Mentor training: a career win-win

Bob Hughes discusses the benefits of becoming a mentor.

During mentor-training courses, I often ask participants who has had the most impact on their career. I’ve heard some truly inspiring stories and the theme of ‘support’ is always common whether it be from a colleague, practice principal or, in some cases, their boss.

Support comes in many forms: the person who finds time to give advice when you are struggling; the person who trusts you with new roles, gives you the freedom to get on with the job and forgives your mistakes in the service of learning; or the colleague who doesn’t lecture you but shares a similar experience, encouraging you to think for yourself.

Leaders are paid to deliver and yet their role involves more than that: they must also grow the next generation of leaders. Great leaders trust and believe that someone can and will achieve, perhaps even more than they themselves have achieved. The best leaders understand the value of developing people.

There are many ways to do this. Training courses help staff acquire foundational skills essential to their roles, making them the go-to option for most managers. However, it is often the only solution they deploy.

Another option is to find a mentor – typically somebody more senior, in a different part of the organisation or practice, or even based externally. Getting a good mentor can be invaluable – improving confidence, providing insight and identifying opportunities. Mentors can support those who are struggling and guide their personal development.

And it’s not just the mentees who benefit.

Why be a mentor?

Mentoring can be extremely rewarding – there is huge satisfaction from seeing someone else learn and grow. It is a great development opportunity – compelling you to think differently and constructively. It will keep you on your toes, challenging you – like the child who keeps asking ‘why?’ It gives insight into the way younger colleagues are treated and feel, and sometimes the beginner’s mind-set helps us find new solutions to old problems.

I’ve worked with many organisations that have mentoring programmes that rely on the goodwill of senior leaders to volunteer their time. It’s called ‘giving back’ to your organisation and to your profession. Some great people show up, and their knowledge and experience is invaluable, however there is no guarantee that they will understand how to truly share all they have to offer.

The best mentoring programmes are based on formal training. That way, the mentor learns how best to pass on their wisdom and the mentee benefits from a more professional approach – a classic win-win.

It can be hard to talk about your own development needs with your boss, however, or even a trusted colleague. After all, they are the ones who write your appraisal or are in the meeting debating a payrise!

Bob Hughes and his colleague Janine Brooks are running a seven-week, blended-learning course Secrets of mentoring at UCL Eastman Dental Institute.

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