Holt and Ladwa (2008) in their study state that: ‘The authors conclude that the best tool for supporting the quality of performance of dentists is mentoring’.
Such a short quote and yet it says so much and sets the tone for this Chapter. The key words are quality and performance, both should be interpreted as widely as possible.
In this chapter we will review the process and relationship that is mentoring. We will consider the roles and skills of being a mentor and what mentoring can achieve. There is a section on how to choose a mentor and some factors to think about when matching mentors and mentees. The important aspect of ethics is included. How supervision fits into mentoring and finally the current state of play in dentistry in the UK.
Mentoring is a relationship and a process, with a purpose: supporting someone to develop. It is a practical, applied activity, underpinned by skill and experience. Mentoring focuses on the present and on the mentees’ future desired outcomes. The mentor supports the mentee to achieve those outcomes or goals, through a reflective, conversational process that combines their experience with their use of mentoring skills:
The magic of mentoring is the combination of insight arising in the mentee, inspiration, and motivation to take action toward a goal, and the confidence to keep going in the face of challenge.
For the magic of mentoring to happen both elements of skill and experience need to be present. It isn’t enough to have expertise; it isn’t enough to be great at listening, asking questions or developing rapport. A great mentor brings the two elements together in a harmony that is in service of the mentee and promotes growth and development.
In Its’ Simplest Form the Mentoring Equation Is: Teacher + Coach = Mentor
The word ‘Mentor’ originally came from the Greek Classics – Homer’s Odyssey. Mentor is a character’s name; a person who teaches and oversees Odysseus’ son, Telemachus. Mentor’s cloak was a symbol of the protection his role provided Telemachus. In Greek Mythology, Minerva, goddess of schools, art, war and commerce, and, most importantly, wisdom, was also invoked.
Combining these two powerful symbols creates a ‘whole person’: guided and taught externally, with inner wisdom and learning. Thus, mentor has come to mean trusted adviser, friend, teacher, and wise person.
The process of mentoring is defined in many ways:
Off‐line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work, or thinking
(Clutterbuck and Megginson 1995).
Mentoring is a developmental relationship where one person, typically older, or more experienced, or with more expert technical knowledge, shares their knowledge, skills, information, and perspective to support the personal and professional growth of someone else. In some cases, the mentor may also share their contacts or networks
(Forton Group 2002).
The process whereby an experienced, highly regarded, empathic person (the mentor), guides another individual (the mentee) in the development and re‐examination of their own ideas, learning, and personal and professional development. The mentor who often, but not necessarily, works in the same organisation or field as the mentee, achieves this by listening and talking in confidence to the mentee
(The Standing Conference on Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education SCOPME 1998).
Mentoring can be provided using a variety of formats. Face to face is perhaps the most frequently used, or there is distance/virtual mentoring using telephone or internet platforms where the mentor and mentee are in different locations, but it is still a one to one relationship.
Group mentoring is where a single mentor works with a group of mentees, for example within a dental practice setting, or via audio or visual conference facilities.
Who Is a Mentor?
The mentor is generally (although not always) a senior member of the profession who has a combination of experience, position, authority, and status. Regardless of seniority, mentors possess some experience, knowledge, and skills that are greater than the mentee.
Experience, knowledge, and skill acquisition is not age dependent and, in today’s intergenerational workforce, less about older people mentoring younger colleagues (see Reverse Mentoring section).
The mentor uses their experience and attributes for the good of their mentee(s) in a positive and profitable relationship, which has the potential to benefit both sides. Blending roles for the benefit of the mentee takes training and experience.
The mentor may support their mentee to do a current job more effectively, offer insight into potential career paths or support the motivation or ambition of the mentee.
The mentor may have, and be willing to share, access to networks and connections, or have insights into personalities or relationships of potential value to the mentee.
The mentor may offer their knowledge and understanding of the structural, political, or social field of the workplace – both the visible and invisible structures – such that the mentee is better able to be resourceful, influential, and successful in that environment.
Why Be a Mentor?
Mentoring can be extremely rewarding, with huge satisfaction gained from seeing someone else learn and grow. It is a great personal development opportunity, compelling the mentor to think differently and more constructively.
Being a mentor will keep you on your toes, challenging you – like the child who keeps asking ‘why?’. The beginner’s mind‐set helps experienced practitioners find new solutions to old problems. It gives insight into the way younger colleagues are treated and feel.
Reverse mentoring, sometimes called co‐mentoring, refers to initiatives in which, for example, older individuals are paired with and mentored by younger individuals on topics such as technology, social media, and current trends.
