Are coaching and mentoring skills crucial for ambulance service managers? A personal reflection

The purposes of coaching and mentoringIn the 1960s, the use of the term ‘coaching’ by some experts was different to the perception we have today. Use of the term was perhaps more aligned to my own interpretation, which is, intuitively, to lead and persuade staff to adopt a previously agreed solution to a problem. So the need to understand the wider purposes of coaching is essential to both the coach and the coached.Predictable though it is, it seems to be universally accepted that to maintain high standards, great sportsmen need great coaches. Why? Not because they lack the necessary mastery of the game, but because to maintain such high standards is reliant on the ability of a coach to manage the potential. The Inner Game of Tennis (Gallwey, 1974) similarly proposes a philosophy that performance = potential - interference. So perhaps, as coaches, it is our job to interfere in a positive way to ensure that existing potential is released. While I feel that release of potential is a key skill in the coach, I also find that the self-awareness of the individual being coached is often far removed from reality. This works both ways of course and it can be genuinely as frustrating and challenging to manage the expectations of those who do not possess the necessary raw materials, than it is to encourage confidence and self-awareness in individuals who are oblivious to the extent of their talent.There is also a need to foster a wider range of skills in individuals who may not possess natural ability but who nevertheless, are required to perform at a high standard within the complex environment of healthcare clinical operations or management. These individuals may not naturally aspire to ‘greatness’, so to coach in such a way could be counterproductive in raising expectations above the capabilities of the individual. I have personal experience in choosing to develop a highly competent clinician into a challenging role, when, ultimately, the person in question was not naturally aspirational. If the talent lacks ambition, do we then relent and concede that we will be forced into coaching the unexceptional? I expect that the talent pool is deep and crying out for development.Does mentoring really need definition? Attempting to define the concept of mentoring surely detracts from an inherent ability to simply act as a role model without conscious thought. While I feel that coaching can be defined in its context and purpose, mentoring seems open to interpretation by those who consciously engage in it.Formal mentoring arrangements can fulfil many purposes. For example, provision of mentorship throughout an induction process can help to develop a more collegiate and reassuring approach to supportive mechanisms which can then propagate throughout an organisation culture. So in this context, it is important that the purpose is clearly defined before the period of mentoring commences. Peterson (2007) highlighted this as a concern within the teaching profession, as mentors seemed to transcend the concept of support, and simultaneously assumed the wider remit of new teacher certification.‘Attempting to define the concept of mentoring surely detracts from an inherent ability to simply act as a role model without conscious thought’In addition to offering support in a new post, a mentor can assist someone who has added a new aspect to their existing role. This can be achieved, not by directing or acting in an advisory capacity, but by listening and then empowering the mentee and enabling them to find their own way through the complexities of any particular situation. This encourages reflective practice on the part of the mentee, which coupled with access to knowledge, can allow the mentee to develop their own skills, strategies and capabilities. While the importance of developing good mentoring skills within the clinical leadership structure of an organisation should not be underestimated, these leaders must also be empowered in such a way that encourages innovation and not convention to the norm. I have been lucky enough to develop extremely beneficial relationships with my ‘mentors’ and cannot think of anything more valuable than the benefit, exposure to the wider system has afforded me.

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