An approach to mentoring

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —October 19, 2010
Filed in Culture

Sometimes you just need a few things to get started. I think this is the case for mentoring. We have been helping a company develop a mentoring culture and in typical Anecdote style we collected 50 stories of good and bad mentoring in the organisation and then help potential mentors draw lessons from these stories themselves. They learn that listening is more important that giving advice, that questions are more important than answers and the ability to tell a story is important to share experiences.

This is great foundational knowledge but quite frankly sometimes you also need a simple framework to guide your mentoring sessions. Mary Connor and Julia Pokora in their book Coaching & Mentoring at Work provided just what’s needed: three topics to cover in a mentoring conversation.

Stage 1: What’s going on? What’s the present state of affairs.

You want to start by getting your mentee talking about the current situation. Get them to tell the story of the challenge they are facing. Practice good listening.

Then you might help them expand their perspectives. Are there any thing you missed? What would X say about this? How would this story be told by one of the other characters?

Then explore what they think might help them most. What’s causing the most concern? What’s a manageable chunk to tackle? What would give a high personal payoff?

Stage 2: What solutions make sense for me? What do I need or want instead of what I have?

Start with generating possibilities. In an ideal world what might you need or want? It’s now X months into the future and it has been a wild success, what happened? It’s now X months in the future and it has been a dismal failure, what happened?

What would be a realistic goal to achieve? Now you are moving from exploration to choosing a path forward.

Then test the commitment. What are the pros and cons, costs and benefits?

Stage 3: How do I get what I need or want?

How might you achieve the goals. What strategies might you use?

Which approach makes the most sense for you?

What’s the action plan and how do you get started? What is your next action?

Now, this is a severe distillation of their good work. There are lots more things to learn about mentoring. But if you are about to have your first mentoring session and were wondering what you might do, here’s a simple framework to guide your conversation.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Nicole says:

    “They learn that listening is more important that giving advice, that questions are more important than answers…”
    ^ Even though you moved on from this point, I feel it is so important that people realise this means putting ones ‘ego’ aside and really take a posture of learning. Especially from mistakes aka opportunities

  2. You are so right Nicole. And it’s not easy to do and requires practice. Have you come across any good ways to help people be better at listening? How do you truly become a better listener I wonder?

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