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How to get the most out of a mentoring relationship

Mentoring can provide opportunities for both mentors and mentees to progress. Read on to find out how to make this relationship work

Mentoring will have a different meaning for different individuals. For some it will mean a relationship where the mentor guides the mentee on specific topics; for others it will relate to a wider, less directive relationship.

Match expectations

If there is a mismatch of the expectations of the mentor with those of the mentee, the mentoring relationship could be destined for failure. Therefore, it is important to discuss expectations at the outset of any mentoring relationship.

The following questions can be asked by both the mentor and mentee to help decide whether or not they are a suitable match:

  • How would you define mentoring?
  • What do you want to get out of this mentoring process?
  • What do you expect from me?

It is unlikely that the expectations of each party will be identical, so some compromises may be necessary to find common ground.

However, if the expectations of each party are quite different then it may be better for the mentee to look for an alternative mentor.

Mentor versus manager?

Some managers think they can mentor individuals at the same time as managing them. This is not recommended because it can be difficult for a manager to balance his or her different roles.

A mentor should focus on:

  • Supporting long-term development for the mentee’s current and future roles
  • Helping the mentee reflect on his or her practice
  • Helping the mentee identify development opportunities and learning needs
  • Setting goals to learn, develop and progress
  • Helping the mentee to monitor his or her own development

In contrast, a manager will tend to focus on: completing tasks and meeting immediate deadlines; assessing performance against standards and carrying out appraisals; enabling the worker to deliver and perform; setting objectives and checking on progress; and monitoring performance to ensure quality.

In addition, managers can be tempted to be directive and give their own answers to the mentee’s problems. It can also be uncomfortable for an individual to discuss their weaknesses and issues in a full and open manner with their manager, particularly if the issues are contentious.

Supportive, not instructive

To be an effective mentor, it is not necessary to be especially senior within the NHS or to have specialist knowledge of the mentee’s area of practice. The mentor should be an enthusiastic “people developer” who facilitates problem solving and action planning.

Mentors need to stand back, be objective and non-judgemental, and be able to put themselves in the mentee’s position. Rather than acting as an expert, mentors take on a supportive role: encouraging mentees to find their own expertise. A mentor can be thought of as a catalyst that stimulates self-directed change, with a belief in the mentee’s ability to solve his or her own problems.

 

This piece is abridged from an article by Helen Middleton, MSc, MRPharmS, first published in Clinical Pharmacist (2011;3:345).

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2013.11125856

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