Skills required to be a successful mentor

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This strategy booklet describes that mentors and mentees who develop and manage successful mentoring partnerships demonstrate a number of specific, identifiable skills that enable learning and change to take place. It also provides a tool for you to assess yourself informally on each skill.
Competencies of
Outstanding Mentors
and Mentees
by Linda
by Linda Phillips-Jones,
Phillips-Jones, Ph.D.
###  CCC502-02
© 2003 by Linda Phillips-Jones, Ph.D.
Author, The New Mentors and Proteges
ffective mentoring requires more than processes can be learned, and relationships can
common sense. Research indicates that be better––more enjoyable, productive, and
mentors and mentees who develop and even time-efficient––as a result.
manage successful mentoring partnerships
demonstrate a number of specific, identifiable Additional research by The Mentoring Group
skills that enable learning and change to take revealed that unless a fairly structured process
place. This strategy booklet describes these and specific skills are applied, mediocre
skills and provides a tool for you to assess mentoring relationships occur. Not much
yourself informally on each skill. happens, and participants become frustrated
with their well-intended but haphazard efforts.
The Identification of Mentoring Skills Worse, disappointed participants become
convinced that mentoring doesn’t work.
For years, individuals assumed that the
process of mentoring was somewhat myster- On the positive side, when individuals use
ious. These relationships just happened, and these skills and add structure, important,
“chemistry” had to be present. It was impos- satisfying changes take place in the lives of both
sible (even somewhat sacrilegious) to analyze mentees and mentors.
and describe the specifics of what was going
on in these arrangements. Analyzing and putting A skill is a learned, observable behavior you
names to behaviors would theoretically kill them. perform that indicates (to someone else) how
well you can do something. The set of skills
Some people were able to find mentoring described here constitutes your overall ability
relationships, while many individuals were to mentor and be mentored.
unaware of how to get started with mentoring
and missed out on one of the most powerful If you possess these skills to an adequate
development strategies ever devised. quality level––and if you use them as frequently
as called for—your chances of having mutually
Linda Phillips-Jones (1977) studied hun- satisfying and productive mentoring relation-
dreds of mentor-mentee partnerships as well ships will be greatly enhanced. The model on
as individuals unable to identify any mentors in the next page illustrates the shared core skills
their lives. The conclusion: mentoring was much used by both mentors and mentees and the
more examinable and yet more complex than unique skills needed by each group.
first thought.
To help you be a more skilled mentor and
On the “demystifying” side, Phillips-Jones mentee, look at the model, review the de-
discovered that effective mentors and mentees scriptions of these mentoring skills and the
use specific processes and skills throughout behaviors that make up each one, and start
their relationships. Further, the skills and using the skills with the people in your life.
Acquiring Developing
Actively Inspiring
Showing Building Providing
Initiative Corrective
Encouraging Feedback
Identifying Goals Managing
Managing & Current Reality Risks
the Opening
Relationship Doors
Core Mentoring Skills • use appropriate nonverbal language
such as looking directly into people’s
Both mentors and mentees should utilize the eyes, nodding your head, leaning
following core skills in their mentoring part- slightly toward them, frowning, or
nerships. smiling where appropriate;
1. Listening Actively • avoid interrupting mentors and
mentees while they’re talking;
Active listening is the most basic mentoring
• remember and show interest in
skill; the other skills build on—and require—it.
When you listen well, you demonstrate to your things they’ve said in the past (“By
mentors and mentees that their concerns have the way, how did the meeting with
been heard and understood. As a result, they your manager go?”); and
feel accepted by you, and trust builds. The way
• summarize the key elements of what
you indicate you’re listening intently is by
performing several observable behaviors. For each of you said.
example, if you’re an excellent listener, you:
Resist the impulse always to turn the con-
• appear genuinely interested by mak-
versation to your experiences and opinions and
ing encouraging responses such as to find immediate solutions to problems you may
“Hmmm . . .” and “Interesting . . .” or be hearing. Listen carefully first; problem solve
sometimes reflecting back (para- much later. If your mentors and mentees have
phrasing) certain comments to show a habit of immediate problem solving, see if you
you’ve grasped the meaning and can help them be better listeners and problem
feelings behind the message; explorers.
