Barry was Chief Dental Officer for England between 2005 and 2015. He graduated from Birmingham University in 1973 and spent the majority of his clinical career in largely NHS practice. He represented the profession locally and nationally through his local LDC and his membership of BDA committees. He was awarded a CBE in the 2010 new year honours list and after retirement joined Mydentist as a Non Executive Director.
I have had the privilege of being involved in the Birmingham University Alumni Leadership Mentoring Programme for nearly five years.
Mentoring is a fantastic way to put something back into our society but I have discovered it is more than that. My mentees have all been dental students at Birmingham and, despite all being different, I think they have all enjoyed and benefited in some way from the scheme.
What has surprised me most is how much I have benefited from my involvement.
Young dental students carry no baggage, are open, questioning, eager to learn and understand but, most importantly, they are the future of our profession.
The commitment they demonstrate to improving themselves and the oral health of the population is refreshing.
There is a complete lack of cynicism which is as it should be at such a young age.
I have tried to instil an understanding of the importance of checking the facts and not make assumptions based on media reports or comments on social media. Important as these are in this day and age they always represent “a view” from somebody with an agenda so an ability to understand data and information is vital.
One of the nicest things about my time on the scheme has been that each mentee has asked how to develop this sort of relationship after graduation. I think we should treat developing mentors as a key part of the education of our young graduates, beyond Foundation training and not just in the specialties.
The great thing about the Birmingham scheme is that it involves graduates who have achieved prominence and positions of influence across the whole range of subjects taught at the University, varying from medicine and dentistry to engineering, politics, economics and business and the arts.
This aspect of the mentoring scheme has been very rewarding for me, meeting the other mentors at the end of the year and seeing their enthusiasm for the scheme and the great buzz that being involved with the development of young undergraduates brings.
One of the key principles of leadership is that it is generic, not subject specific, and the qualities needed are very similar across all fields.
I also believe that you cannot teach leadership but can help those with the basic qualities and experience to develop.
This, to me, is the key to mentoring.
You are not teaching your mentee, you are helping them develop as people and professionals while trying to answer specific questions to which they feel they need answers but are not covered by their undergraduate course.
Mentoring is not just for those starting out on their careers.
As you become more successful and progress through organisations and your own career the challenges change. As a mentor you are not there to tell people how to tackle the new situations they find themselves in (or how to do their job!) but you can be a sounding board with the benefit of experience, somebody who understands the challenges and pressures people face, especially as you get towards the top of a profession or organisation.
Being involved in the Birmingham mentoring scheme has been incredibly rewarding and made me realise the much tougher issues new graduates now face compared to when I graduated in 1973.
Barry Cockcroft CBE