Wise Advice for Mentors: Resist giving Advice

18th January 2017

picfair question marks

Balance the advice you give with powerful questions, because sometimes the questions you ask will be more valuable than the advice you give.

Mentors often feel the pressure to offer advice to a dilemma the mentee is facing. The response from the mentor maybe “Well what I would do in your situation is…” But this is the mentees dilemma not the mentor’s dilemma.

More effective mentoring is not to measure yourself against the problem presented by the mentee but to enable the mentee to explore their goals and options for a response to their dilemma.

The approach will ensure that when the mentor does offer the advice it is in the light of a broader context in which the dilemma sits.  The answers may also reveal the necessity for different advice or more importantly, make advice redundant.  Because the answering of powerful questions often enables the mentee to discover the way forward themselves.  The mentor has then fulfilled a valuable role in helping the mentee think through an issue from their perspective.  This means that the solution is set on the foundation of the values and priorities of the mentee, not an outsider albeit with more experience.

Powerful questions come at all stages of the meeting and are open ended. They give the mentee the opportunity to reflect.  These questions often begin with What, how where and when.  Many in the coaching literature advise to avoid the ‘why’ questions because they may be too confrontational or judgemental early in a conversations when you wish to provide an open exploration of ideas and options. After the presentation of the dilemma, ask questions like:


What are the key challenges for you in this situation?

How would you measure this success?


What action do you feel comfortable taking before our next meeting?

How would you know you are getting closer to your goals?

What have you done in the face of this issue?

Who would likely be involved with the change you want?

How do you evaluate these respective options for you at this time?

I understand about xxx can you explain more about zzz and where you would like to see this heading.

What are the outcomes you are seeking if this is resolved satisfactorily?

On what other resources could you draw to assist you with this?

What other options might be available for you?


What now do you see as your options for moving forward

What are the key barriers you see in front of you?



When you ask open questions you are showing a spirit of openness, you are appreciating the complexity of many organisational issues and if your advice is necessary it is presented in the light of what you have discovered while helping your mentee gain insight into the issues they face.