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Role of a Mentor

The nature of the dialogue between a mentee and their mentor will vary according to the learning objectives and development needs of the mentee. But there are some general principles about what it takes to be a good mentor:
  • Interested in the development of others
  • Values diversity
  • A strategic thinker
  • An active and careful listener
  • Acts as a sounding board
  • Open, enthusiastic, relaxed, and supportive of their mentee in reaching their goals
  • Willing to share their experience, expertise and networks
  • Humble, patient and mentally tough
  • Willing to probe and challenge
  • Willing to be challenged and learn
  • Disciplined, especially with regard to confidentiality
In addition to these general characteristics, experience and insights from being an active Rotarian can be invaluable to mentees in areas like career development, community engagement, and leadership through influence. Importantly leadership experience in professional, business or volunteer organisations can be important in assisting the development of mentee’s leadership skills. The American College of Healthcare Executives, in their “ACHE Mentee Guide”, define mentoring as follows; “Mentoring is a relationship between individuals with the more experienced individual, the mentor, serving as coach, cheerleader, confidant, role model, devil’s advocate, counsellor and, when possible, “door-opener” for the mentee”. While the use of the word ‘counsellor’ will raise a few eyebrows the important thing to take out of this definition is that a mentor wears a number of hats, depending on the needs of the mentee. A model created by Rotarian Neville Taylor* APM (the SKAN model) can help us reduce the fuzziness of the definition. The steps in the SKAN model are as follows:
  1. Determine whether you are looking to do better or whether you are looking at being better?
  • Doing better is about skills and k
  • Being better is about attributes and n
  1. Skills and knowledge are about your performance, while attributes and networks are about your development, as a person.
  2. Maximising your performance is more about being ‘taught’, while your development is more about being ‘guided’.
  3. If you are looking to increase your performance, you are best advised to seek a coach whereas if you are looking for someone who can assist you develop, as a person, you are best to seek a mentor.
In this model a coach will have the skills, knowledge and experience in the fields of endeavour you are seeking to improve your performance. Whereas a mentor will have wider life experiences and networks that will help you develop, as a person.

Another model that adds to the SKAN model and can help in identifying the scope of mentoring is the independent thinking model.

Type of SpaceAdvisory
Thinking Space**
Focus of Questioning Asking
to solve
Asking to improve performanceAsking to guide developmentAsking to stimulate thinking
Source of
ExpertiseAsking to improve performanceLife
Uninterrupted (ing) attention
Structure of ConversationAsk-Diagnose-TellAsk-Explore-Co-createAsk-Explore-Co-createAsk-Listen-Ask


This model provides a different, but consistent, perspective on mentoring. It looks at mentoring as part of a continuum, that moves from dependent thinking to independent thinking. In this model mentoring is positioned closer to the independent thinking end of the continuum. But, in truth, mentoring can move up and down this continuum, depending on the needs of the mentee. Sometimes mentoring will look more like coaching while at other times mentoring will look more like a thinking partner. Or it could be something in between – a confidant or a critical friend.

* Neville Taylor APM MAICD, Commander (rtd) Victoria Police – Capability Advisor (2016-2019). Visiting Fellow – Australian Institute of Police Management (2015 , 2021-2022). Facilitator in leadership, ethics, adaptive challenges, coaching & mentoring.  Book reviewer published Oxford University Press, Oxford UK ISBN: 978-0-19-872862-7, Policing Advance Access published January 4, 2016. “Police

Leadership – Rising to the Top, Fleming, J. (ed.) (2015)
** The concept of an independent thinking environment is based on the work of Nancy Kline and more particularly, her book: “The Promise that Changes Everything: I won’t interrupt you”. It is beyond the scope of this guide to explore the concepts of creating an independent thinking environment, as outlined in the book, but this book is a highly recommended read for those of you who are serious about taking their mentoring and their relationships to the next level.