Show the answer by being the answer

My purpose as a mentor trainer is to help learners understand the skills and knowledge they need to be an effective mentor and for me to model how I work as a mentor (and a coach) myself in the training room.

I have been co-designing and collaborating with SFEDI, the UK Sector Skills body for enterprise and business skills, for three years and they have an excellent introductory training programme for aspiring enterprise mentors.  It’s an accredited course and forms the basis of a UK wide professionally managed SME mentor matching scheme.  This scheme aims to help UK business get back on its feet and to grow and thrive by training and matching senior bank employees with small and medium business and social enterprise owners.   The bulk of the trainee mentors are from the major UK banks.

One of the most frequent challenges presented early in the training day is how can a mentor stay within the boundaries of the role and not end up telling their mentee what to do, i.e. give advice.  Learners accept that there are boundaries but the day job in the Bank is very different, such as giving guidance, steering a client towards a particular goal or sale.  I call this steering “having intent” towards the client, to push them in a particular direction, based on the belief “I know best what you need to solve this problem”.  

From my own experience as a mentor I am the first to agree that even despite setting boundaries at the start of the relationship, when a mentee has my undivided attention, is able to explore a business issue with me and access my knowledge and experience, at some point, human instinctive behaviour kicks in and they ask me “what do you think I should do?”

So it is a fair challenge by a trainee mentor to ask how can they stop defaulting to giving the answer or an opinion and find a way to manage this situation.

My first response to this question as a trainer is usually “what would you do?”  Indeed, what would you do?

With few exceptions the trainee comes back with an answer pretty instantaneously.

Occasionally I also then receive feedback that I have just done that myself in my question.  Yes, I did do that, because as a trainer my purpose is to facilitate and embed learning with the individual. 

Over and above this, as a mentor, my role is to show the answer by being the answer.  By doing this I am showing how I am inviting a mentee to discover their own strategies and solutions.

In the training environment there are parts of learning to be a mentor which require training and practice through my input and explanations.  Equally there are parts that are about the thinking process the learners need to follow through themselves.  Just so when mentoring someone.

I am not inviting trainee mentors to copy me, rather learn from my approach in a way that helps them build their own model of mentoring going forwards and work on their thinking strategies to make these appropriate for their situation. 

My model of mentoring, and indeed coaching, includes my belief that the mentee has the resources they need within them self to find a solution and it is my job to spring this resourcefulness loose. 

So a beneficial way for a new mentor to learn how to mentor is to discover what the skills and tools are they need to spring loose in themselves, and then how they need to use them.  They can then consciously manage themselves better to stay within the boundaries of the mentoring role. 

So what do you think?