Meg Westbury's blog for Thing 11 on mentoring provides a very useful point of reflection for me on why I chose to cease my formal mentoring arrangement. Just as Meg rightly suggests, not everyone is cut out to be a mentor. I would also add that perhaps not everyone is always ready, or in the correct situation (personal, workplace, or career), to take on and fully benefit from being a successful mentee.
So the background. I staunchly completed the first stage of my Chartership Revalidation without a mentor. This was a mistake, and one which was rightly picked up by the assessors. Whilst a formal mentoring arrangement isn't stipulated for revalidation, it most certainly is recommended. Mentoring in the context of revalidation provides a range of support and challenge, and this will differ over time, and from one candidate to the next. In my case I had identified need for:
- a sounding board - helping me to answer questions like is this good evidence? I feel like something is missing, how can I address this? What might you do in my situation?
- an independent view - a critical friend to help me reflect and evaluate my work more fully. Is this OK? Have I interpreted this correctly? Are my reflections sound, well structured and well presented? Does it make sense to an “outsider”?
- helping with timetabling - someone who helps monitor the timetable and ensure that slippage isn't too great.
- a source of motivation - someone who has an overview of progress, can help by setting the pace, and providing motivation and inspiration during times when progress doesn't seem to be as fast as it could be.
As I type this list I appreciate what high expectations I had from my mentoring relationship. I don't think that these suggested requirements deviated significantly from those outlined in the formal mentoring agreement. In fact I'm sure that there were other suggestions too. Support in writing for a professional journal and wider / more active professional involvement, to name just two. This does help illustrate for me what a hugely challenging role mentoring is!
So what were my experiences, and why did I choose to terminate the mentoring arrangement? I rapidly developed an excellent working relationship with my mentor, she was someone I trusted, respected and liked and we soon established a very good plan of action. So issues weren't in rapport, communication or in action planning. The problems for me was in delivery – getting the action points completed. Not because I didn't want to, but more because the time-scales were unrealistic given everything else that was going on. This timetable slippage then became aggravated by a growing personal realisation that having completed one cycle of revalidation, did I really want to go through it all again, especially quite so soon! I doubt that any mentor could have helped me change my mind, and so I put revalidation on hold, and appreciating the shortage of mentors available in South Wales, asked to conclude my mentoring arrangement. This was no easy decision and I greatly appreciated a detailed conversation with my mentor about this.
With hindsight, I regret ceasing my mentoring arrangement. I valued the opportunities for open discussion, and perhaps with growing familiarity, could have continued to effectively action plan, prioritise and make significant progress. Perhaps the focus of my mentoring arrangement on revalidation was unnecessarily narrow? I'm sure that my wider career development would have benefited from the continuation of this arrangement.
Whilst I now regret the cessation of this formal mentoring arrangement, like Meg in her blog, I've been really luck to have been informally mentored by some fantastic colleagues over the years. Their time, interest, enthusiasm, knowledge and experience has carefully guided me through my professional career. Like Meg, I guess that several of these people wouldn't have identified themselves in a mentoring role, but this makes me even more appreciative of their assistance. I also hope that I have been helpful in informally mentoring some of my colleagues in the past, and will go on to do so in the future.
This led me to pondering about line management and mentoring. I'll confess to not having read the suggested reading … so apologies if this topic is covered there. Generally, I believe that mentoring and line management are two completely different roles, and therefore best kept as such. But then I've been lucky to have some excellent line managers; skilled professionals who could competently swap roles. “Forget that I'm your line manager, as your colleague have you considered …. Or could you look at it like 'this'”. The boundaries between line manager, mentor and coach can be quite blurred can't they?
If you have an opportunity to have a formal mentor then I would recommend that you do try it. Sometimes professional development is a hard and long slog. Having support, encouragement and guidance from a critical friend can be very helpful, energising and motivating. Similarly, work hard to cultivate those informal mentoring opportunities. Over time I hope that you will have many opportunities to return the favours!