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 "The Mentoring Handbook".

Doug:            Erica, you've produced a great book covering all the facets of implementing and managing a mentoring programme - what overall advice would you offer to an organisation unsure of where to start a mentoring initiative?

Erica:  A good place to start is an Orientation Workshop. Identify a coErica 3re group to champion any proposed mentoring initiative to attend this workshop. It is recommended to include your most senior managers and stakeholders to facilitate 'buy in' re developing a workable strategy via a Needs Analysis. A practice component to the workshop using 'real life' examples of current challenges mentees and mentors might face in your industry will bring the topic of mentoring to life and allow for more vibrant and focused discussion. Think about how you would tailor mentoring to your unique professional group. E.g. For doctors, key issues are stress and burnout. For sports professionals, staying focused and motivated, stakeholder management and coping with travel are common topics that we might put more emphasis on for mentors. 

Doug: What is one essential tip that can help mentors be really effective?

Erica:  Mentor the mentor! Supporting yourself is a priority if you are to remain potent, focused and relaxed in your mentoring relationships. Even the most experienced, Director level mentors I know, have days where they struggle with their mentee's issues. This is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. You are only human!

A lot of mentors sign up for mentoring having been well trained technically for their professional positions however they have never had training re the vital one-on-one skills needed for modern day mentoring.  It's never too late to get good quality training and supervision or to get feedback and support on your mentoring practice. You can also debrief 'on the run' using the 'Being a Mentor' section of my handbook which gives you tips to quickly identify which skills and competencies are your strengths and how to improve any areas needed. 

Doug: Can you provide a progress report on the growth of mentoring in the last 10 years in New Zealand? Which areas are experiencing most understanding of the value of mentoring?

Erica:  When I first researched NZ mentoring it was largely being done on a casual basis. Some productive mentoring relationships were evident however there were also a lot of dysfunctional situations. E.g. Mentors being 'dumped' by their mentee with no debriefing; Mentees being given 'well meaning' yet harmful advice by mentors who didn't understand the scope and limit of their designated role (e.g. regarding investments, business or personal situations). In one programme I came across the mentors were told to pick someone they liked the look of (the 'winners' in the room) to mentor. Needless to say it was a sad story for the left over 'wallflowers'.

It was because of these situations that I researched and piloted my framework - to bring more structure, tailoring and accountability into the process via developing skills and competency frameworks for mentors, mentees and organisations.  

These days mentoring programmes won't be funded unless quality processes including training, agreements, monitoring and feedback support them.  Mentors and mentees alike tell us via evaluations that they feel safer and more competent with these measures in place.

Tailoring programmes to the wide range of cultures we now have in professions is also key now. E.g. in a current Pasifika medical mentoring programme I work on there are doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who represent over a dozen different Pacific cultures. The orientation and training sessions are exciting, powerful and colourful. We've found incorporating activities like stories, interactive discussions, prayers, role plays and music in addition to covering the necessary legal aspects and communication skills very effective!

Doug: From your experience, what advice would you give to managers today when they are looking for a personal mentor?

Erica:  Finding the 'right' mentor for you is critical. Research indicates that the most effective mentors are those who have depth of experience and respect in your industry, understand motivation and performance and preferably have qualifications in counselling or psychology (or are supervised by someone who does). Most of all they should be someone that you personally feel comfortable to relate to which is why I always recommend meeting any potential mentor first for a 'no obligations', free session. There are detailed tips on how to prepare for and find a mentor in the "Being a Mentee" section of my handbook.

Doug: Is there a difference in what people understand when comparing mentoring with coaching or training?

Erica:  Yes, people can get very confused re these differences. They are important to discern, as it is easy for a mentor to inadvertently slip into an inappropriate role. In short:

Mentoring is helping someone with the overview, focus of his or her life and/or career prospects. The mentor guides; offers opinions and advice; role modelling; and will also refer the mentee to specialists where needed.

Coaching addresses specific identified competencies; skills; and areas for improvement. Coaching is often recommended and occurs when a mentee is learning to apply skills to a new situation: E.g. in the event they are promoted. Some limited coaching may be conducted in the course of the mentoring relationship, however it is important that the mentor is competent in the area he is coaching the mentee in, and knows how to refer the mentee on in an appropriate manner when he is not.

Sometimes a mentor may be asked for help by the mentee in his area of expertise, however this can pose ethical or even legal dilemmas that need to be carefully considered. E.g. Is it appropriate for a mentor give a mentee legal or accounting advice if he is qualified in the area?

Training would not normally be a part of mentoring.

Thanks Erica, it is a pleasure to hear from an experienced professional in the mentoring business. Mentoring Handbook 2

You can reach Erica through her website and purchase her book from there or through this website

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