As the nation's interest in helping Americans to live longer and healthier lives continues to grow, so does the need for qualified health-fitness professionals. Despite this increased demand, the academic and professional training of future health-fitness professionals is inconsistent. The current established and validated standards of practice nationwide lack updated curricula that accurately address the proper training of students for the job market, which could potentially impact public confidence and overall support of the health-fitness profession. Therefore, the training of health-fitness professionals to enter clinical, research, or academic positions ought to require benchmark standards and a code of ethics that uphold professional standards, maintain quality control, and reduce the risk of legal liabilities. There is a significant need to train, develop, and mentor future health-fitness professionals in an academic setting and when they obtain professional positions. Mentoring is often overlooked in this process. The following article will explain mentoring and provide guidelines and recommendations associated with this responsibility.
WHAT IS MENTORING?
Mentoring is defined as "a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy, and personal knowledge to assist another person in their growth and advancement (6)." In ancient times, Homer described a mentor as a "wise and trusted counselor" (8) At present, mentoring may be applied to all aspects of learning, including one's academic (undergraduate and graduate), practical (i.e., clinical internship, field experience, practicum, etc.), and professional (i.e., entry level position, fellowship, etc.) experiences.
Mentoring is often confused with today's personal executive or wellness coaches because each implement successful strategies to develop and improve one's expertise, leadership, well-being, or professional abilities. There is a distinction between mentoring and coaching. For example, the ACSM-endorsed Wellcoaches® model uses coaching skills such as active listening or motivational interviewing to help clients achieve sustained healthy behavior change (11). Coaching focuses on specific goals and objectives but doesn't require long-standing experience or expertise to help a client attain a goal. Outcomes are measured by improved performance or behavior, and a coaching relationship will end when the goal has been achieved. In contrast, mentoring is more open-ended because amentor's skills and experiences facilitate a protégé's learning, self discovery, and personal growth. Mentors are well-established professionals able to share wisdom gained throughout their careers. Outcomes of mentoring are more broadly defined and reflect the protégé's progress on a path toward professional success. A mentoring partnership can be long term and evolve into a mutually beneficial collaboration where mentors learn from the feedback, insights, and self-reflection of the protégé.
WHY A NEED FOR MENTORING
Mentoring is considered a primary vehicle for one generation of professionals and scientists to impart their knowledge to succeeding generations (4). Without it, even the most talented novice can suffer a lack of direction or focus and ultimately hinder his or her ability to develop as a professional. This could potentially lead to academic or job dissatisfaction and eventually the loss of a high quality student or qualified employee. For example, evidence has shown that today's Generation Next (born in 1980-1999) health-fitness professionals entering the workforce are experienced in information technology yet are lacking in areas such as communication and team-building skills (6). This is coupled with the demanding work place culture that diminishes critical time devoted to professional development of colleagues and the novice in-training. Although mentoring provided by academic institutions may be lacking, it also seems little is being done to formally train the professionals themselves on the procedures for "how-to" mentor. A recent survey of 13 Middle-Atlantic college and university faculty of health-related fitness programs indicated an overall lack of training or background in mentoring (85% said they had no formal training on how to mentor students; see Table). Therefore, a viable solution to a lack of training is to increase the amount of mentoring provided to a developing professional and provide formal training tools and programs to the mentors themselves.
CHARACTERISTICS OF GOOD MENTORS AND PROTÉGÉS
Mentoring focuses on the human connection by establishing relationships between a seasoned health-fitness professional (the mentor) and the novice student or professional-in-training (the protégé). The positive outcomes of mentoring are dependent on the type of interactions and experiences that will occur with a seasoned mentor, as well as the training environment. Although a mentor is identified as "an individual who goes out of their way to successfully help their protégés meet life goals," they also must possess several inherent qualities, including enthusiasm, patience, energy, and coaching skills, to devote to the future professional (9).
Mentors may assume several roles, including 1) faculty advisor, 2) internship supervisor, 3) graduate school/career counselor, 4) director, or 5) colleague. Affective qualities such as the ability of a mentor to have a calming presence on a protégé and being well respected by students and fellow colleagues are also desired in a mentor (10). Mentors are often those individuals who possess qualities others want to emulate (5).
Mentors ought to have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities expected of them in addition to a willingness and readiness to mentor. Although mentoring of a protégé can be very rewarding, it should be noted that this responsibility comes with an investment of energy and time. Also it is important that mentors maintain personal and professional boundaries for the sake of both parties involved so a healthy long-term mentoring experience can develop.
Likewise, it is recommended the protégé demonstrate characteristics that will ensure the success of the relationship, including confidence in the mentor's abilities. Protégés who have a strong self-identity and are open to receiving guidance and constructive criticism will maximize their mentoring experience. They often demonstrate a strong commitment to their careers and are motivated to succeed, demonstrate initiative, and actively learn. A positive working relationship between the mentor and protégé will reflect a high regard of one another, ability to work harmoniously, and open lines of communication.