5. 2. Building Trust When was the last time you received too
much praise? If never, you’re not alone. Effective
The more that your mentors and mentees mentors encourage their mentees, which in turn
trust you, the more committed they’ll be to your helps increase the mentees’ confidence and
partnerships with them, and the more effective enables them to develop.
you’ll be. This trust develops over time—if your
mentors and mentees observe certain At the same time, successful mentees
appropriate behaviors on your part. To become make a point of positively reinforcing their
trustable, you must: mentors, which serves to keep the mentors
focused and motivated. Provide genuine,
• keep confidences shared by your positive feedback to your mentors and mentees
mentors and mentees; on a regular basis.
• spend appropriate time together;
While there are many ways to encourage,
• follow through on your promises to and mentors and mentees can differ in the types
them; and amounts of encouragement they like, you
• respect your mentors’ and mentees’
boundaries; • compliment your mentoring partners
on accomplishments and actions;
• admit your errors and take responsi-
bility for correcting them; and • point out positive traits (such as per-
severance and integrity) in addition to
• tactfully tell your partners if and why
their performance and accomplish-
you disagree or are dissatisfied with
something so they’ll know you’re
honest with them.
• praise them privately, one-on-one;
Particularly with cross-difference (e.g.,
• commend them in front of other people
gender, culture, style, age) mentoring, trust-
building is crucial and has to be developed over (being sensitive to any cultural and
time. style preferences regarding public
3. Encouraging
• express thanks and appreciation;
According to Phillips-Jones’ research, the
most valued mentoring skill is giving encour- • write encouraging memos or e-mail
agement. This includes giving your mentoring and leave complimentary voice mail;
partners recognition and sincere positive ver- and
bal feedback.
• let them know how you use any help
they give you.
Mentors and mentees at several Fortune 500
companies revealed in interviews that positive
Be certain that your praise and encour-
verbal reinforcement—praise—was rare and
even publicly discounted in their organiza-
agement are sincere. In mentoring, err in the
tions. However, most admitted enjoying being direction of too much praise, rather than too little.
recognized for accomplishments and abilities Some human development experts recommend
and receiving positive feedback—provided a ratio of four or five praises for every corrective
such attention was sincere and not overdone. remark.
Interviewees said they wished such behaviors
were a greater part of their organizational cul-
6. 4. Identifying Goals and Current One effective individual, a former engineer
Reality who was currently a division manager (and a
mentee in two mentoring partnerships), dem-
Whether you’re a mentor or mentee, you onstrated her skill of identifying goals and cur-
should have a personal vision, specific goals, rent reality by writing this:
and a good grasp of current reality. As a mentor,
be clear on and talk to your mentees about their “My long-range goal is to be a general man-
visions, dreams, and career/life goals. They’ll ager or vice president within ten years. My
technical skills as an engineer and my skills
be interested in your current reality (your view
(as an operations manager) are strong. I now
of your strengths and limitations as well as the manage 75 men and women. I’m weaker in
current reality of situations within your sales and marketing.”
organization) and want help recognizing theirs
as well. “I expect to reach my goal by continuing to
build our business, gaining some strong mar-
As a mentee, you also need this skill. Be- keting and sales OJT in a temporary lateral
fore asking for help, you should know your assignment, getting coaching from my two—
tentative goals, strengths, what development and probably future—mentors, providing for-
you need, and the specific assistance you’d like. mal mentoring to at least one promising indi-
vidual a year, and hopefully, running one of our
You should discuss these with your mentors.
factories in about five years. My back-up goal
The more aware you are of these, and the more is to leave and start my own company.”
accurately you can convey them to potential
helpers, the more likely they’ll be to assist your
next steps. To demonstrate this mentoring skill: Model this skill by continually working on your
own goals. Show your mentors and mentees
• know what’s important to you, what how to take a less than ideal current reality and
you value and desire most; pull that reality toward their goals.