In organisations that rely heavily on technology, reverse‐mentoring is seen as a way to bring older colleagues up to speed in areas that are often second nature to younger people, whose lives have been more deeply integrated with digital technologies.
The idea that practice owners might learn from Foundation Trainees (FTs) goes against traditional professional practices, where more experienced dental professionals provide the most input, make decisions, and provide mentorship to newer professionals with less experience. Nonetheless, the fast‐moving developments in technology, materials, and techniques in dentistry has reversed this logic; older professionals may have experience and insight, but lack skills in newer technologies and may not always recognise their potential.
Being mentored by a new colleague, takes a shift in attitude; it’s an opportunity for give and take, where individuals share their knowledge, boosting everyone’s understanding and improving overall communication and collaboration.
Reverse mentoring plays an important role in bridging intergenerational gaps: baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), Generation X (born between 1965 and 1976), and Generation Y, also called millennials (born between 1977 and 1996). A new generation is entering the workplace, Generation Z (born from 1997 onwards). In any one dental practice it will be commonplace to find four generations of dental professional working together. This will present both great opportunities and great challenges.
These groups have experienced vastly different social and cultural situations, resulting in varied work ethics, mindsets, and attitudes.
This has led to prejudices and stereotypes forming. For instance, some people view millennials as spoiled, unmotivated, and self‐centered, while some millennials view older generations as inefficient and resistant to change.
Professionals need to learn how to cross the generational divide and communicate with, motivate and engage colleagues. Reverse mentoring challenges these stereotypes, and benefits team members, patients, and organisations alike.
Inter‐professional Group Mentoring
This could be the most challenging mentoring format for some dental professionals to appreciate. This type of mentoring is when a mentor from one professional group, for example dentist mentors someone who is from a different professional group, for example dental nursing. Both mentor and mentee are dental professionals, however they undertake different roles. Whilst for some it might seem reasonable for a dentist to mentor a dental nurse and indeed it may be, the real challenge is when a dental nurse mentors a dentist. That may seem less reasonable. Or is it? This aspect of mentoring is covered within the discussion chapter.
The Roles of an Effective Mentor
The Mentor may help their mentee to do a current job more effectively, offer insight into potential career paths or support the mentee’s motivation or ambition. In dentistry this is classically seen within the Educational Supervisor (ES)/FT/Vocational Trainee (VT) relationship. The mentor may have, and be willing to share, access to networks and connections, or have insights into personalities or relationships, of potential value to the mentee.
Many organisations and some practices that have mentoring programmes rely on the goodwill of senior dental professionals to volunteer their time. It’s called ‘giving back’ to your organisation and to the profession.
Some great people mentor in this way, and their knowledge and experience is invaluable. However, there is no guarantee that such well‐meaning volunteers will understand how to truly share all they have to offer or how to get the best out of their mentees.
The best mentoring programmes are based on formal training. That way, the mentor learns how best to pass on their wisdom and the mentee benefits from a more professional approach – a classic win–win.
The mentor may act at times as a teacher or adviser, or at other times more like a coach. The range of skills or approaches used may include training, advising, and career counselling. Understanding the distinctions between counselling, advice‐giving, coaching, and other ‘talking’ interventions is important.
Mentors support mentees to explore their goals and provide the knowledge and experience to underpin their development. One key difference between ‘teacher’ and ‘mentor’ is that the teacher is an expert who shares information that they know with students, it is a one‐way feed. In contrast, a coach may not be an expert or specialist in their coachee’s field. They draw out solutions and clarity from the coachee, rather than put them in. Information sharing is not the coach’s primary role. These differences are described in Table 1.1, Chapter 1.
Darling (1984) proposed a list of 14 characteristics and roles of an effective mentor:
- Role Model – Upholds high standards and professionalism. Well respected by peers whom the mentee ‘looks up to’ and holds in high regard. A powerful position of influence.
- Envisioner – Motivating, inspiring, and enthusiastic. Uses situations as opportunities to learn.
- Energiser – Keen to embrace change, improve care, and to encourage the mentee to see beyond the present and seek more.
- Investor – Gives their time, knowledge, and experience freely. Delegates responsibility to the mentee.
- Supporter – Willing to listen, encouraging. Humanistic and empathic in approach. Takes account of mentee anxiety and needs.
- Standard prodder – Seeks to improve standards. Demonstrates up to date knowledge.
- Teacher‐coach – Passes on skills and competence, guides, sets up learning experiences, allows time for practice. Encourages personal and professional development. Provides and organises learning opportunities. Willing to share knowledge.
- Feedback giver