The Skills of a Mentor

For years it was widely held that successful mentoring came from a natural chemistry between the mentor and mentee.  As a result some people naturally fell into a successful mentoring relationship, reaping the rewards; whilst such a relationship eluded many others.

In 1977 as part of her doctoral dissertation, psychologist Linda Phillips-Jones examined hundreds of mentor-mentee relationships, as well as those individuals who had been unable to identify any mentors in their lives.  This was the first time academic research had looked to get under the skin of a mentoring relationship.  The result was an understanding that mentoring was much more complex than first thought – and that mentors and mentees use specific processes and skills throughout their relationship. Furthermore these processes and skills can be learnt and honed, to make the mentor-mentee relationship more enjoyable, effective and time-efficient.  The research identified the following mentoring skills:


Mentor specific skills

  • Instructing/developing capabilities
  • Inspiring
  • Providing corrective feedback
  • Managing risks
  • Opening doors

Mentee specific skills

  • Acquiring mentors
  • Learning quickly
  • Showing initiative
  • Following through
  • Managing the relationship

Skills for both mentor and mentee

  • Actively listening
  • Building trust
  • Encouraging
  • Identifying goals and current reality


Here we will look more in-depth at the skills required for a mentor:

  1. Actively listening

When we listen well, we demonstrate that the mentee’s concerns have been heard and understood.  This enables our relationship to grow and for trust to build.  If you’re an excellent listener you will:

  • Make encouraging responses and paraphrase the point the mentee has made
  • Use appropriate non-verbal communication, such as looking into the mentee’s eyes, nodding as they speak, mirroring their non-verbal communication, ie. smiling when they smile
  • Show interest in things the mentee has said previously
  • Never interrupt the mentee
  1. Building Trust

Trust develops over time, to help this you should:

  • Keep confidences
  • Spend sufficient time with your mentee
  • Deliver on your promises
  • Take responsibility for any errors
  • Explain sensitively why you disagree with a mentee’s view
  1. Encouraging

Phillips-Jones’ research identified that the most valued mentoring skill is giving encouragement.  Encouragement builds a mentee’s confidence, enabling them to develop.

  • Praise your mentee
  • Point out their positive traits
  • Express your appreciation
  1. Identifying Goals

Goal setting is essential as part of a mentoring journey.  Your role, as a mentor, is to help the mentee identify their personal vision and specific goals – and to recognise where they need to grow and where they need support to reach their goals.

  1. Instructing/Developing Capabilities

As a mentor your instructing will be informal, from modelling behaviours to setting out ideas and processes.

  • Help your mentee identify resources – whether people, books, websites, software
  • Teach new knowledge, skills and attitudes by giving examples and asking though provoking questions
  • Help your mentee gain a broader perspective
  • Help your mentee monitor their performance and refocus their goals and/or actions
  1. Inspiring

As a mentor you should set an example to inspire your mentee, but also help your mentee identify other inspiration people and situations.  It can be tempting to tell mentees what to do, and even to have them follow in your footsteps.  However, your role is to help the mentee identify and move towards their vision for themselves.

  1. Providing Corrective Feedback

When you see your mentee making mistakes or performing in less than desirable ways, you should provide direct and constructive feedback.  When starting your mentoring relationship, it can be useful to discuss if and how a mentee would like to receive such feedback.  Having such a conversation upfront, can ease the way when you actually have to give such feedback.

  • Use positive professional language and tone of voice
  • Always give such feedback in private and as soon as possible
  • Give specific feedback on specific behaviours
  • Suggest how they could do things differently should there be a next time
  1. Managing Risks

One of your roles is to prevent your mentee from making unnecessary mistakes. These may include: dealing incorrectly with customers or colleagues, missing deadlines, underestimating project costs, doing something unethical.

  • Help your mentee recognise the risks
  • Suggest how they can avoid major risks in terms of business, their career, financial, personal and relationships
  1. Opening Doors

When mentors vouch for mentees, the mentee’s work is much more likely to be well-received – this is human nature.

  • Put in a good word to people who could help your mentee reach their goals
  • Personally introduce your mentee to appropriate contacts

Using these skills you will be able to guide and support your mentee effectively towards their goals and personal vision.


NAHT’s Mentoring Scheme

A leader’s career can be a long, winding road, so we want to support this community the best way we can. One such way is by facilitating contact between leaders at various stages of their career allowing them to share best practice and invaluable guidance. By working together and tapping into all this knowledge we can make education the best it can be.

This platform provides a space for school leaders to share and gain knowledge that will benefit those starting their leadership journey as well as seasoned leaders.

For mentees, it’s a great way to build on areas that you’re less familiar with or that are completely new to you, and in turn build a strong working mentor relationship that’ll inspire you. For mentors, it’s a chance to give back and help strengthen the profession by sharing your experience and knowledge.

Click here to find out more or register