STAGES AND SKILLS OF MENTORING
A protégé can make contact with a mentor by one of three methods. First, an informal or spontaneous contact could occur where a protégé takes an opportunity to meet and discover a potential mentor's talents and accomplishments. Second, a protégé may actively seek a successful professional who meets their professional goals and needs and would be willing to serve in the mentor role. Third, a protégé may be "assigned" a mentor based on similar professional areas of interest. The relationship can mature into a mutually rewarding partnership once this alliance has been established.
The process by which mentoring occurs can be explained in three stages: 1) teaching, 2) guidance, and 3) empowerment (Diagram 2) (1). There is no specific point where mentors typically assume their role. A mentor may make contact with a protégé early in their academic career such as serving as an academic advisor. Contact also could occur later at the onset of the protégé's professional career serving as director or supervisor of a corporate wellness site or other professional position. The stage of professional development the future health-fitness professional (protégé) makes initial contact with a mentor will determine the type of mentoring that will occur.
Stage 1: Teaching
The first stage of mentoring begins with teaching. A relationship is established through the exchange of ideas and values as the protégé observes and explores the mentor's area of expertise. Mentors can provide insight and expose protégés to the methods, opportunities, and vehicles by which they can develop into professionals. The "nuts and bolts" of how to become a competent professional by teaching traditional foundations and theoretical constructs will begin to occur at this time. Learning opportunities for protégés can range from basic knowledge and skills taught in an academic setting (i.e., how to administer a correct skin fold measure) to guided discovery such as "shadowing" in a professional setting (i.e., how a medical screening/risk factor stratification instrument is administered to real clients). Feedback that occurs at this stage is considered immediate and formative in nature, and focuses on the protégé's knowledge, skills, and abilities. This could occur formally through the development of performance outcomes matrices that include cognitive, affective, or behavioral skills, or informally by a weekly journal account by the mentor. This also is an ideal time to introduce coaching skills training to students through a class or seminar series. Skills taught might include active listening, motivational interviewing, behavior modification, and methods to improve overall communication with clients and future colleagues.
During this stage, the mentor wants to encourage communication while maintaining confidentiality. The mentor wants to establish themselves as "approachable" so the protégé will develop trust and confidence in the mentor's ability to guide them (12). Although the mentoring provided may only consist of teaching, it is not uncommon to see the emergence of the mentor as a role model during this stage. Observing the mentor's commitment and work ethic may inspire a protégé to be hard working and dedicated. A mentor's ability to serve as a role model also can have a profound impact on the future professional's behavior.
Stage 2: Guidance
During the guidance phase, the protégé assumes a more active role. The protégé learns by performing the day-to-day "hands-on" skills while the mentor provides constructive, honest, and continual feedback. For example, when a student assisting with a research project is required to learn the preparation of a laboratory for human subject testing by checking and calibrating equipment, meeting a subject, and assisting with initial assessments, they have assumed a greater responsibility than by observation alone. This gives the protégé the opportunity to make decisions and solve problems more independently. The mentor challenges the protégé to learn through mistakes yet suggests strategies and techniques to improve problem solving and critical thinking. The mentor may even share positive and negative personal experiences to display a humanistic side. Furthermore, the mentor may act as a coach by asking open-ended questions often while encouraging the protégé to engage in more self-reflection and self-monitoring. Feedback can transition from formative to summative in nature as the mentor allows the protégé to experience complete learning and practice scenarios before receiving feedback. If performance outcomes were not achieved, a specific step-by-step action plan could be developed to improve on future assignments. It is important that mentors display professional tact in sensitive or challenging situations because learning and self application occur at different rates. Maintaining patience and encouragement, even when major mistakes occur, remains critical to the protégé's long-term development. The mentor wants the protégé to understand that it takes time and effort to become a skilled professional, and for this reason, it is a critical time to maintain contact and support of the protégé. During this stage, the protégé develops confidence, competence, and character.
Stage 3: Empowerment
Once the protégé has established his or herself as a more competent professional, the primary responsibility of the mentor shifts to that of empowerment. This may occur as the protégé finishes school or an internship and begins a new job, or completes an initial year of working in a new position. The mentor serves more of a consulting role by providing guidance on networking skills, building credentials, navigating the political climate of the workplace, and setting realistic goals for success. A mentor also will "lobby" for the protégé by promoting them and serving as an advocate. The following are key areas where the mentor will help to empower the protégé.
