The second part of our CPD series on mentoring focuses on the opportunities that being a mentor can provide
We often talk about the benefits for the mentee but what about the mentor? Almost all of the studies that focus on mentors talk about the obvious benefits such as increasing your networks, personal growth and giving back.
Interestingly in a number of studies, being a mentor was heavily linked to career progression. Not just for the mentee but also for those doing the mentoring. One study (in a non-health related field) showed that those who mentored others were six times more likely to be promoted than those that didn’t.
When you start to drill down into mentoring it is easy to see why this might translate into such an outcome.
As a mentor you’re developing a fantastic set of skills in terms of communication, coaching/questioning, critical thinking, analysis, problem solving and emotional intelligence. By helping others to question and refine their thinking and their approaches, you’ll be doing the same with your own. There’s nothing like asking others the questions ‘why?’ and ‘what if?’ to encourage the same self-analysis.
Consolidating your own learning
By sharing your own experience, you’re consolidating your own learning, reminding yourself of what you can do. While mentoring is very definitely not about an ego-stroke, it doesn’t hurt occasionally to be reminded of what you do know.
Because mentoring works best when mentees are mentored by someone with a different perspective and approach, it provides a fantastic opportunity for you as the mentor to learn to work with people who you might not normally choose.
If you don’t have a natural connection with someone, it’s going to stretch you to find a way to bond, developing your patience, empathy and even helping you to realise your own limitations in your way of thinking. It takes you outside of your normal circle and will help you see the world through a different lens. So while your mentee is likely to be asking themselves questions like ‘how would she approach this?’, you’ll find yourself doing similar.
Bringing this renewed ability to challenge your own assumptions and biases back into your workplace to the staff you manage and the students you support on placement might just change your perspective there too. It should also translate into a different mindset when you’re next recruiting. When you’re leading change – a crucial part of any NHS role these days – recruiting staff with different perspectives will create more potential solutions as you draw on those different ideas.
When you consider these benefits together you can see that they make up the qualities and attributes of leaders within healthcare. It’s no surprise therefore that mentors see careers benefits long term. The role itself provides such a great learning ground for many of the underpinning skills required to lead teams, multiple services, divisions, directorates or whole organisations.
I talked last month about my first mentor. I’ve had a few over my career yet I can see the influence of each of them in my life right back to Leslie, that first one.
As a mentor now myself I’m always aware of the impact mine had on me, and the seriousness with which they undertook their role. It has prompted me to be a similarly committed mentor, putting in the time and effort required to prepare ahead of taking on a new mentee. Just like last month I’ve compiled a summary of advice shared with me by colleagues who mentor regularly.
The role itself provides such a great learning ground for many of the underpinning skills required to lead teams, multiple services, divsions, directorates or whole organisations
- Know yourself Before you begin mentoring be clear about your own coaching/questioning style, your experiences (good and bad) that have brought you to where you are, your limitations and biases.
- Make time for your mentees and this includes the preparation. Don’t rush into saying yes if you can’t commit. It is ok to say no,and it is better for the potential mentee to have someone who isn’t trying to squeeze them in. Be realistic about how much time and effort it takes to build a new professional relationship but know that being a mentor is an opportunity to help someone change their world. It gives you a unique opportunity to be a part of that change.
- Invest in your mentee as a person Mentoring shouldn’t be approached half-heartedly. This individual has invested in you. They’ve approached you specifically because they want to learn from you. Be a great role model and give back to them too.
- Be present Once you’ve committed be there for your mentee. Listen to them. We all understand how active listening works but it’s harder to do when either your mind hasn’t let go of your day, or you’re too busy thinking about how you’ll respond to what your mentee is saying. Make sure that you’re present emotionally and mentally. It’s ok for your mentee to see you not at your best, but if that’s a regular occurrence then you might need to find a way to create the headspace so that you can give freely. We all have different ways to step away from our own preoccupations: going for a run, meditating, walking the dog, colouring even. Do what works for you.
- Be human With mentoring the boundaries between personal and professional are more fluid and you might need to adjust to that. Knowing who your mentee is in both spheres will help you connect. When you’re sharing remember we all need to know someone else is human so share your mistakes too. Apart from being an opportunity for someone else to benefit from your hindsight, they’ll also have a great role model of how to be vulnerable and authentic yet strong. Mentoring works best when you adopt a coaching/questioning approach. This approach in itself lends itself well to the ‘don’t assume’ rule. You’ll have a natural opportunity to ask questions and to clarify, which will help you to understand the situation and your mentee better.
- Know when to pause This is where emotional intelligence and investment in the relationship kicks in – knowing when to give advice, when to ask questions and when to pause the conversation to ask for time to reflect on what you’re hearing, all get easier to judge as your relationship deepens.
- Role modelling Be aware that your mentee will be learning from you not just by what you say but how you act and behave. I mentioned above that sharing your mistakes is valuable. Apart from learning from you, it gives you a great opportunity to role model good reflection. None of us grow without insight into ourselves or a situation. Even while being vulnerable, you’re demonstrating how to develop that necessary self-awareness.
- Celebrate success Most of us want a mentor because we’ve identified issues we want to change. Your mentee therefore needs you to be their champion, to see their successes. That doesn’t mean glossing over their weaknesses. In fact you’ll be digging deep into these to help them address them. While you’re doing that take time to reflect back to your mentee how far they’ve come and when you say goodbye make sure they know how much they’ve achieved (see Theory into practice box).
- Know yourself again I started with this and I’ll finish with it. It is important to address any obvious issues prior to taking on a mentee, but you’ll be learning throughout. You might well be doing that between sessions. We discussed pausing – sometimes that’s necessary because a situation has ‘pushed your buttons’ or has raised a serious concern. Build in reflection or action time between meetings.
And of course, after you’ve ended a relationship you have the perfect opportunity to reflect on your relationship and what you’ve learnt about
Theory into practice: celebrating success
I was thrilled to receive a message from a member earlier today – it made my day. She’d contacted me after being ‘nudged’ by her mentor who had read July’s Frontline article and wanted her mentee to tell her story, sharing her work-related successes. We didn’t manage to speak in time for this article so look out for something later in the year. But hearing how proud this mentor was of her mentee’s development was such an excellent example of a great mentor – wanting her mentee to celebrate her achievements so publicly.
yourself. The feedback that your mentee gives you will be invaluable but it’s worth thinking about how you’ve grown and where you might still need to develop for the next time.
And that’s the thing about mentoring, most people don’t stop at one – the joy of helping someone develop is addictive, you’ll be supporting another mentee in no time!
CPD activity: change someone’s world
There are three activities to work through:
Take some time out to think about three or four people in your life who had a positive impact on you. A friend, teacher, coach, manager – anyone really – who you credit with changing your life in some way.
What was it about them that made them such a great adviser, confidante or example? Make a list for each one. Think about how they made you feel, how they interacted with you, challenged you, and how they practically went about supporting you change.
Take a look at your list. Are there similarities between the traits exhibited? Now turn that list on yourself. Are you ready to take on a mentoring role? Are there areas that you need to develop in first? If so, make a plan, work towards it and commit to being equipped to mentor someone as soon as you’re ready.
Once you’re committed, get prepared. The NHS Scotland Mentoring Handbook is a great place to start.
Offer to be a mentor. There are many ways to do it – through work, word of mouth or national schemes. Link to the CSP mentoring scheme.
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