20 Jul 2017


With high expectations of immediate results in fields such as football, it’s critical that leaders surround themselves with people who can support and challenge them in equal measure.

Words: Jeremy Snape, Sporting Edge

When you’re faced with a challenge, problem or personal issue, little compares to having the ear of a guide or a mentor, someone who knows the terrain or from whose experience lessons can be learned.

Finding a mentor is a sign of ambition not weakness and those who are brave enough to make the first step will find their journey speeding up straight away.


Mentoring is not like teaching, which is a one-way flow of facts, and it isn’t like coaching, which uses questions to encourage the recipient to find their own answers. Mentoring is about the flow of expertise down the gradient of experience.

This means picking the right person is key. Start by considering the most important areas of your development and who is world class in those fields. Shorten your target list to the people who you could realistically approach and connect with, because like any relationship the chemistry between you and your mentor has to be right. While it would be easy to pick someone you already know and are friendly with, this needs to go beyond personality. You will need to find someone who you respect and who can challenge you in your target areas of development.

Depending on your needs, the mentoring relationship could range from a casual coffee once in a while through to a structured face-to-face meeting each month. Given that this could be an extra commitment for your mentor, consider the best way to approach it.


Each relationship will differ, so it’s important at the beginning to set out the parameters of how you want to work together, as its harder to revisit this further down the line. It’s likely that both of you will have busy schedules, so being realistic about what you can commit to and then honouring that will be important in building trust.

Confidentiality is also crucial as you will need to share your ideas and vulnerabilities as the sessions progress and to get maximum benefit this needs to be done in a safe environment.

Each session should have specific learning outcomes and they should be agreed and refined before each session by both sides. This ensures that you are not trying to boil the ocean and also starts to get you both thinking through your most valuable contributions ahead of the session. Summary notes are good practice and can be helpful in wrapping up a session, and providing clear take-home points and evidence that messages have landed.


Most mentors enter the relationship because they want to, not because they need to, which is a good indication that the benefits flow both ways. Mentoring is not an opportunity to show off about what you achieved ‘back in the day’ or to be the font of all knowledge, it’s to help convert someone else’s ambition into improved results.

This mindset comes from mentors remaining inquisitive and enjoying the challenge of solving problems. Their egos don’t force them to speak down to you or crave attention, they simply empathise with what you are experiencing and care enough to help you through it.

The first sign that someone might be a great mentor is their ability to ask great questions - short, simple and targeted. It feels like they should be saying more but they shouldn’t, they’ve got to the heart of the matter. They will also be a brilliant listener, which means that they can probe with questions to find out the detail and as you offload 15 minutes full of tangled problems, they simply nod, empathise where appropriate and encourage you to talk.

The defining point of a mentor is their ability to cut through the complexity and simplify the challenge. After hearing your monologue, they can distil your ramblings into two or three key points that encapsulate the entire situation. When things are presented so clearly it can feel very clinical, but it shows they were not only listening to every word you said but also translating it with a structure and clarity that you couldn’t have reached on your own.

The next stage is to take each of these challenges and explore the potential options and choices to move them forward. Expect them to flex their muscles here as your current thinking got you into this mess so you will need to be challenged to think differently. This is not a time for excuses, it’s time to move forward positively into solution mode.

Finally, your mentor won’t be happy leaving with a nice chat; they joined this relationship to see you move on, so they will reconnect you with your strengths and provide positive feedback for you to make those concrete commitments with dates, times and outcomes.