Mentor Skills – a Practical Example


Mentoring has many benefits for menses, mentors, and the organisations they work in. In 2014 the Leadership and Career Development committee launched the second intake to the mentoring program which began in 2013. This program matches up mentors looking to expand their own skills and give back to the actuarial community, with mentees looking to get some support as they take on the challenges of being an actuary.

Andrew Brown presenting
Andrew Brown presenting

To support the mentors who have volunteered to be part of the program, the Institute ran workshops to give mentors some guidance on how to be a mentor and how to develop the skills they will need. Separate workshops were run in Melbourne and Sydney, with a webinar link to the Sydney session for mentors unable to attend in person.

Andrew Brown spoke to the Melbourne group, sharing his extensive knowledge of the necessary skills to be a good mentor, and some examples of how to have a good mentoring conversation.


Andrew introduced attendees to the Goal, Reality, Options, Wrap-up (GROW) model as one example of a way to structure a mentoring conversation. First, you determine the ’goal’– what the mentee would like to achieve. You then need to establish the ’reality’ of the situation, to ensure the goal is realistic and achievable. The goal may need to be refined at this point. Then explore various ’options’ (or a single option), and determine the best course of action. Finally, you ‘wrap up’ the conversation and determine the next steps.

The mentors in attendance then had the opportunity to put this into practice with a volunteer mentee, acting out an example scenario. This helped the mentors practise asking good questions of the mentee, and also practise using the GROW model to come to a good outcome.


The mentee described a working environment with hours which she thought were ‘unreasonable’, and requested help determining the best course of action to rectify this.

The mentors then took turns developing the conversation to understand the situation. At this stage the questions were specific, closed questions (useful when you need to get information); for example:

  • What kind of hours do you think would be reasonable?
  • What are the reasons you’re working longer hours
  • What hours do your team-mates work?
  • Does your manager know you are working these kinds of hours?

These questions helped the mentee move away from a complaint about a specific problem, and start considering the wider causes (reasons vs. excuses).

Importantly, the mentors showed empathy and concern for the mentee. The mentors also made comments that helped to boost the mentee’s confidence, and helped the mentee stay positive in the situation e.g.

  • Your manager might think you’re up to the challenge of the additional work.


Andrew had earlier reminded us that everyone believes most strongly in a solution they have come up with themselves. Instead of telling her what to do, the mentors tried to get the mentee to narrow the scope of the discussion with more open-ended questions to explore what was possible.

  • What do you want to achieve today?
  • What do you think the first thing you could do might be?

This demonstrates an example of options vs. answers. It is not usually the mentor’s responsibility to provide the single best course of action. The mentor will have their own perspectives and this may not always align with the goals and values of the mentee. The mentor can guide the mentee to come up with their own solution, as above, or give examples from their own experience with things that have worked or not worked for them in similar situations. These methods are better than simply stating “… this is what you should do next”.

With this prompting, the mentee identified the goal: to talk to her manager about the situation. With the problem now clarified to a specific goal, we were ready to talk about the reality.



This is where we hit the next hurdle: the mentee hadn’t had a conversation like this with her manager before, and found the task daunting. She didn’t know where to start.

Given this reality, the mentee agreed that it would be better to cover the process of how to have this discussion with her manager in detail, rather than go through a long list of next steps which may not be accomplished if this first step was not tackled well.

We then explored this further, to determine how to best set up the conversation with her manager.

  • Would your manager be open to having a conversation about this? How do you think you could find out about that?
  • What would you need to do to set that up?
  • How have you approached these situations with previous managers?


Niki Appleton and Anna Ning
Niki Appleton and Anna Ning

Between the mentee and the mentors, we identified some options that could help her feel more comfortable having this conversation with her manager, including talking to her colleagues, considering other difficult conversations she’s had before, trying to get a sense of the manager’s style and thinking about what she’d like to say before beginning the conversation. We practised this and the mentee ‘Nailed it’! A great example of ways to build up confidence.

One mentor also offered his own viewpoint: “Would it be helpful if I shared with you what I would expect from your manager?” Different mentees will respond best to different styles of offering advice. Language like this might help you test how much they want from you.

The mentee agreed to a course of action from these options, which would lead to a discussion with her manager.


Peter Raymond, Jeremiah Cheung, Gillian Harrex and Andrew Brown
Peter Raymond, Jeremiah Cheung, Gillian Harrex and Andrew Brown

To wrap up the conversation, Andrew asked the mentee to confirm the agreed actions. This ensured she knew what actions were expected of her between now and the next session, and helped her feel more committed to the actions.


The session was entertaining and interactive, with all mentors in attendance participating in the practice session. It was also informative, with everyone picking up some tips for how to approach a mentoring conversation.

CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.