Mentoring

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Mentoring is a voluntary process in which one person gives their time to help a mentee.  The aim is to provide confidential, non-judgemental and constructive support to enable the mentee to develop themselves in whatever way is most appropriate. A mentor may be a sounding board, someone to help you work through your ideas, and someone to throw light on your path.

A mentor is usually, but not always, someone who has faced similar challenges in the past, or who is working at a more senior role in your profession, but should be outside any current hierarchical relationship (e.g. a manager and team member, or a leader and a member of a research group).

The value of mentoring is that it allows an individual to work with an objective, impartial “thinking partner” who will enable them to focus on the issues that are important to them and to arrive at self-generated solutions. In this way it is similar to coaching; however, coaching is different from mentoring in that coaches bring coaching qualifications and skills, but usually have no direct experience of the area of work of their coachees, while a mentor will often bring relevant knowledge or experience of the mentee’s area of work to share with the mentee.  However, mentoring is not necessarily or primarily an advisory role: the University’s evaluation of the Ad Feminam scheme - now known as the Oxford Senior Women's Mentoring Network (for mentoring women into senior leadership) suggests that mentoring worked best when, rather than offering advice, the mentor actively listened to the mentee and encouraged her to take responsibility for her own development.

Mentoring is not a replacement for supervision or one-to-ones, appraisal or PDR, performance management or support in cases of harassment or grievance. The mentor does not act on behalf of the mentee. It is the mentee’s responsibility to take action and, where relevant, the mentor’s to assist the mentee in reaching decisions about action and/or reflect upon the consequences of such action.

Do you feel that you…

  • want to extend your influence?
  • want to move on to something new?
  • have more to offer in your present role?

…or you might be starting a new role and want support in getting off to the best start.

If you are

  • Prepared to reflect on your own approaches and thinking
  • Open to new perspectives
  • Ready to make changes
  • Happy to commit to participating fully in mentoring sessions
  • Open to working out your own solutions in a supportive environment, without necessarily seeking advice

….then you may find it helpful to have a mentor.

A senior mentor or a peer mentor?

A mentor is usually, but not always, someone who is working at a more senior role in your profession, but peer mentoring can be very valuable. Everybody brings different experiences to the process and having access to this, and support from people working at the same level as you, can be very valuable.

One-to-one mentoring, or pair or group mentoring?

Mentoring is usually a one-to-one relationship, but there are alternatives:

  • two or more mentees may ‘share’ a mentor; this way, there is a mixture of senior and peer experience in the relationship;
  • three or more peers may form a mentoring group or circle, meeting regularly to mentor each other and taking turns and mentoring and being mentored.

In a formal scheme, or by personal arrangement?

If you join a mentoring scheme either as a mentee or a mentor, you may be assigned a mentor or mentee, so the initial choice will not have been yours (although you will have the right not to form the suggested partnership). In a formal scheme, you will have support at hand and you are likely to have a timescale within which the mentoring partnership will end.

If you enter a mentoring partnership on your own initiative, the mentor and mentor can make all their own arrangements. See ‘Getting a mentor’, below.

Choice of mentoring style

Like coaching, mentoring assumes that those coached are responsible for their results and capable of finding their own solutions to problems. Experience in University-wide mentoring schemes suggests that mentoring works best when, rather than offering advice, the mentor actively listened to the mentee; encouraged her to take responsibility for her own development; kept the mentor’s own agenda out of the way. In other words, the mentor has taken a coaching approach. In a ‘spectrum’ of mentoring approaches, this means tending towards the more non-directive approach.

A spectrum of mentoring approaches

Mentoring approaches

Remember that, however your mentoring partnership is formed, mentor and mentee are equally responsible for making this a fruitful experience. A mentor may offer a particular style of mentoring, and a mentee may seek, and request, a particular style. For example:

