If nothing else, agree to how frequently you will meet or speak. “It could be quarterly or it could be weekly,” says Dr. Howell. “Face time is important, but e-mail and phone calls will work, too, as long as you’ve established some ground rules about this. If the mentee expects a face-to-face meeting and you’re e-mailing your answers, that could be a problem. So you need to establish how you’re going to communicate.”
Those meetings can add up to a sizeable commitment. How much time, exactly, should a new mentor expect to devote to this aspect of leadership? “It varies widely,” Dr. Howell admits. “But I will say that many younger mentees require much more time than older mentors expect. If they’re struggling or haven’t found their stride yet, it can require several hours a week, which is a lot for a busy person’s schedule. But many relationships can be handled weekly or monthly.”
Dr. Faro, who has mentored many hospitalists within her organization, says, “You need to build the relationship; you need enough contact time so that you can understand each other.” For her, that amounts to 40 to 50 hours of getting-to-know-you time, she says. “After that, maybe an hour a week.”
Dr. Faro tailors her guidance to the personality, capabilities, and level of independence of each person she mentors—hence her lengthy initial time frame.
“You need to start with setting up a clear set of goals and outcomes,” she says. “They really need to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. So, set up a plan with specific time frames. It’s your job to determine how independent they are; you may end up giving them goals rather than them stating what they’re going to do.”
—Joan C. Faro, MD, FACP, MBA, chief medical officer, John T. Mather Memorial Hospital, Port Jefferson, N.Y.
For example, she might tell one mentee to develop an order set for patients with syncope, and expect a document by an agreed-upon deadline. She might give another individual the same assignment, but walk that person through each step—within reason. “You can’t do it for them, or they’re not going to learn,” she maintains.
Each completed task is met with constructive criticism. How well was the task done? Did the physician leave out anything? If Dr. Faro senses that more guidance is necessary, she steps up her level of involvement.
What Makes a Successful Mentor?
Dr. Faro understands the mentor/mentee process because she’s been part of it for so long. How can you get to that point? Simply agreeing to be a mentor and having regular meetings with your mentee doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a good job.
“Good mentors probably listen more than they talk,” explains Dr. Howell. “For many people, if they can talk it out, they will reach their own conclusions and that’s much more powerful than being told something. That ‘Aha!’ moment is a big career moment.”
He also believes strong mentors can give even non-hospitalists helpful career advice. “Good mentors are able to step out of their own shoes and look at the unique situation of the other person, and give advice tailored to that situation,” he explains. “You have to be altruistic in your mentoring; you can’t do it for your own needs.”
Successful mentors also understand their mentees. For example, mentees in leadership positions should receive advice about how to invest in themselves and their careers. “I always recommend SHM’s Leadership Academy, as well as several books, including Getting to Yes and Good to Great to improve themselves as leaders,” says Dr. Howell.