Barrie Smale and Andrew Gibbons discuss the skills required of an effective mentor. As a developmental process, mentoring is a powerful and cost effective way of helping people to learn.

Anyone who has ever thought about or even done any has a pretty good idea of just exactly what the job takes. This article focuses on the skills of mentoring… have you got what it takes to commit yourself to this important and rewarding role?

During mentoring workshops with a range of organisations, we used the repertory grid tool to ask delegates to identify from their experience exactly what it was that differentiates the best mentors from the rest? We have drawn up a diagnostic questionnaire to help even the best mentors identify any issues to help target their future development.

These statements invite a self-assessment response on a scale of ‘always’ to ‘rarely’ or ‘never’. For example:

  • I possess great patience.
  • I can challenge assumptions skilfully.
  • I can avoid the temptation to direct conversations back to myself, and my issues and expectations.

In total, the diagnostic questionnaire has 50 such statements that should be enough for any busy teacher! In workshops meant to introduce people to the mentoring role, we are finding this a very direct way to help people focus on the competences needed in a skilled mentor.

Below is a diagnostic questionnaire. Please feel free to copy this and use it widely.

Barrie Smale is Assistant Editor of Teaching Expertise. Both Barrie and Andrew regularly deliver mentoring training to a wide range of organisations, including aMentor Award qualification accredited by OCR as part of the Learning and Development National Occupational Standards.For more information visit: or

The Effective Mentor – a diagnostic activity

Read the following statements describing specific mentoring competences. Answer as honestly as you can on the basis of how you think you approach the role of a mentor. If you are not yet a mentor, use this diagnostic to check to what extent you feel ready to be a mentor. Tick the ONE box for each statement that best represents you.

Area of competence

Always Mostly Sometimes Rarely or Never
1. I listen to the whole issue before commenting        
2. I give advice but still expect the mentee to make their own decisions        
3. I can always find time to help        
4. I always question thoroughly to find the real issues        
5. I always give honest opinions        
6. I have a good range of networks and contacts that can be utilised appropriately        
7. I am not intimidating – I’m easy to approach at any time        
8. I know what I am talking about – I am good at my own job        
9. I look for the reality within which a mentee works        
10. I always focus on mentee needs during a mentoring session        
11. I don’t get irritated by a mentee who doesn’t get the point quickly        
12. I am an optimist        
13. I am encouraging        
14. I am always well prepared in advance        
15. I am a positive role model in terms of my own behaviour and achievements        
16. I can help a mentee believe in their potential        
17. I am open to new ideas        
18. I know when to introduce options that may not have been considered        
19. I can challenge assumptions skilfully        
20. I am a positive person        
21. I possess great patience        
22. I am interested in people        
23. I am an active listener        
24. I am non-judgemental        
25. I feel comfortable about having my views challenged        
Area of competence Always Mostly Sometimes Rarely or Never
26. I am enthusiastic about mentoring        
27. I am very knowledgeable about developmental issues        
28. I am tolerant        
29. I don’t expect a mentee to be like me        
30. I am prepared to learn with the mentee        
31. I can give feedback skilfully        
32. I can allow a mentee the freedom and confidence to make mistakes        
33. I see my mentees as equals        
34. I have sound judgement        
35. I am able to distance myself, and maintain objectivity        
36. I am keen to allow mentees to make their own decisions        
37. I keep in regular contact with those I mentor        
38. I take an interest in the individual mentee – I value their views and what they say        
39. I am able to probe beyond the superficial        
40. I can provide the space for a mentee to express their feelings        
41. I can draw out a mentee’s ideas and I’m willing to ‘run with them’        
42. I have a true passion for developing others, and really believe in the value of personal development        
43. I am prepared to share my knowledge, and lessons learned from my experience, with a mentee        
44. I can avoid the temptation to direct conversation back to myself and my issues and experiences        
45. I can challenge constructively and directly to get to the heart of the matter        
46. I won’t just tell a mentee what they want to hear        
47. I never appear keen to get a mentoring meeting over with and move on to the next thing        
48. I don’t talk about my own achievements too much        
49. I have a genuine desire to empower        
50. I am responsive to my mentee: prepared to commit to active support        

The Effective Mentor – questions to present

  • List your key areas for personal development in terms of mentoring competence
  • What will you do to develop your competence in the above areas?

Achieving Ambitious Targets

  • Clear verbalisation of the target:
  • List of obstacles to achieving the target
  • Intermediate objectives