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How (not) to mentor: reflections on Mentoring For All’s first training event

How (not) to mentor: reflections on Mentoring For All’s first training event

The first rule of mentoring? Don’t give advice.

As Mentoring For All mentors, we were told to expect times when our mouths will engage before our brains. Inevitably, there will be times when we hear ourselves saying things like “if I were you…” and “perhaps you should…” It came as a surprise to many of us to learn how unhelpful and ethically fraught this can be.

So what should a mentor do? Good mentoring involves supporting the mentee to build their developmental plan and decision-making framework, rather than advising on what they might do. We’re there for process rather than content.

We talked about the difference between a manager:employee relationship and the adult:adult relationship that the scheme would involve. A mentor is an equal; we are not there to lead our mentees but ask key questions to help reflection. At Culture Syndicates, we have spent the last 6 months training new staff and interns, for many of whom this is their first role. The similarities between our style of line management and mentoring struck me: we’ve been building our employees’ understanding of the roles (process) and have found that giving tasks (content) creates over-reliance instead of building confidence. We’re fortunate to be able to take this approach as a developing company creating new roles with trainees, but there is always going to be an element of delegation that should not happen in the mentor:mentee dynamic.

Mentoring For All is intertwined with the Character Matters report – by advocating mentoring for everyone, the aim is to develop key qualities and skills in our workforce. The report highlights that many organisations are struggling with developing their workforce. In a time of cuts, uncertainty and reduced capacity, this is understandable but not beneficial for the long-term health of the sector. Mentoring For All is playing the long game in its plans to equip the workforce of the future, but the training can also have immediate effects on how we manage our staff.

The simple psychology frameworks we were shown will inform conversations to help mentees (and our employees) better understand their motivations and goals. These frameworks can be commercial products applied rather heavily (anyone who has been branded a panther, plant or red personality will have felt the shift in the room as colleagues discuss team dynamics). However, understanding your working style can be a powerful asset when you are making difficult decisions. The most helpful for me, and I imagine my mentee and staff too, will be the GROW model and the Performance Cycle (an Affective Behaviour Cognition model).

One experienced museum service manager noted at the training, as we develop our careers, we are often suddenly the experts, with little training in the rapid transition from mentee to mentor. Interestingly, the scheme only received 6% male applicants. This has echoes of Impostor Syndrome, where high achieving individuals, usually women, have a marked inability to internalise success and worry they will be exposed as frauds, whereas men are more comfortable winging it. Sector-wide schemes like Mentoring For All can help level the arts playing field, supporting talented individuals and developing managers’ abilities to enable growth.  It’s a learning journey and we’ll make some mistakes along the way, we’ve just got to resist the urge to give advice.

Charlie Pratley is a Culture Syndicates Director and will be exploring more psychological frameworks in her Museums Association workshop, Get Your Inner Chimp Interview Ready, on Thursday 16th November 2017.

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