CPD: using a coach or mentor

CSP professional adviser Nina Paterson challenges you to think about working with a coach or mentor in 2017.

Welcome to the first continuing professional development (CPD) article for 2017. Last year we focused on career development – whether that was first jobs, returning to practice or lateral career moves. We’ve also discussed many ways to learn, such as through gaining new experiences or reflecting on mistakes, for example. This article draws those themes from 2016 together by looking at how coaching and mentoring might be options in 2017.
So what’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? Both are underpinned by a similar approach but, as a rule of thumb, coaching is usually used to improve your performance. Because coaching tends to focus on a specific issue, it is usually short-term. Mentoring focuses on your career or professional development and, as such, tend to last much longer. You are likely to only use one coach to address a single issue, but you may well seek out several mentors – those with experience (who have ‘been there before’) and who can take you under their wing and help you navigate a path through your career. 

Finding a coach or mentor

Coaching: If you work for the NHS or a large healthcare provider, there might well be internal structures you can tap into. Look for learning and development opportunities, through human resources, for example. Colleagues based elsewhere should also be able to support you if you need to go outside your organisation. Karen Middleton, the CSP’s chief executive, offered advice on what to look for in one of her regular In person columns in Frontline. If you’d like a recap, or missed it first time, see 
Mentoring: You might have access to a mentoring programme at work, but the chances are you are going to need to look around. You may have already come across someone at an event, course, conference or meeting, or have worked with someone in the past, who would be worth contacting. If not, you’ll need to create new networking opportunities. You might be interested in a CSP e-mentoring scheme that we will begin piloting in the new year. However you go about finding a potential mentor, remember they are more likely to agree to work with you when they can see clearly why you want to be mentored and why you are approaching them. Which leads us to our first point – be clear what you need help with. 

Define what you need help with

Whether it’s coaching or mentoring, invest the time to identify what you hope to get out of the relationship – what you want to learn or change and what you’ve seen in the other person that makes you think they’d be able to help you learn it. The CPD activity below will help but don’t forget to also think about your values, behaviours and expectations. You’ll need to be able to work together so take your time to find the right person – you’ll need trust them and be receptive so look for an alignment of values and behaviours if you want to make it work.  
Let’s assume that you’ve completed the activity and move to the final point: exploiting opportunities.

Make the most of the opportunity

There are five key aspects to bear in mind

Preparation. Coaching and mentoring relationships are successful when both parties take an active role. Your coach or mentor is investing in supporting you, so make sure that you spend time beforehand thinking about what you want to get out of the session – your notes, thoughts, agreed actions from your last session. Come ready with questions and examples to discuss.
Build a relationship. As noted you’ll need to trust the person you are working with. 
To help build trust, mutually agree your purpose at the outset, be open about your values, establish your roles and discuss your expectations.                             
Don’t be afraid to revisit these aspects to help maintain that trust
Be realistic about what you want to achieve and don’t lose sight of your agreed goal. Again, revisit this along the way. 
Engage. Coaching and mentoring are successful when both parties actively participate. Your coach or mentor shouldn’t be doing all the work! 
Allow yourself to be challenged. It will be uncomfortable. If you want to grow, be willing to look yourself in the eye. There’s no point in pretending – otherwise why are you there? fl 

CPD activity

You might want to use a set of questions or prompts to help you structure the activity. We used different models last year, so feel free to review the series and pick one that works for you. 
Spend some time looking back over the past year, reflecting on your development so you can plan your future professional growth.
First, think about difficult situations that you have found yourself in this year. Take time to consider what went well and what didn’t. Were there any patterns? Things that you could have approached differently? If yes, then what you would do differently next time? Thinking about these critical incidents, if you found yourself in a similar situation, would you handle it better next time? Did a portion of good fortune save the day? Are there areas that you can still see room for improvement in? 
If you’ve identified an incident that you’d like to explore further, or you want to expand the toolkit so that you have more approaches to call on next time, why not think about working through this with a coach in the year ahead? As preparation, use the prompts in the article to plan for it and go for it!
If you are at the point in your career where you need some support from someone who is ahead of you in the challenge; to help you grow and show what’s ahead and how to deal with it, then why not look for a mentor? Your challenge is to find that someone to take you under their wing. Remember that the better prepared you are, the greater the likelihood that you’ll find the right person. Work your way through the prompts in the article to help you to prepare.
Nina Paterson CSP professional adviser

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