Facilitating learning in practice
Facilitating learning in practice

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Facilitating learning in practice

1.3 Mentors’ qualities and skills

You will also examine the qualities and skills of a mentor over coming weeks and consider what you bring to the mentoring role. The following activity provides a taster of what is to come and again draws on the work that Jane Stubberfield developed in 2011 as part of the ‘Learning from WOeRK’ project at the University of Plymouth.

Activity 3 Qualities and skills of a mentor

Allow 30 minutes

Watch the following video, which discusses the qualities and skills that mentors need to be effective in their role.

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The mentor obviously plays an important part in the success of a mentoring relationship. What are the skills and qualities that would be essential for a mentor? In this session we are going to consider various answers to that question.

By the end of this session you will be able to describe the qualities and skills of a mentor, assess the implications for the recruitment of mentors, and evaluate the development requirements of a mentor.

For this exercise, write down what skills and qualities you think would be important for a successful mentor.

Here are some other thoughts about that question that you might like to compare with your own answers.

First we are going to look at answers from Kay and Hinds. They suggest that as a mentor you need knowledge, they refer to knowledge about the client, and their objectives, aims, background etc. and you may add to that, in some cases, specialist knowledge about a subject area. The personal skills listed by them are listening, motivating, influencing, fact finding, liaising, staff development, time management and counselling. They also point out that you may not have all the skills to start with and that mentoring will help you develop these skills. The qualities that they suggest are important are the ability to open doors, willingness, commitment, enthusiasm, and confidentiality. As with most helping methods the ability to be trusted and keep what happens confidential is essential to create the circumstance under which a client will be happy to discuss fully their situation, and finally Kay and Hinds say that experience is important in some types of mentoring and not important in others. Which types of mentoring would experience be important?

[Slide.] Pegg stresses the importance of credibility to be a mentor, he says that credibility can come from age and that it can help to be older than your client, writing a book can give credibility as can the level of knowledge about a subject that someone holds. Pegg says that evidence of success can bring credibility although he cautions that not all successful people make great teachers or mentors. Someone who is streetwise who knows their way around things and brings in a level of common sense and practicality is often valued as a mentor.

Credibility also can come from being appropriately dressed and having a presence. There are some people, who when you meet them, give off an aura that is inspiring, enervating, calm etc. and that draws them to others. Another factor is being considered an expert in a specialised field.

The next one is truth teller. This highlights how important it is that a mentor to be open and honest with their client and who does not just tell a client what it is that they think the person will want to hear but what they think will help the client the most. The last factor is chemistry, the fact that a mentor needs to be able to create rapport quickly with a client and develop the relationship.

Here is some qualities and skills that are highlighted by Clutterbuck in ‘Everyone needs a mentor’. Firstly, a good record in developing people, a genuine interest in seeing people advance and can relate to their problems, a wide range of current skills, a good understanding of the organisation, patience and interpersonal skills and ability to work in an unstructured programme, very important is the time to give to mentoring, and that they can command the respect of the client, that the mentor has a good network and that they themselves are very keen to learn.

Clutterbuck’s research and experience has led him to detail these ten competencies for mentors. Mentors need to be self-aware so they can recognise what is going on in the relationship and the impact that they are having and to build the best relationship with the client. It’s also important so that they can build self-awareness in their client.

Communication competence is not one skill but many combined, many of these we will cover in later sessions, needless to say listening, paying attention, and language are an important part of these.

A sense of proportion and good humour is included because its important in rapport building, releasing tension and seeing things in a different way and making the mentoring process enjoyable. A good mentor is one that is passionate about helping others learn and grow and achieve all that they can. So an interest in developing others is an essential competence.

Relationship management includes the ability to create rapport and Clutterbuck suggests the five characteristics of trust, focus, empathy, congruence, and empowerment. Clients will want to know this about their mentor; will they do what they say, will they keep confidences, are they concentrating on me, are they listening without judging, do they have goodwill towards me, do they try to understand my feelings and viewpoints, do they acknowledge and accept my goals, is their help aimed at helping me stand on my own feet as soon as is practical.

Next, goal clarity means having the ability to set inspiring goals. Their role as a mentor will be to help the client set outcomes and goals.

Now, self-awareness was about understanding yourself and behavioural awareness is about understanding others. A mentor will want a good understanding of the patterns of behaviour and the impact they have on relationships and situations.

Then there is the competency of commitment to learning, which is important as it means that the mentor is being a role model.

Another competency is conceptual modelling which means the mentor has a wealth of models that they can use to help the client and to help them understand the challenges and problems that they’re handling and will make it easier for the client to come up with ways to move forward.

And finally there is business or performance savvy, which is about experience and judgement; this will help the mentor allow the client to reflect on ways forward.

Having considered all that we’ve covered in this session and the previous ones, if you wanted to recruit a mentor what eight qualities and skills would be the most important to you and why? Which ones would you not want to include and why? Write down what content you would include in a one day development programme to help develop the ten competencies.

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Note down any areas of interest that you think are worthy of further reading and reflection that might help you develop your mentorship competency.

At the end of the video, the audience is invited to respond to a question: ‘If you wanted to recruit a mentor, what eight qualities and skills would be most important to you and why?’

Consider what your response to this question would be and then compare this with the qualities and skills that you think you can offer as a mentor. If you are working in practice and are able to, you might wish to test out your self-awareness of what you bring to a mentor role with a critical friend. If you find there are areas for development, please add these to your mentoring action plan as necessary.


Hopefully you enjoyed this video as much as I did – I particularly appreciated its structure as a mini-teaching session and how it drew from relevant sources of information to inform its content. At just eight minutes long; it held my interest and focus. Kay and Hind’s (2009) work, A Practical Guide to Mentoring, informed my thinking on the qualities and skills that I would look for if recruiting a mentor. I was interested to see less attention given to specialist knowledge and experience compared to personal skills, such as being a motivator and qualities like being able to open doors for the learner. I think the challenge for me in focusing down to eight qualities or skills was in determining what I could actually leave out. How did you respond? Were you able to further develop your mentoring action plan?

So far you have taken a ‘broad brush’ approach to mentorship, looking briefly at what a mentor does and then at how mentorship is played out – hopefully to improve the learning of others but, in the case of toxic mentoring, the impact of negative role modelling on learning. Although you may be reflecting on your learning to date and saying ‘not me’ to the negative behaviour, in reality workplace pressure is something that you will feel or experience at some time. By highlighting these issues you have the opportunity to consider strategies for self-management of best practices.

You are now going to focus on the framework that the NMC uses to define its standards for mentorship. This has been used because we (the authoring team) anticipate that many of the learners working with this material will be using it as part of an NMC mentorship preparation programme. The material is only a framework, however, and the specifics could easily be amended for other professional disciplines that define its mentoring standards.


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