• recognize areas in which you’re able to Critical Skills for Mentors
perform well, very concrete examples
of behaviors you can perform at the In addition to the core mentoring skills
good-to-excellent level; described above, mentors use several specific
competencies in an attempt to help mentees
• identify specific weaknesses or growth develop.
areas observed in yourself and ones
noted by others; 1. Instructing/Developing Capabilities
• set tentative one- to five-year goals to Probably all mentors do some teaching or
reach in your personal life and career; instructing as part of their mentoring. The skill
and is especially important in formal mentoring. This
seldom means that you’ll give formal speeches
• describe accurately the reality of your and lectures. Instead, your instructing will usually
abilities and situations. be more informal—from modeling specific
behaviors to conveying ideas and processes
Effective mentors and mentees are con- one-on-one, in a tutoring mode. You’ll:
stantly fine-tuning this self-knowledge, incor-
porating new feedback and observations on a • be a “learning broker” as you assist
regular basis. Peter M. Senge, in The Fifth your mentees in finding resources
Discipline, mentions these skills as part of such as people, books, software,
“personal mastery,” which he calls a journey, websites, and other information
not a destination. sources;
7. • teach your mentees new knowledge, • help them recognize inspiring actions
skills, and attitudes by explaining, they took in the past and ways to excel
giving effective examples, and asking again.
thought-provoking questions;
It’s always tempting to tell mentees what to
• help your mentees gain broader per- do and, in fact, to have them follow in your
spectives of their organizations includ- footsteps. Your challenge as a mentor is to
ing history, values, culture, and politics; ensure that your mentees identify and pursue
their own form of greatness, not necessarily
• demonstrate or model effective beha- yours.
viors, pointing out what you’re trying to
do; and
Some outstanding mentors use language—
stories, metaphors, and powerful phrases—to
• help them monitor performance and inspire their mentees. Is this a mentoring be-
refocus steps as needed. havior you could hone during the coming
A key part of your instruction is teaching the
mentoring process. You can do this by making
process comments—pointing out, naming, and 3. Providing Corrective Feedback
otherwise getting your mentees to recognize
which aspect of mentoring you’re doing at the In addition to giving frequent and sincere
time—and why. positive feedback, effective mentors should also
be willing and able to give mentees corrective
Whoever cares to learn will always find a
teacher. When you observe your mentees making
— German proverb
mistakes or performing in less than desirable
ways, you should be direct with your mentees,
2. Inspiring letting them know what you perceive and
providing some better ways for handling the
One skill that separates superb mentors situations. It will probably be better for them to
from very good ones is an ability to inspire their hear it from you than from others. This is an
mentees to greatness. By setting an example aspect of the mentor’s protection skill, Managing
yourself and helping your mentees experience Risks, described later.
other inspirational people and situations, you can
help them onto future paths that excite and One of the first things you can discuss with
motivate––even beyond their original dreams. your mentees is if and how they’d like to receive
Mentors vary in their ability to be inspiring. See if this feedback. People are more willing to hear
you can: corrective feedback if they’ve given permission
and know in advance it’s coming. At the same
• do inspiring actions yourself which time, you’ll be more likely to give feedback if
challenge your mentees to improve; you’re invited to do so. Attempt to:
• help them observe others who are • use positive, non-derogatory,
inspiring; business-like words and tone of voice
with mentees when their behaviors or
• arrange other inspirational experiences products aren’t satisfactory;
for them;
• give corrective feedback in private;
• challenge them to rise above the mun-
dane and do important things in life; • give the feedback as soon as feasible
and after the performance;
8. • give specific (as opposed to vague)
Business Risks
feedback on behaviors; and
Dealing incorrectly with customers
• offer useful suggestions for them to try Missing deadlines
next time, offering to be a resource Underestimating project costs
when that time occurs. Doing something unethical
Compromising on quality
Use the Encouraging skill much more often Career Risks
than the skill of Providing Corrective Feedback.
Offending certain people
4. Managing Risks Taking the wrong position
Staying in a job too long
Another distinguishing characteristic of Not being able to sell others on one’s
own ideas
effective mentors is their willingness and abil-
Failing to learn and improve
ity to protect their mentees from disasters. One
of your tasks is to prevent your mentees from Some of these risks your mentees will recog-
making unnecessary mistakes as they learn to nize, and others only you—with your wisdom
take appropriate risks. This skill of Managing and experience—recognize. Still other chal-
Risks builds closely on the core skill of Building lenges will seem more risky to your mentees
Trust, identified earlier. Some refer to this risk- than they really are. Offer to help your men-
management process as helping mentees “step tees identify and determine how to handle
these risks with recognition, prevention, and
out on the branch, then fly when ready.” You’ll:
recovery strategies.
