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Effective Mentoring – Asking the Right Questions!







She met with her mentor for the second time since they had started to work on building a relationship. She felt that it was definitely not at the trusted relationship as of yet even though that was the goal that their corporate mentoring coordinator had outlined for them. Coming into the program she was optimistic that this was going to help her grow personally and professionally. She had experienced relationships personally and professionally that had not gone well so was hoping that this one would work out.

In the second meeting her mentor indicated that they were pressed for time so they would have to cut this meeting short. The mentor indicated that she should outline the things that she needed their advice on and they could deal with that. She felt a knot forming in her stomach as her mind raced and she wondered if this is what this was all about – telling her mentor what her challenges were and having the mentor solve them for her. Add to this equation that apparently we are under a time constraint so perhaps her best interests are not important. She began to feel a sense of abandonment and that this was all about the mentor. As she started to share her challenges with her mentor and the mentor provided what they thought were the solutions she felt somewhat relieved as she would just take their advice and see if it worked. After all, if it didn’t it wouldn’t be her fault – she was just doing what they had suggested. She wondered if this same behavior could be adopted in her work place. She could certainly stay under the radar if she just waited to be told what to do – she really didn’t need to be all that engaged. She was surprised that her mentor did not ask many questions or attempt to guide her to the answers. She had done some research on her own and was surprised that some of her findings were not included in the mentoring program material that their coordinator had provided them. It almost seemed as though the organization was not quite sure what they should do but felt that they had to implement something.

A short while later she met with her colleague who was also in the mentor program and was working with a different mentor. She shared her experiences with her colleague and was surprised to hear that it was completely different. Her colleague was being challenged and was not being told what the solutions were but was being guided by a mentor that asked questions. They were from a different work area than what her colleague was in so the mentor asked a lot of questions apparently to better understand her work. As they talked their way through what was taking place they began to realize that this mentor was asking the right questions to help her colleague think her way through the challenges on her own. As a result she felt that she was accountable and engaged to tackle the challenges. She had ownership. Her colleague also advised her that her mentor had taken some formal training on their own to prepare them for mentoring others.

She left her colleague and as she walked home she pondered what had taken place. She was somewhat disillusioned over her not so positive experience but decided that she would approach the coordinator to see if she could get a different mentor. She would explain what had taken place and suggest that all the mentors in the program should have some form of training. More importantly they should understand how to ask the right questions. She wanted to be mentored – not managed and she felt as though she was being told what to do and how to do it. This was definitely not what she had signed up for.

This is a common story that I hear. People have been turned off on the value of mentoring simply because of a bad experience with a mentor that could not make the shift from being a “teller” to an “asker”. It does require practice and most likely will not happen overnight. The Socratic Method is a powerful tool that has applications in so many different areas. As an effective mentor you want to work with people to develop critical thinking skills. “The principle underlying the Socratic Method is that people learn through the use of critical thinking, reasoning, and logic, finding holes in their own theories and then patching them up.” I tell people that “inside each and every one of us are the answers to all the questions that we have. Our job as mentors is to unlock the door to those answers and guide you to those answers so that you discover them on your own.”

Mentoring can be such a positive two-way experience. It does require commitment on both parties to create that trusted relationship and the willingness to leverage the Socratic Method and the “power of mentoring!”


  1. http://lawschool.about.com/od/lawschoolculture/a/socraticmethod.htm
  2. https://talentc.ca/index.php/2012/mentoring-best-practices-2/