How to be a mentor

Mentors help individuals determine where their future lies, writes
Nathalie Towner. This sounds fairly onerous but can be very
rewarding for both parties. Social workers will already have many
of the skills necessary to be a good mentor but if new to mentoring
will need to understand how to get the most out of the process. You
aren’t expected to have all the answers but you will need to learn
how to go about providing support and guidance.

The contract
Be clear about what is expected from the mentoring relationship. If
you establish a contract it will frame the agreement and make sure
you don’t stray from the core aim. As the mentor you must set the
boundaries but the mentee will decide what they want out of it. “It
is up to the mentee to set goals,” explains Tim Martin who works
with public sector clients at the mentoring practice Clutterbuck

What does mentoring involve?
Jane Reece is a practice development social worker for Hammersmith
and Fulham social services in west London and sees her mentoring
role as providing guidance and support. “It involves helping people
become more confident and professional so they can move up the
ladder,” she says. “You both have to be clear about what you want
to get out of it and that you’re not there to do their work for
them.” Traditionally the mentor will be three or four grades up.
“It’s best to be a senior social worker but you don’t necessarily
need management experience.”

Skills required
“You have to be a good listener and learn how to frame your
questions well,” advises Martin. The idea is not just to talk about
your experience but to respond to the mentee’s needs and
circumstances. It is important to make a distinction between
mentoring and coaching which is about the here and the now.
“Mentoring is about the future and the long-term prospects of the
individual.” Reece agrees and sees her role as very different to
the line manager who will provide guidance on case work week to
week. “I will spend more time with them reflecting on how they are
doing and how they might have done things differently. The aim is
to help them develop and step back from their day-to-day

Structure support
Face-to-face meetings are essential at the beginning and later
communication may be by e-mail or telephone. Whatever the format it
is always important to prepare for the meetings. “You will need to
frame your questions in advance and go through what needs to be
brought up and challenge them if they haven’t done what they were
meant to do,” says Martin. It is worth regularly reviewing what is
being achieved over the first 12 months as this will keep the
programme on track.

How often and how long?
“At the beginning of the relationship there will be a lot of energy
so you could be meeting as often as every three weeks,” says
Martin. Each relationship varies but Martin recommends that you
should meet no more than every six weeks after a while or you will
find yourself offering more of a coaching service. In his
experience most mentoring relationships last on average about 18
months and end either because one of the two moves on or the
relationship has run its course.

What you get out of it
Mentoring can help people stay in touch with what’s going on at
other levels of the organisation. “I like reflecting on practice
and keeping in touch with case work,” says Reece. “It’s great to
provide that support and see people progress.”

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