Mentor Skills Critical to Setting Direction

Phase 2: Setting Direction

This phase is all about setting goals and the partners determining what each of them should achieve through this relationship.

Two key competencies for the mentor to have in this phase are those of goal identification and the ability to ask effective questions.

Goal Identification

In a mentoring relationship, both the mentor and mentee should have individual goals. Because the individuals are at different stages of their careers, the goals will probably be different. They will, however, share the common goal of a successful mentoring experience.

Skills in being able to assist a mentee in crystallizing, clarifying, and setting realistic goals are essential for an effective mentor. You need to be sure that your mentee understands and uses the principles of goal setting. Our mentee training session will discuss the systematic approach in greater depth.  


For purposes of providing a refresher for you, our mentor, we will enumerate the key steps in the process:

•  Review or develop a personal mission statement.

•  Establish specific and realistic goals. (SMART)

•  Set deadlines

•  Develop a mentoring action plan.

•  Review goals from time to time; revise as necessary.







S - specific, significant, stretching
M - measurable, meaningful, motivational
A - agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R - realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T - time-based, timely, tangible, trackable


Click here to read "Writing Effective Goals," an article on the SMART method of writing effective goals.


Asking Effective Questions

Asking good questions is not simply an effective listening technique; it is also helpful in encouraging problem solving and keeping the mentoring relationship focused and on task. Let's explore the use of three different types of questions: investigative, discovery , and empowering. These open-ended questions when used correctly, encourage dialogue, require that mentees think through the issues, and disclose mentees' thoughts and feelings.

Investigative Questions: Because they seek information and objective facts to provide enough background to move the mentoring conversation forward, they should be used on a limited basis. Examples are:

  • What have you accomplished so far?
  • How long have you been working on this?
  • When is your due date?
  • Where do you think you lost focus?

Discovery Questions: Are used to encourage the mentee to tap into their own knowledge, experience, and insight and lead them into drawing their own conclusions and learning from their experiences. Examples of these types of questions are:

  • What have you learned from this experience?
  • What could you have done differently?
  • What does this tell you about your approach?
  • What's the best thing that could happen for you?
  • What's the worst thing that could happen to you?
  • What do you think are your alternatives?

Empowering Questions: These questions call upon the mentee to take ownership and make plans for the next step by asking "what happens next." Empowering questions push for action and ask for commitment. Examples are:

  • What is your next step?
  • What do you have to do to make it happen?
  • What problems or obstacles might occur that would prevent you from achieving the best result?
  • What will you do if the first plan does not work as well as you expect?
  • What resources do you have; what do you need?
  • How can I help you succeed?

Activity Now look back through all the examples again. What word (besides "what") do they have in common? Did you notice repetition and the effect of using the pronoun "you"?

  • The "you" assumes the mentee can figure out the problem and what would be the best solution (with the mentor's questions as a guide).
  • The "you" keeps the ownership of the problem and the responsibility for decision making and solution finding with the mentee.
  • It allows the mentor to ask the kind of open-ended questions that the mentor knows a more experienced person would ask themselves. Done repeatedly with different problems, the mentee will begin to anticipate the questions. This shows that the mentee is starting to internalize those questions and learn to think that way as well, which is the goal.

However, if you as the mentor are concerned that the mentee lacks sufficient experience to know some of the answers and can NOT analyze and solve the problem alone, what should you do that is most helpful?

The answer is that the you should change the personal pronouns in the questions from "you", which excludes the mentor from participating in answering the questions, to more inclusive pronouns like "we", "our, and "us". Switching to inclusive personal pronouns has the effect of including the mentor in the ownership of the problem, and it keeps you in the thinking, and decision making process.

Please go to your Mentoring Workbook and, using the worksheet titled "Additional Types of Questions Used by Mentors," demonstrate your understanding of the purpose of each type of question by providing an additional example for each.

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