Why use a mentor? | Association of Anaesthetists
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Why use a mentor?

Why use a mentor?

Mentoring is particularly useful at times of change, like settling into a new role. It provides an informal and confidential environment where opportunities, dilemmas and problems can be addressed and discussed. Typical topic areas discussed during mentoring include:

  • Organising work
  • Building a team
  • Influencing
  • Working with a challenging colleague 
  • Handing a difficult situation
  • Making a career decision
  • Future personal and professional development

What does a mentor do?

A mentor supports the mentee in reviewing the problem or opportunity they are facing and in deciding on how to handle it.

The mentor provides a 'map', or framework which the mentor and mentee use to guide their discussions. The mentor facilitates the mentee in exploring the situation, gathering information and gaining insight into a situation, reaching a decision and taking action.

Among other skills the mentor will:

  • Listen carefully to everything the mentee says
  • Empathically challenge blind spots
  • Help the mentee to develop a wider perspective about the matter in question
  • Help to set goals
  • Develop strategies to achieve these goals
  • Decide on a plan of action

Although the mentor might share their experiences and offer suggestions, it's the mentee who decides on the best course of action. The solutions we find for ourselves are much more likely to work than ideas suggested by others - the mentee knows best, not the mentor.

The mentor is a facilitator and enabler

The mentor acts as a facilitator or enabler for the mentee, rather than a puzzle solver. This contrasts with clinical work, where we give opinions and information to patients and colleagues who benefit from our expertise.

This is done by gathering and analysing information, sorting out what's relevant to reach the right diagnosis. In general the mentor is seen as an expert who's likely to know best. Although the working relationship with the patient is important, the focus of the conversation is about solving a puzzle, gathering the facts and evidence and then outlining options.

Mentoring is not about offering advice and sharing experiences. It's about helping someone else become effective at developing their opportunities and resources, and managing their problems, helping them to become better at helping themselves.

Good mentors work in different ways. They might act as a sounding board to try out new ideas, or a challenging friend - helping someone see the difficulties a course of action might present. They might help with networking or coach someone preparing for an event.

Who are the Association mentors?

All Association mentors have either attended our 4-6 day training course (link), based on Gerard Egan's 'skilled helper' model or have the equivalent experiences and qualifications.

They have good listening skills, and be able to clarify, probe and challenge in a supportive way.

Our mentors have a genuine interest in being a mentor, and work within an ethical framework, demonstrating respect, empathy and genuineness and maintaining appropriate confidentiality. Our mentors help the mentee to:

  • Develop possibilities around the problem or issue
  • Identify and test commitment to appropriate goals
  • Develop strategies
  • Plan to achieve these goals

What is expected of a mentee?

For mentoring to be successful, the mentee must want a mentor and have realistic expectations of mentoring.

People get most from mentoring if they are strategic about their own development and willing to experiment with different ways of thinking about problems and opportunities.

For this to work, the mentee must be willing to share their thoughts and feelings with the mentor and to be open and honest about their own preferences and abilities. But this doesn't mean that mentoring only works for high flyers and for big strategic issues. It's just as useful for thinking about handling a difficult conversation, about managing a team or about being more assertive, as it is for mapping out a future career direction.

The mentee might just want to talk through a dilemma to understand it better and decide whether anything needs to be done or not. Alternatively, they may want to think about what solutions would make sense and what they want from a situation.

Then again, the mentee may want to think about different ways in which they might deal with a situation, to decide which would be most likely to be successful and to make a plan.

How do I decide if mentoring is right for me?

The only real way is to give it a go. Use a 'taster' session to discuss a dilemma or opportunity you are currently considering, and see whether you find the experience valuable. Remember that the GMC now advise us to use mentoring conversations at times of change in our careers. Have a go and find out what it's about.