• help your mentees recognize the risks
involved in actions and projects, 5. Opening Doors
including some risks (and mistakes)
you’ve experienced; Mentors are usually in a position to provide
visibility for their mentees. This means opening
• make suggestions to help them avoid
the right doors that allow them to meet people
major mistakes (business, career,
and to demonstrate to different audiences what
financial, personal, and other) in
they can do. Research has shown that when
judgment or action;
mentors vouch for mentees in this way, their
• help them learn to prepare well, get work is much more likely to be well received. To
wise counsel, then trust their own open doors, you’ll:
decisions and actions; and
• put in a good word to people who
• if requested in difficult situations, could help your mentees reach
intervene as your mentees’ advocate desired goals;
with others.
• personally introduce your mentees to
Mentees and mentors in many corporations appropriate contacts;
have identified Managing Risks as an increas-
ingly important mentoring skill. • make certain your mentees’ abilities
are noticed by others;
Typical Risks • give your mentees assignments or
Your mentees probably face business risks opportunities that enable them to
and career risks, potential danger zones in interact with important colleagues,
which they could make large errors and pos- suppliers, or customers; and
sibly jeopardize their positions, careers, or
organizations. Here are some examples:
9. • suggest other resources for your • negotiate the mentoring arrangements
mentees to pursue. with your mentors, including agree-
ments on goals, expectations, length
You’ll probably open doors for your mentees of the relationships, confidentiality,
only when you believe they’re ready to go through feedback processes, and meeting
them. Since your reputation may be affected by schedules.
your doing this, you’ll first want to see your
mentees as capable and trustworthy. Explain For detailed tips on acquiring appropriate
this process to your mentees as part of the mentors, see Strategies for Getting the
development effort. Mentoring You Need. For more ideas on career
self-reliance, read the excellent book, We Are
One mentee raved about how his mentor
All Self-Employed, by Cliff Hakim. (Both are
opened numerous doors for him. The mentor listed in Resources.)
took him to two key meetings, allowed him to
co-author (with the mentor) several papers, set 2. Learning Quickly
up an opportunity for the mentee to make a
very visible oral presentation to a group of Mentors enjoy working with mentees who
decision makers, and nominated him for a learn quickly and take seriously any efforts to
highly competitive leadership development pro- teach them. Typically, your mentors want you to
gram within the organization.
be a “quick study.” You should work hard at
directly and indirectly learning everything you can
Critical Skills for Mentees as rapidly as possible. Try to:
In addition to the core skills described earlier, • apply the knowledge and skills pre-
mentees need to be competent in several areas. sented to you, and be ready to tell your
mentors how you applied them;
1. Acquiring Mentors
• observe carefully and learn indirectly
from the modeled actions of your
Becoming a successful mentee isn’t a
mentors and others;
passive experience. In the spirit of career self-
reliance, you should be very active in selecting • study materials (those given by your
and negotiating with several mentors who can mentors and materials you seek out)
help you succeed. Good mentors now have a related to your development areas;
wide choice of potential mentees, so you must
skillfully handle the acquisition process. For • integrate new things you learn into your
example, be able to: own conceptual framework for prob-
lem solving; and
• identify a desirable pool of individuals
who potentially can provide you with • receive feedback nondefensively. (You
mentoring; should ask for specifics and be
appreciative of the feedback. If your
• actively search for several mentors; mentors have misperceived a fact,
diplomatically tell them.)
