Lancaster Approach to Mentoring
Lancaster has some formal mentoring arrangements where a staff member is assigned a mentor (usually for new members of staff, or for specific populations), and these arrangements are to be commended and encouraged. Formalised arrangements work best when the match between mentor and mentee is personalised and the introduction is facilitated by local agents who know both parties.
Recognising that many staff feel that they would benefit from a mentor, Lancaster encourages individuals to think about instigating a mentoring relationship for themselves (i.e. individuals proactively seek and secure someone to mentor them).
If there are a number of people in the same area aspiring to find a mentor, it may be that a local mentoring scheme could be initiated - aspiring mentees should raise this with their HoD, and outline their specific objectives for mentoring to assist in identifying the requirement and any subsequent actions. HoDs seeking advice on setting up a localised mentoring scheme should contact the Organisation & Educational Development team for more information.
What is Mentoring?
Mentoring is firstly a process by which two parties meet, and through conversation a mentee receives assistance on a specific topic.
Secondly, it’s a relationship. It’s a connection between two people characterised by mutual respect, trust and understanding, in which generally one person is assisting another (though both may benefit from the association).
Effective mentoring relationships can allow a mentee to seek advice on issues they would not normally raise with others, developing the mentee’s capacity to be effective.
What is a Mentor?
A mentor is someone who takes a special interest in helping another person to develop. At its heart, the mentor’s role is to accelerate the rate at which a person learns, usually through acting as a ‘critical friend’ or ‘trusted advisor’ – a sounding board, someone with whom the mentee can turn to for guidance and support. This may include encouraging the mentee to reflect, sharing knowledge/experience/perspectives on an issue, evaluating ideas suggested by the mentee, helping to generate new thinking, and encouraging action. A mentor uses their interpersonal skills to assist the mentee, however the mentee ultimately needs to drive the agenda.
A mentor is not really a ‘buddy’ - someone who can show another person ‘the ropes’. The level of support offered by a mentor is generally greater (and usually linked to their experience) than that of a ‘buddy’.
Who is likely to benefit from establishing a Mentor?
An individual who is new to Lancaster, new to a role (such as HoDs), in a role that is substantially changing, in a ‘management’ or leadership position, in an isolated role, facing challenges in their career or unsure how to take their career forward, wanting to benefit from someone else’s perspective and wisdom on a particular issue.... the list continues ....
Who would make a good Mentor?
Who makes a good mentor is entirely dependent on the type of mentoring support desired. The best mentors have “qualities” (skill/experience/insight) that are key to the mentee in helping them resolve the challenges that they face. A mentor should broadly understand the mentee’s area of work but may have applicable, rather than direct experience of a specific role.
A mentee seeking support on how to network/teach/supervise/write successful grant applications/lead a research team is best identifying a mentor (internal or external) who is a good role model (they generally have a reputation for being good at.... the specific topic in mind....). Mentors should not normally be involved in the day to day work of the mentee to avoid a potential conflict of interests and encourage a more open relationship.
A mentor should generally....
- Know what they are talking about – be good at their own job
- Have sufficient skill/knowledge/experience of the area that is of central importance to the kind of mentoring support sought by the mentee
- Have commitment to providing this type of support
- Be someone that the mentee thinks they are likely to work well with (perhaps based on personal style, existing relationship, or whose experience and expertise would be of value)
- Have good people skills:
- Be approachable. Fosters interaction where the mentee feels comfortable to be open
- Show genuine concern/is interested in other person
- Asks questions and challenges thinking
- Provides constructive feedback
- Actively supports mentee
- Discussing issues and helping to generate alternatives
- Disclose experiences
- Broker introductions/facilitate links
- Encourage mentees to take responsibility
Mentors might have been in the same position/role as the mentee previously, though not always. Mentors might be more senior, though not always.
What would it look like in practical terms?
Usually a series of face-to-face meetings and sporadic contact between such meetings. Mentoring relationships are characterised by the following steps:
1) Initiation (making a connection, building the relationship and establishing the ground rules for working together)
2) Working together on items identified by mentee (meetings/other forms of contact)
Timing and frequency of mentoring meetings
The number and frequency of mentoring meetings should be discussed at the start of the mentoring relationship. The initial mentoring meetings may be longer in duration or more frequent in the early stages. The frequency of meetings is likely to change over the duration of the relationship, as the mentee takes action to resolve the challenge they were facing.
It is suggested that mentors and mentees should agree only to establish the mentoring relationship for a six-month initial duration, and then review. Mentees need to respect the mentor’s time and other responsibilities, ensuring they do not impose beyond what is reasonable.
Critical component of mentoring - Confidentiality
The opportunity to discuss issues in confidence is crucial to the effectiveness of mentoring. Details of topics covered within mentoring meetings should remain between the mentor and the mentee (unless there are specific elements that have been agreed upon within the meeting that are not to be treated as confidential – such as brokering an introduction to a third party). The benefits of mentoring are not achieved if trust does not exist.
Before making any approaches
Ask yourself whether you really need a mentor. Is this a challenge you can raise with your line manager/a friend/another?
Ask yourself whether you already have such a relationship (you might not have set it up as a ‘mentoring’ relationship, however are you already turning to someone for informal advice and guidance?). Don’t feel the need to set something new up if, with a little re-focusing, you can meet your objectives for having a mentor through an existing relationship.
