures and lots of experience. As a young Manager, Kirby often felt like ‘who am I to tell them what to do?’. I made it my mission to eradicate Kirby’s imposter syndrome mind-set and re-affirm constantly ‘why I made her Manager’ and that I trust her to do the job. To help her grow into the role, I decided to make her accountable for our 8 person clinical team.  To empower her, we focused on the basics: ‘a one-minute chat daily’ and ‘getting in the habit of saying thank you’ - it knocks down mental obstacles/barriers quickly and is definitely good habits to have for business."

Assessor, Sally Furnish, witnessed first-hand how Steven’s approach has helped shape Kirby into a confident competent Manager: “He has given her advice and directed her in finding her own path. Although he guides her, he does not dictate to her and is very much a mentor and coach. She feels motivated, respected and sees that she is a crucial part of his succession plan.”

“Steven cares about his staff and is the epitome of what a transformational leader is; inspirational, democratic, supportive and motivational. He is no way a push over or diplomat but his style, whilst direct is also very democratic and he listens to his staff and ensures he gets the best out of them.”  

Congratulations Steven!