• “sell” potential helpers on the idea of
providing mentoring to you (in addition As your mentoring relationships proceed
to—or as opposed to—others they and mature, you’ll probably have ample op-
might help); portunities to debate and disagree with your
mentors. In the beginning, you should display a
• convey your specific needs and goals strong learning attitude, be willing to consider
to prospective mentors; and new ideas, and show an openness to be proven
10. • take informed risks (stretch beyond
Unclear about how to become a “quick your usual comfort level) in order to
study”? Try what one dedicated mentee did. acquire new knowledge, skills, and
She earned a degree in education and English
attitudes; and
then decided to go back to college and enter
pre-med. The math, physics, and chemistry
were daunting—her weakest areas by far. Not • go beyond what your mentors suggest;
wanting to fail, she spent at least eight hours that is, take their ideas and show
every day reading chapters, re-reading and creative or ambitious ways of using
marking them with a yellow highlighter, typing them.
outlines of the chapters, and studying them
alone and with study partners. At least two Mentors vary in the amounts and timing of
additional hours each day she found an empty initiative they like from their mentees. Discuss
classroom and wrote and rewrote math, chem- this early in your relationships to establish
istry, and physics formulas on chalkboards
preferences and expectations and to negotiate
until she could recite them in her sleep.
arrangements that work for all.
A quick study? No, a slow study at first. But
eventually she got it—and her 4.0. How com- 4. Following Through
mitted do you think her professor mentors
were to her success? These days, it’s a mentors’ market. Mentees
who don’t follow through on tasks and com-
mitments are often dropped and replaced with
3. Showing Initiative mentees who do. To demonstrate this skill:
The newest approach to mentoring en- • keep all agreements made with your
courages the mentees to manage the rela- mentors;
tionships and show considerable initiative (see
the skill, Managing the Relationship, on the next • complete agreed-upon tasks on time;
page). Even with this new trend, some mentors
will attempt to lead the relationships and expect • try out their suggestions and report
you to follow. Others will expect you to drive the back the results;
process from the beginning.
• explain in advance if you want to
Either way, they’ll expect you to show the change or break an agreement; and
right amount of initiative. They’ll observe the
things you do on your own to develop. At times, • persist with difficult tasks even when
most mentors will expect some following from you’re discouraged.
you, particularly when your activities could have
ramifications for them (e.g., approaching one of
their valued contacts). As an effective mentee, An informal poll of mentors by Phillips-Jones
you: revealed that several were frustrated with
mentees who failed to follow through on agreed-
• know when and when not to show upon tasks. Some mentors even refused to
initiative; enter new mentoring partnerships. They
concluded that they were working harder on
their mentees’ lives than the mentees were
• ask appropriate questions to clarify doing for themselves!
and get more information;
• pursue useful resources on your own;
11. 5. Managing the Relationship • prepare for the end of your mentoring
relationships; and
Even when your mentors try to take a strong
lead, you’re the one who should manage the • leave the formal relationships on ami-
relationships. It’s your development, and you cable terms, even if the relationships
must take responsibility for its process and continue on an informal basis.
outcomes. To go through this journey, you can:
Carefully track your mentoring relationships,
• describe the general process of being and make suggestions as needed.
mentored––how it works and why it’s
powerful; Final Thoughts
• stay up to date with each of your men- These are the critical skills needed by
tors on issues between you, goals to mentors and mentees for effective mentoring
reach, satisfaction with your meeting relationships. As a closing exercise to reinforce
schedules, etc.; your learning, complete the mentoring skills self-
assessment on the following page.
• analyze the current status of your
mentoring partnerships, and deter-
mine where to go next with them;
There are countless ways of achieving greatness, but any road to
achieving one’s maximum potential must be built on a bedrock of
respect for the individual, a commitment to excellence, and a
rejection of mediocrity.
— Buck Rodgers
Manager, professional baseball
Directions: Assess your potential to be a successful mentor and mentee by rating yourself on the fol-
lowing mentoring skills. For each skill, circle the appropriate number. Total the numbers for each part (I,
II, and III), and read the interpretations.