Joe is starting a new role and wants some support in getting off to the best start. In the past he has tended to get into difficulties in the early weeks of a new post, by making assumptions about the way to do things and not taking time to watch and listen. He could ask a mentor to help him explore his anxieties about settling in to the working methods and culture of his new team, perhaps by reflecting, asking questions that raise awareness, and listening to understand; in other words, the mentor would adopt a ‘coaching approach’ (see above). Goal definition in this case might be as simple as “Three months after starting, I would like to feel confident in my grasp of the new role”.
Sarah is half-way through a fixed-term research assistant post. She is considering her options for her next role but finds herself overwhelmed by the variety of choices and possibilities. She could ask a mentor to adopt a goal-orientated approach help her with the decision-making process, by making suggestions about how to assess possibilities, giving her feedback about her options, using summarising and paraphrasing to help her set herself goals. There will still be an ‘end’ goal such as “I want to be able to make an informed decision about the next step in my career path”, but there may also be more defined interim goals, such as “By the next meeting I will have investigated this option”, or “by the final 18 months of my post, I will have applied for (x number of) posts in my chosen field(s)”.

Independently

If you have encountered someone who you think would be a good mentor for you, consider approaching them and asking them to become your mentor. You will need to be clear about what you want, why you want it, and why you are approaching them. You can find detailed guidance here about Mentoring and the things to consider.

Remember that a mentor need not necessarily be someone senior to you: peer mentoring can be easily set up and it may be easier to find partners for peer mentoring. One way to approach this is to set up ‘thinking pairs’, as described by Nancy Kline in Time to think: listening to ignite the human mind. (1999, London: Ward Lock). You can find instructions for ‘thinking pairs’ sessions online, for example by the Organisation Development agency or Southampton University. Thinking pairs is particularly well-suited to peer mentoring as the principles of the Thinking Environment’ ensure equality between the partners.

However you approach an independent mentoring arrangement, you will need to have an informal ‘contract’ or agreement of ground rules, including

  • How frequently will you meet?
  • What do you expect of each other?
  • How will you handle confidentiality?
  • Will all the mentoring be done in face-to-face meetings, or will there be email and telephone contact as well or instead?
  • Where will you meet? (This needs to be sufficiently private and a place in which both parties are sufficiently at ease.)
  • How and when will you review the mentoring arrangement?
  • How will you conclude the mentoring arrangement?
  • …and anything else you feel it is important to agree in advance

Through a scheme

Many departments, faculties and divisions have schemes you can join: if the timeframes and eligibility works for you, this is a good way to find a mentor. The scheme will be supported by the organiser, and you may be asked to give feedback to them about your experience. You may also find it helpful to be going through the same mentoring experience as others in your workplace: mentees can learn informally from each other.

University-wide schemes

For women entering senior leadership POD runs the Oxford Senior Women's Mentoring Network (formerly known as Ad Feminam). Find out more about eligibility criteria.  

For Black and minority ethnic staff the Equality and Diversity Unit runs the "Pivot" scheme 

Through your department, faculty or division

If you feel that you would benefit from mentoring, but you do not have any particular mentor in mind, and there is no scheme available to you at present, you could ask for help in finding a mentor. Your own line manager may have some ideas, and should have some insight into the sort of mentor or mentoring might be helpful. Alternatively, your department, faculty or divisional HR section may be able to help.

To get the most out of your mentoring, you will need to be very clear about your expectations from mentoring, and in particular be sure that you are not seeking training or counselling from your mentor.  You will need to have thought through what you want to gain from the mentoring and be open to changing the way you look at things.

Once you enter a mentoring partnership, make sure to play an active part, challenge your thinking, attend all planned sessions and follow up on your agreed actions.  Give your mentor feedback on what you find most and less useful, and set aside time to reflect on your learning and progress.

  • There is a range of videos, reflecting a variety of viewpoints, on LinkedIn learning: search for ‘Mentoring’
  • Further reading:
    • Cox, E., Bachkirova, T. and Clutterbuck, D. (Eds) (2014). The Complete Handbook of Coaching. London: Sage
    • Megginson, D., Clutterbuck, D., Garvey, B., Stokes, P. and Garrett-Harris, R. (2006) Mentoring in Action. London: Kogan Page
    • Kline, N. (1999) Time to think: listening to ignite the human mind. London: Ward Lock 

Applying for your next role?


Find a mentor on the Careers Support Network

APPLY FOR A MENTOR

Contact us


Email: pod@admin.ox.ac.uk

Tel: 01865 286808

 
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