- Development of networking skills by:
Development of a credential by:
- a. Serving on committees
- b. Attending conferences
- c. Participating in social events or fundraisers
Learning to navigate the political climate by:
- a. Continually updating the resume or vita
- b. Presenting at conferences or workshops
- c. Publishing for workplace or professional journals
- d. Earning certifications
Creating a strategic plan for success by:
- a. Refraining from office politics
- b. Encouraging teamwork and open lines of communication
- c. Respecting co-workers' different points of view
- d. Developing professional strategies for conflict resolution
- a. Establishing realistic short- and long-term goals
- b. Monitoring and reviewing progress in achieving goals
- d. Identifying barriers and strategies for improvement
The mentor has gained a colleague to share ideas and best practices, in addition to the satisfaction of guiding the protégé in their area of expertise. This sets the stage for professional growth through continued collaborations with the mentor and fellow colleagues and fosters a sense of professional fulfillment. This synergy that develops between mentors and protégés is also advantageous to the advancement of the health-fitness community and ultimately the people it serves.
Mentoring may not be a formal process and can lack a clearly defined timeframe as the role of the mentor changes when the protégé transforms through stages of becoming a health-fitness professional. Despite a lack of standardized "ground rules" for mentoring, important responsibilities emerge when agreeing to oversee professional development in an academic, business, or other professional setting. A simple set of guidelines using the MENTORING acronym can be helpful when working with protégés:
Successful professionals in the health-fitness profession do not always become effective mentors because their professional energies are devoted to other personal or professional goals. The responsibilities of becoming a mentor may not be adopted immediately and can be considered traits developed as a product of becoming a professional over time. However, a dedicated professional that has a true desire to help others and strives to uphold the responsibility of becoming a mentor will more than likely grow into this type of role.
PREPARING FOR MENTORING
The growth and development of well-trained fitness professionals are essential to maintaining successful outcomes and professional respect industry-wide. This has impact from an economic (cost-effective hiring, training, and retaining of employees), as well as quality control, standpoints (upholding the high standards of the American College of Sports Medicine and health-fitness profession) and ultimately will be reflected in how we serve clients. This issue has been addressed in health care, with the need to develop experienced and qualified nurses and medical professionals (6). Often, mentoring relationships occur spontaneously with mentors instinctively providing guidance and sharing their expertise without being formally trained on mentoring techniques. However, it is reasonable to assume that professionals will be more comfortable taking on the role of mentoring when they are properly trained in mentoring skills and feel confident in their abilities to effectively guide the protégé through this process. In response to this, academic institutions and work places have begun to implement programs dedicated exclusively to the assignment of protégés to professionals for a mentoring experience that is more systematic and formal in fashion (7,9). However, before an initial contact with an assigned protégé, a mentoring workshop is an ideal method to train and prepare the mentors (3). A workshop of this nature would include the following:
- Identifying needs and issues the protégé might face in the field;
- Identifying basic job descriptions of mentors;
- Identifying methods to monitor mentoring experiences;
- Reviewing or teaching coaching skills that will guide the protégé to identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as strategies to achieve long-term goals;
- Encouraging communication among mentors by addressing specific situations of importance;
- Obtaining feedback from protégés on positive and negative aspects of their experiences;
- Establishing a "best-practices" manual or set of guidelines to assist future mentors (additional methods to disseminate mentoring practices such as developing a Web site, live Webcast, or FAQ profiles can provide additional ways mentors can communicate);
- Recognizing and rewarding outstanding mentors by creating an annual "best" mentor award or published article on their achievements.
The benefits of a mentoring relationship are widespread. Mentoring promotes positive leadership for staff or students and nurtures the commitment, retention, and teamwork of a working group of people. More importantly, mentoring strengthens the protégé's ability to learn more effectively, gain new perspectives, and develop confidence. It is the chance for a mentor to have satisfaction in helping a protégé to "be all they can be (2)." Successful health-fitness professionals, whether academics, clinicians, or researchers, have experienced valuable and meaningful mentoring relationships. Examples of this date back to the origins of today's modern exercise physiologists like the Harvard Fatigue Laboratory's Dr. D.B. Dill and colleagues who competently trained young professionals to the highest standard in the early 1940s. If it were not for the superior mentoring that occurred over 60 years ago, today's laboratories that focus on the study of health-fitness and exercise physiology would cease to exist. Mentoring is a catalyst for growth. Therefore, the advancement of the health-fitness industry ought to address two key areas: 1) an emphasis on mentoring throughout health-fitness curriculums in colleges, internships, and employment settings that will foster the development of future health-fitness professionals and 2) the promotion and development of structured training for mentors themselves that will provide skills and tools to guide a protégé through a mentoring experience.
"If you want to be a master, study what the masters have done before you. Learn to do what they have done-have the guts to do it-and you will be a master too."
Joseph J. Charboneau
CONDENSED VERSION AND BOTTOM LINE
Mentoring can be a win-win situation for a mentor and a protégé, enhancing the productivity and improving the climate and teamwork within a workplace. More importantly, mentoring helps future professionals to reach their full potential through increased self-awareness, enhanced motivation, and dedication to their profession. By adopting the MENTORING acronym, readers are taking steps to improve the quality and standards of future professionals entering the health-fitness profession.
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Keywords:© 2009 American College of Sports Medicine
Mentor; Protégé; Teaching; Guidance; Empowerment