The making of a mentor: The no-holds-barred approach

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Written by Fay Sharpe on 17 September 2014

To my mind, mentoring schemes are one of the most important development tools currently available, and, from my experience, have a really positive impact within an organisation. In essence it’s a form of training but I have found it a more collaborative and rewarding approach to nurture talent and upskill staff.

Mentoring has the two advantages: it helps individuals advance to the next level fast and makes them feel a valuable part of the wider team, but must be built on a strong symbiosis between mentor and mentee.

Personally, I like to start with a frank no-holds-barred conversation with my mentees. I find it both fascinating and essential to getting a full picture and understanding of their career, abilities, where they want to be and most importantly, what they want from you. It can be all too easy to take things at face value and concentrate on black-and-white information, such as their previous experience and their on-paper skillset, but taking the time to evaluate their personality and ambition will make for a far more rewarding experience.

Initiating the process can be daunting for the mentor, not just the mentee, so here are my top tips to get it right from the start:

  • Listen, don’t lecture
  • Awareness of the mentee. First off, measure body language, attitude and ability
  • Ensure you have time to do it and in a neutral environment, away from the distractions of the daily business of the office
  • Never be hasty in your judgements. It’s all about the person you are mentoring coming to their own conclusions
  • Design exercises to get them to think outside the box, but keep them relevant to the mentee’s overall objectives and goals
  • Focus on the whole package, taking into account both areas at areas the mentee struggles with as well as their strengths

These will help influence a structured programme throughout the year where the mentor can focus on key areas to help the mentee develop and succeed in their career

To my mind, mentoring should start at the top. The experience gives senior-level employees the opportunity to share their expertise with to the next generation while simultaneously helping the mentee advance to the next step, harnessing valuable skills and become an indispensable member of the team.

I would hasten to add that there are definitely some exceptions to this rule and I do think that sometimes a bottom-up approach can be affective, offering a different and refreshing perspective from the younger generation. For example, my daughter is teaching me something new every day when it comes to the latest developments in social media. While senior executives should be setting the example it is very true that you are never too old to learn!

I am sure that most companies in the UK will have their own training programmes within their business. As a passionate advocate of development schemes as a key influencer in retention and excellence, I believe that when you get to the top it is important to give something back to your staff. Mentoring offers a far more personal touch and opens up interaction across the company as a whole, fostering talent and creating a feeling of value and self-worth across the workforce.


About the author
Fay Sharpe is managing director of Zibrant. She can be contacted via

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