Being a Practice Manager – having a mentor

Mentoring has its origins in Greek mythology. When Odysseus, father of Telemachus, went off to the Trojan War he appointed Mentor to be his son's guardian, role model, adviser, confidant and friend. Mentor was responsible for the physical, intellectual, spiritual, moral and social development of Telemachus.

Mentoring is a "win, win, win" situation as the protégé, the mentor and the organisation (in this case the medical practice) all benefit from the potential that mentoring can realise in them all.

Definitions of mentoring vary. Generally speaking, mentoring occurs when an older, more experienced and respected person (the "mentor") takes an active and genuine personal interest in helping and counselling the career and personal development of a younger person (the "protégé”) - in a gesture which is outside of the ordinary scope of the mentor's job. Of course, this view is somewhat outdated now, as in the real world relative age of the participants is not necessarily a factor. What matters is that the mentor has something to offer, and is able to share experience knowledge and perspective with the person being mentored, enabling them to grow, in developmental terms.

High levels of mutual respect, trust and emotional commitment characterise a mentor-protégé relationship. A mentor is someone who should ideally know the protégé, but certainly someone who will bring wise counsel, will encourage the protégé to reflect and help the protégé to select options which they will “own”.

A mentor would rarely tell the protégé what they should do; but sometimes a mentor will need to be strong enough to say things about the protégé’s style or approach that are uncomfortable, or things that the protégé would rather not hear. Difficult perhaps, but hopefully appreciated and accepted within the spirit of the right relationship.

Being a Practice Manager can often be a lonely and challenging role.  The Manager often has no peer within a small practice, no-one against whom to bounce ideas or to share frustrations or weaknesses; other Practice Managers can be a listening ear but it would be rare for one manager to expose vulnerabilities to a distant colleague. The GPs may be a source, but they have their own role, differing skill sets, diverse perspectives, and a lack of time.

So far as the Practice Manager is concerned, generally it is better for the mentor to not also be the manager, partner or a close organisational colleague of the protégé. As such the roles of mentor and direct manager are distinctly different and need to be kept separate to avoid the relationship being clouded by competing objectives. Ideally, the mentor should be a person whose only motive is to help the protégé, and with whom the protégé can enjoy the relaxed confidentiality and trust required to test ideas, gain an invaluable different and independent perspective, and to learn from the mentor's experience. All inside the security of a non-judgmental environment.

Mentoring relationships are as varied as the people involved in them. They are dynamic and flexible relationships which often last over a period of years and respond to changing needs over that time. Mentors will perform various roles to varying degrees at various points in a protégé’s development; the relationship will go through different phases and eventually end, sometimes in conflict. In order for mentoring to be successful it is desirable that the parties have a clear understanding of what is expected of each other, what the rules and roles are and importantly, when the time has come to let go. Something of a fixed term contract in its nature.

It is not always easy for a new Manager – or even a more experienced manager - to find a mentor.  But a neighbouring PCO may help, or the local practice manager group may know someone, or even the local “chamber of commerce” or equivalent. It depends on what you are looking for. Or try us here at First Practice Management.

FPM have offered a mentoring facility for subscribing members for many years, and have been successful in matching hundreds of managers to willing volunteers.  The service for both mentors and protégé can be accessed via the members section on the FPM homepage

Steve Morris is a former business performance and risk analyst, and was a Practice Manager in Yorkshire for over ten years. He is General Manager, First Practice Management and specialises in finance and HR. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers.


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