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Mentoring – When To Ask and When To Advise

The more senior and experienced people become, the greater the expectation of advice.

Particularly in mentoring relationships.

As I have said before I don't like giving advice. I prefer to ask questions based on my experience to help someone consider a course of thoughts or actions.

If you feel compelled to provide advice, my suggestion is to check yourself first, which, ironically, is advice.

Here are some ways to share advice if you feel you should:


I do share stories in my mentoring conversations, generally in response to a question.

However, if someone is looking for advice, rather than directly coming out with it, I will tend to share a story as context to the advice.

I will also personalise the advice with a concluding statement, "due to this experience, I would..."


You may find yourself talking with people outside of your known discipline.

Several years ago, a close professional friend became the CEO of a large business. We had regular conversations; however, I did not feel prepared to offer them advice, but I did share advice from others.

Here is an example of something David Thodey shared at an intimate session with a group of CIOs over a decade ago:

"My first year or two as the Telstra CEO was the loneliest in my life. I found that my relationships with others in similar positions were very important and useful"

Stories of others can be very useful.


My work in the last five years has involved strategy co-creation or reviews. Over the past 20 years, I have seen so many strategies, so rather than give strategy specifics, I share what I have learned from others.

They have taught me that every strategy has a critical foundational element that if ignored results in failure. Good strategies will simplify business complexity and innovation and set teams up to explore ideas for the next horizon.


There are occasions in my work when somebody is new or slightly lost in their role. Sometimes there is a need to just get on with things to create some momentum.

I will provide specific advice if I am working within a very familiar area and my experience links to what needs to be done.

But I tend to limit this advice to two or three things, and certainly no more than five.


On occasions, you will experience people out of balance.

In these situations, I share the research of Martin Seligman on Positive Psychology and the importance of "PERMA".

- Positive emotions through an optimistic outlook.

- Engagement in something we love.

- Relationships where there are strong ties.

- Having Meaning by being part of something bigger than ourselves.

- Accomplishing something we set out to do.

My memorable mentors have listened more than they spoke and offered sharp insights relevant to my context.

I hope the above helps give structure to your context.

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