People - Top Tips - Mentoring




This document is designed as a quick reference guide to how to be a mentor.

This will enable you to gain knowledge of a particular skill, task or process.

This means you can quickly find the key information that you need and refer to it on an ongoing basis whenever you need to refresh your knowledge.



What is a mentor? Mentoring can be described as ‘The process of developing and nurturing an additional confidential relationship to assist an individual to reach his or her goals’

Let’s just pull out the really important words from that sentence.


Confidential – the more a mentee (the person who is being mentored) can trust and confide in their mentor, the more successful they will be at reaching their goals. If you are going to become a mentor for someone, you must exercise complete discretion and not disclose anything you discuss without the mentee’s permission.


Assist – You’re not a mentor to ‘do it for them’. You’re there to help them achieve.


His or her goals – You can help someone discover and explore what their goals might be, but you cannot impose or dictate what the goals are – if the individuals don’t set their own goals, you’re not being a mentor.

People - Top Tips - Mentoring

What you need to know

A mentor is an individual, usually older than the mentee, but always more experienced, who helps and guides another individual’s development. This guidance is not done for personal gain.


Why become a mentor?

Someone might have asked you, perhaps not in a “will you be my mentor” direct way, but they may have asked for your help and support to progress their career. So what’s in it for you? Well, as it says above, mentoring is not done for personal gain. But you will almost certainly find it emotionally rewarding to help someone, and it’s also very likely that you will get some new learning for yourself as you help the person achieve their goals.

Before agreeing to become someone’s mentor, you need to think carefully about your reasons. See what is motivating you to accept this in spite of your busy work life.

Also think about what you have to offer your mentee. Be brutally honest with yourself as you consider what influence, skills, knowledge or other contributions you can make. Acknowledge your weak spots.








Although the word contract sounds rather formal, it’s not anything legal. Think of it instead as an agreement between the mentor and the mentee about how the relationship will work.

You might be tempted, particularly if you have a pre-existing work relationship with the individual, to say “We don’t need to do this, we’ve known each other for years”. Please don’t make this mistake. Yes, you may know that individual well, but you are both going to adopt a new relationship, and agreeing the ground rules is critical for this to work well.


You both need to discuss and agree rules and boundaries for the relationship.

Here are some of the things to think about.


     How often will you meet and where?

     Will you share personal email addresses and / or personal mobile phone numbers?

     Will you both prepared to meet or talk outside of work time / locations?

     How direct will you be with one another? (Honesty is crucial, but how

bluntly’ you speak is open to negotiation / agreement)

     Agree confidentiality, and that neither of you will divulge what is said between you without specific permission from the other

     Do you want to involve discussions about your personal life as well as your business life?

     How challenging do you want the relationship to be?

     How supportive do you want the relationship to be?


By agreeing these ground rules both the mentor and mentee know what they can say and when, and can be assured of confidentiality.

The mentee should then share their goals and the mentor should be confident they understand them. If the mentee is unsure about their goals then the mentor may help explore options, but it is never allowed for the mentor to impose a goal.

People - Top Tips - Mentoring

Being a mentor

Mentors are supposed to be wise and trusted counsellors for mentees. A mentor's knowledge, experience, encouragement and skills offer guidance, advice and small amounts of hands-on training. However, while a mentor can steer a mentee in the right direction to reach her potential, a mentor can't, and shouldn't attempt, to force change against the will of the other.


You should provide guidance based on your past experiences. This needs to be done sensitively. If mentoring is turned in to a boring reminiscence session, it won’t be successful. Guidance should always be as slight as possible, and follow directly from the stated concerns of the mentee.

Create a positive counselling relationship and climate for open communication. This means, first of all, avoiding any resentment at the onset of the relationship by being sensitive to the feelings of the mentee. It is important to avoid treating the mentee as incompetent or incapable. Over the long-term, a positive relationship will be created by a genuine interest in both the mentee and their role.


Avoid setting up a situation whereby the mentor is seen to be 'checking up' on the mentee. In your contract you agreed when contact will be made or sought and where possible leaving it up to the mentee to get in touch is the best way to do it.


Help your mentee identify problems and solutions. This means try to look deeper; if there are symptoms, look for what might be causing them, don't simply patch things up. If the mentee thinks that something isn't a problem, don't force the issue; if you fail to explain why it might be a problem, then leave it.

Lead your mentee through problem solving processes. Empowerment is the key to being a mentor. Don't give solutions to problems; this won't 'teach the man to fish' (as the saying goes). Work through problems with the mentee, even when you aren't clear of the answers yourself.

Offer constructive criticism in a supportive way.

Share your own thought processes and fallibilities with the mentee.

Assign 'homework' if applicable. This obviously doesn't mean essays, and if the person you are working with isn't keen, it can't work, but if there is a clear interest at getting good at something, think about how this could be achieved.

Refer your mentee to others when you don't have the answers. Failure to do this smacks of arrogance and fails to see the big picture. If others can do a certain part of the job better than you, let them.

People - Top Tips - Mentoring

What you need to know

Ask for feedback from your mentee. Being a mentor isn't merely about giving; you should be developing your own skills too. If you don't see this, you won't set up a relationship of give and take, which is the most beneficial to the mentee.


Be prepared for all contact with your mentee. Before a phone conversation think about what might come up. If meeting face to face, think about what questions would elicit the responses that would allow you to do your job effectively.


Keep your eyes open for things that could help your mentee. Look for articles and websites that refer to things that you have discussed. This will allow them to develop and shows them that you are interested in their success.


Don't do their job for them. It is tempting for leaders to step in when faced with inexperience. Resist this temptation wherever possible.


Do's and Don'ts for Mentors


     Properly ‘contract’ how you will both behave in the relationship before becoming that person’s mentor.


     Always be honest, even when the message is not pleasant. Your contract should help you here. Yes, you can be tactful, but don’t ever lie.


     Be clear about your motives for helping your mentee. If you're not sure yourself, the mentee will get mixed messages from you.


     Look after your mentee's needs, but consider your own as well. Be certain about what you want from the relationship and what you're willing to give.


     Be prepared for the relationship to end. The successful mentor/mentee cycle requires that the mentee moves on and the relationship either ends or takes a different form.



     Don't give up right away if your mentee resists your help at first. S/he may not recognize the value of what you have to offer. Persistence - to a point - may help.


     Don't try to force your mentee to follow your footsteps. If the footsteps fit, s/he will follow them voluntarily. Value the mentee's unique path and where s/he is along that path.

     Don't have a pre-conceived plan for the final outcome of your relationship.