Quality of Skill
Mentoring Skill Excellent Very Good Adequate Poor
Part I. Shared Core Skills
1. Listening Actively 5 3 1 0
2. Building Trust 5 3 1 0
3. Encouraging 5 3 1 0
4. Identifying Goals and Current Reality 5 3 1 0
Subtotal Core Skills _____
16-20 Excellent core skills; you could coach others; concentrate improvement efforts on fine-tuning your
11-15 Very good skills; continue to polish those skills that will make you even more effective and
desirable as a mentor or mentee
6-10 Adequate core skills; work on your less-developed skills in order to have better relationships
5 or You’ll benefit from coaching and practice on core skills; acquire training or coaching, and
under observe others who have strong skills
Part II. Mentor-Specific Skills
1. Instructing/Developing Capabilities 5 3 1 0
2. Inspiring 5 3 1 0
3. Providing Corrective Feedback 5 3 1 0
4. Managing Risks 5 3 1 0
5. Opening Doors 5 3 1 0
Subtotal Mentor Skills _____
20-25 Excellent mentor skills; you could coach others; concentrate improvement efforts on fine-tuning your
style with particular mentees
15-19 Very good skills; continue to polish those skills that will make you even more effective and
desirable as a mentor
10-14 Adequate mentor skills; work on your less-developed skills in order to acquire strong mentees and
have better relationships with them
9 or You’ll benefit from coaching and practice on mentor skills; acquire training or coaching, and
under observe others who have strong skills
Part III. Mentee-Specific Skills
1. Acquiring Mentors 5 3 1 0
2. Learning Quickly 5 3 1 0
3. Showing Initiative 5 3 1 0
4. Following Through 5 3 1 0
5. Managing the Relationship 5 3 1 0
Subtotal Mentee Skills _____
20-25 Excellent mentee skills; you could coach other mentees; concentrate any improvement efforts on
fine-tuning your style with particular mentors
15-19 Very good skills; continue to polish those skills that will make you even more effective and
desirable as a mentee
10-14 Adequate mentee skills; work on your less-developed skills in order to acquire strong mentors and
have better relationships with them
9 or You’ll benefit from coaching and practice on mentee skills; get training or coaching, and observe
under others who have strong skills
1. Hakim, C. (1994) We Are All Self-Employed: The New Social Contract for Working
in a Changed World. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
2. Peterson, D. B. & Hicks, M. D. (1996) Leader as Coach. Minneapolis: Personnel
Decisions International, 800.633.4410.
3. Peterson, D. B. & Hicks, M. D. (1995) Development FIRST. Minneapolis: Personnel
Decisions International, 800.633.4410.
4. Phillips-Jones, L. (2003) The Mentee’s Guide: How to Have a Successful Rela-
tionship with a Mentor. CCC/The Mentoring Group, 13560 Mesa Drive, Grass Valley,
CA 95949, 530.268.1146.
5. Phillips-Jones, L. (2003) The Mentor’s Guide: How to Be the Kind of MentorYou
Once Had—Or Wish You’d Had. CCC/The Mentoring Group, 13560 Mesa Drive,
Grass Valley, CA 95949, 530.268.1146
6. Phillips-Jones, L. (2003) Strategies for Getting the MentoringYou Need: A Look at
Best Practices of Successful Mentees. CCC/The Mentoring Group, 13560 Mesa
Drive, Grass Valley, CA 95949, 530.268.1146.
7. Phillips-Jones, L. (2001 revision) The New Mentors and Proteges: How to Succeed
with the New Mentoring Partnerships. CCC/The Mentoring Group, 13560 Mesa
Drive, Grass Valley, CA 95949, 530.268.1146.
8. Senge, P.M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of theLearning
Organization. New York: Doubleday.
14. About the Author
Dr. Linda Phillips-Jones was a licensed psychologist, the author of various publications,
and a consultant to a wide range of organizations. Dr. Phillips-Jones passed away in
December of 2006 after a valiant six-year fight with four rounds of cancer. CCC/The
Mentoring Group continues to promote Dr. Linda's mentoring vision through her publications
and philosophy on mentoring.
This booklet appears as a chapter in The Mentoring Coordinator’s Guide, The Mentor’s
Guide, and The Mentee’s Guide. For copies of any of these Guides, contact CCC/The
Mentoring Group, 13560 Mesa Drive, Grass Valley, CA 95949,
For additional copies of this booklet, contact CCC/The Mentoring Group. Phone:
530.268.1146; fax: 530.268.3636; or e-mail: [email protected]. Check Products
at for information on quantity discounts.
Competencies of
Outstanding Mentors
and Mentees
by Linda Phillips-Jones, Ph.D.
###  CCC502-02