In person: Karen Middleton looks at coaching and mentoring

CSP chief executive Karen Middleton looks at ways of building your career profile.

I am often asked about the lessons I have learned in my career. Probably the most worthwhile lesson is the value of coaches and mentors. I would strongly recommend having these to everyone at some point in their career and I would certainly advocate all those aspiring to, or who are in, leadership positions to access one or both. I would also expect people in leadership positions to be mentoring others – I mentor four people currently.
So what are coaches and mentors, who are they and what can they offer and when?
Coaching tends to have a specific and tightly-focused goal or a specific area of application.
Mentoring goes further in offering support and advice to someone as a person and can touch on any aspect of a person’s life. 
What is key to both is that the relationship is focused on the individual and what they need rather than the objectives of the team and the organisation (although both may well benefit). So it is unusual to have a mentor or coach who is in a line-management relationship with you. 
That said, it is very unwise to have a coach or a mentor without your line-manager being aware. 
So how do you go about getting either a coach or a mentor? First, you need to be clear about what you are trying to solve: are you struggling to resolve a particular problem at work? Do you have a difficult situation to manage? Is your performance suffering?
All of these scenarios might easily be resolved by a peer, your line manager or a friend. But coaching brings a skill set that helps you to look at a problem more objectively.
If you are looking for a wider perspective on your organisation or of healthcare, thinking more strategically or trying to extend your networks and connections, then a mentor may help – but then so again does attending a conference or reading more widely! A mentor will help you to think about all these issues but as a whole and with you in mind.

Find a coach

To find a coach, I would strongly advocate using someone trained in coaching. Ask around for recommendations, try your human resources department, the CSP or, indeed, your manager. Develop a list of names, then research their expertise. Make contact by email or phone and then meet to decide whether this is the person for you (and if any fees are involved). Do not feel ‘obliged’ to engage with them! Coaches are very familiar with people deciding to decline.
And don’t be afraid to talk money. You will then need to decide whether to negotiate with your employer to fund the coaching. Or you may decide it is worth your own investment. I have done both of these and also had coaching for free.
At the first actual coaching meeting, you are likely to set clear ground rules, particularly about confidentiality and your objectives.

Or maybe a mentor?

As for finding a mentor, I have tended to look at people I admire, who’s in the sort of next job I want or who has the networks I want to be part of. As with a coach, you need to make an approach and you must feel a connection with the person that will work. I have never encountered a mentor that charges a fee – mostly people are delighted and flattered to be asked! However the relationship can become more informal and less-focused. So be aware of that. Most of my previous mentors are now friends and professional contacts that remain ever-useful!
If all this sounds new to you, don’t worry. You will have experienced being coached and mentored without even realising it – whether at work, school or in other areas of your life. What I can say is that will be invaluable to you. And don’t restrict yourself to other physiotherapists – why restrict your pool?
Lastly, training as a coach or mentor yourself is important. If someone asks you, they will have done so with some trepidation. Turning them down before even a meeting could be devastating. Spot people you think you could help and do give your time and be available – it is extremely rewarding to see people go on and develop further.  fl

Contact Karen


Karen Middleton

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