If you still feel convinced you need to establish a new relationship, work out what you want from a mentoring relationship:
- What challenge are you seeking support on? What are your objectives for seeking mentoring support?
- What type of support do you want from your mentor? (what would ‘good’ look like?) It’ll be important to be clear about your expectations when you meet your mentor – so that they can evaluate whether they can offer/and are willing to offer the type of support desired. For instance, are you expecting them to review your CV/papers/do anything else practical
- Who (what type of person) could offer assistance to achieve your goals?
- Do you need a mentor who is internal, external, discipline/profession specific?
- Do you need one-or-two conversations, or something more sustained?
Don’t always go for an ‘obvious choice’. For instance, those working in Professional Services may wish to seek a mentor in Faculties, and vice-versa. Try and identify a ‘first choice’ and ‘an alternative’.
Once you have someone in mind – refer to the paragraph below. If you are struggling to identify someone to approach, it may be wise to seek the advice of others (such as HoD, line manager or internal/external colleague) in order to identify a good prospective mentor.
Make a direct approach. Pick up the phone or arrange to meet for a brief coffee and ask directly ‘I’ve been thinking that I would really appreciate some support on XXXXX, and I was wondering if you would agree to be my mentor”. We suggest you outline briefly:
- Why you have decided you need a mentor
- The type of support you would like to receive
- The level of commitment anticipated (and for how long)
- You may also want to add why you decided that your ‘target’ would be a good mentor (why did you approach them)
The person you have approached is perfectly entitled to say ‘no’ (they may already be acting as mentor for a number of others, they may not feel they are best suited to the support you require, etc). Most individuals will be flattered to be approached.
If the first prospective mentor approached says ‘no’ ask them if they have any suggestions as to whom else you might try. Don’t give up just yet – approach someone else.
Once you have a ‘yes’, you should then arrange the initial and subsequent meetings and manage the process.
The first meeting
Should cover the arrangements for the mentoring relationship, including:
- Ground rules and boundaries (such as methods of communication between meetings, confidentiality)
- Agreement on the future ways of working together such as location (the informality of a public venue versus the privacy of an office), initial frequency, format and duration of meetings, how meetings will be scheduled, etc
- Arrangements for the mentee to make contact with the mentor if something really urgent comes up
How long should/do mentoring relationships last?
The duration of the mentoring relationship is determined by the mentor and the mentee. A mentoring relationship should only remain in place while it remains fresh and useful, to the satisfaction of both parties. It is suggested that mentoring relationships are set up for a few months in the first instance, and then a decision made as to whether or not to continue. In exceptional circumstances, mentoring relationships can last throughout a career.
Mentors and mentees share responsibility for the smooth winding down of the relationship, or continuation (and in what format for what purpose) if both parties are agreeable.
If the mentoring relationship is deemed not to be as effective as it might
Both mentor and mentee are volunteers and it makes sense for both parties to review how the mentoring arrangement could be made more effective. If the parties feel the relationship is not working, they have a responsibility to discuss the matter openly and truthfully, as part of mutual respect for each other, before making some decisions with regards to the way forward.
Under the Lancaster approach, mentors will...
- Gladly adopt the role of mentor, helping others to develop and grow (if they don’t feel this way, it is suggested they decline requests from prospective mentees)
- Maintain confidentiality
- Help to clarify the mentee’s goals for the mentoring relationship (if required)
- Act as a sounding board, offering support and encouragement where applicable but also giving honest and constructive feedback on the ideas put forward by mentee
- Listen sympathetically to concerns and difficulties that the mentee raises and help them identify constructive, non confrontational ways of resolving issues
- Draw on expertise and experience to assist resolution of problems raised by the mentee
- Share formal and informal knowledge of the systems and relationships within the area and University
- Arrange introductions (as appropriate) to additional useful contacts relevant to the mentee and the areas they are requesting support on
- Be a role model for mentoring
Any prospective mentors who feel they would benefit from training/ support before agreeing to act as a mentor should contact the Organisation & Educational Development team
Under the Lancaster approach, mentees will...
- Assume responsibility for driving the mentoring process
- Honour confidentiality
- Establish goals for the interaction
- Initiate the first mentoring meeting (and all subsequent in all likelihood)
- Drive the mentoring interactions, and make effective use of mentor’s time and the opportunity presented by…
- Reflecting on which issues and concerns they wish to focus on in advance of any meetings (what subjects to raise)
- Generating ideas in advance of meetings (not always expecting the mentor to come up with suggested solutions)
- Maintaining appropriate (agreed) level of communication with their mentor
- Being honest
- Be open when asking for help, listen to suggestions and adapt accordingly
- Be willing to accept constructive guidance and feedback (mentees are not obliged to follow the mentor’s advice but should consider the advice given).
Why doesn’t Lancaster have a formalised institutional mentoring scheme?
Institutional-wide approaches to mentoring are generally challenging, because the objectives of individuals seeking a mentor are so vastly varied, thereby the identification of an appropriate match can be difficult to achieve, and tend to channel thinking toward finding an internal mentor whereas many individual (especially those more senior/established in their career) may find benefit from an external mentor. An institutional mentoring scheme is therefore deemed undesirable at Lancaster at the present time.