How to use mentoring

Written by
Changeboard Team

07 Jul 2010

07 Jul 2010 • by Changeboard Team

What is mentoring?

Mentorship is a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or knowledgeable person to grow and develop their skills or knowledge.

It differs from instruction or coaching in that instructing involves mainly passing on knowledge, while coaching deals primarily with building up the individuals skills. A good mentor should help shape the outlook or attitude of the 'mentee' as well as just passing on information to them.

Who can benefit from a mentor?

The good news is that almost everyone can benefit from being mentored, not just recent graduates and new starters.

For example, the people I mentor can be highly experienced practitioners, but they want to move on from a strictly clinical role, where they treat patients, to a managerial role, where they have a completely new set of responsibilities. They have to prepare themselves for some quite unsettling changes in their own self-image as well as in their relationships with other people. 

Selecting suitable mentors

Mentors should be:

  • willing and able to commit the necessary time to the mentee
  • interested in helping and supporting people
  • able to communicate effectively 
  • able to see mentoring as an opportunity rather than a project
  • capable of encouraging, supporting, motivating and leading others
  • willing to share constructive criticism and feedback in a patient and sensitive way.

Using mind-mapping to assess leadership

For people who are moving into managerial roles, I use 'mind-mapping' to help them clearly separate the things that they are personally responsible for doing, from the tasks that they need to ensure that their team delivers.  

A mind-map is a visual image which can be used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. It can be drawn informally by simply drawing freehand on a piece of paper or by using a well-known software package such as MindGenius.

I've found that people love being able to see as well as read their ideas and spot the connections between them instantaneously. Its a very accessible and easy-to-follow way of sorting things out in a logical, but creative way.

What's the benefit of mind-mapping?

Each area of responsibility can be colour coded so that they are clearly defined and each team member, including the mentee, can see the areas that they are responsible for. This helps the person being mentored to manage their own workload and that of the team and is an excellent way of helping them to build their confidence as a manager. The mind-map can then be printed out or exported to Microsoft Excel or Project and put in a place where everyone can see it.

A very common mistake which people make initially is to try and do everything themselves which leads to an unrealistic workload, inevitable mistakes and an initial loss of confidence. Once they learn that they're not expected to do everything themselves, they become more relaxed and confident about setting deadlines and quality expectations and trusting other people to deliver on their behalf.

The importance of peer networks

Another aspect of changing roles is that it can often be unsettling and the importance of maintaining relationships with people you're familiar with and feel comfortable with cannot be underestimated. When relationships break down, people can feel lost and isolated.

I ask my mentees who they can turn to for emotional support and help when they need it; who they can ask for advice when they have a problem or who they can rely on to help keep the team running. All this information is put into a mind-map, as well as what the mentee has to offer each of the people in their network in return, so that they can see the relationship is mutually beneficial.

When times feel tough, the owner of the mind-map can instantly see their entire support network and where they can seek help. This process also draws attention to gaps in peer networks which the experienced mentor might be able to help fill from their own contact book.

Why should employers invest in mentoring programs?

Done properly, there are no arguments against it. Human capital is often one of the largest resources in a company and whether its an NHS organisation or a commercial business operating in the private sector, it makes sense to invest in supporting people, developing their ability and improving their confidence.

There's something extremely powerful and beneficial about mentoring. The person receiving attention from a more senior member of the team feels valued and invested in, and the person giving advice also feels valued and flattered by the attention and confirmation of their expertise.

In this way, mentoring is beneficial for both parties. Those mentored tend to do better in organisations because the mentor gets to show leadership by giving back and perhaps being refreshed about their own work while the person being mentored networks, becomes integrated easier in an organisation and gets experience and advice along the way.