February 9, 2018

There is a simple strategy for engaging mentor-coaching conversations. Coaching is the new leading, and mentor-coaching opens a space of respect for you to offer input or advice. Here is how to have a great mentor-coaching conversation for engaging leadership.

Two different experiences

Remember some moments when you went to get some advice from a leader or mentor. If you left those conversations in a worse mood than when you started, they might have told you that you were wrong and told you what to do instead.

On the other hand, if you left those conversations feeling inspired, chances are they gave you the space to think. Also, they probably tried to learn from you what you already tried, and considered. I would venture they talked with you from a mentor-coaching stance.

If memory serves, I believe I learned this on a course with the Agile Coaching Institute. It is such a useful model that I would like to share it with you. Whenever I’m in doubt as to which coaching stance I should assume, this is my starting point.

What’s important for an engaging conversation

When we connect with someone we want to feel respected. Also we want to feel listened to and understood. Furthermore we sometimes just haven’t had the opportunity to verbalise what we are thinking about yet. Simply doing so, sometimes give us the answer we sought as advice.

Sometimes (often) getting some help thinking things through is much more useful than being told what to do. In contrast, being told how wrong we are after going into a conversation to get help, certainly doesn’t put is into a high performance state of flow.

The mentor-coaching story-arch

On a high level we go from the past to the future, and leave the onus with the seeker.

Firstly we want to get a very brief understanding about the situation the seeker is in. It is quite likely that they have already tried certain things, so let’s find out about those.

To understand their use better, it’s great to learn what worked how well. This brings us up to speed with the events passed.

Then we’re starting to direct our attention towards the future. We enquire what the seeker is already considering trying next. Let’s then explore what they pros and cons of each other options are. Perhaps the seeker has questions about their options, so we can invite those.

At this point the seeker could already be in a place where this exploration has shown them what they would like to do next. So let’s just find out what they expect to happen, how they might know that that is working, or not.

Alternatively, we can offer the seeker any further options we might have thought of. We invite thoughts on how these options might work in their context. Should the seeker find that they aren’t a fit, we drop them without ego.

We finish with some invitation for accountability and conclude a stimulating exploration of situation and option.

Bamboo scaffolding questions

Here’s a general story-arch of questions for a conversation in a mentor-coaching style.

  1. What are you working on accomplishing?
  2. What is the challenge you’re facing?
  3. What have you tried so far?
  4. How have these things worked?
  5. What are you thinking of trying next?
  6. What other options are you considering?
  7. What are the pros and cons of these options?
  8. How interested are you in considering other options?
    1. If interested enough: Here’s something else you could try.
    2. How is this landing for you?
    3. Repeat as needed
  9. Which option is your favourite?
  10. When you have tried your favourite, how will you know how well it’s working?

With that I wish you engaging mentor-coaching conversations. If you work as an organisational coach or Agile Coach, you would also get a great feeling of which coaching stance would be useful for you to come from.


What mentor experiences can you remember? How did the mentor work with you? How did you feel during and after the conversation? Please do share your experience.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment, or send me a message.

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About the author 

Georg Fasching

A leadership team development specialist, International Coach Federation - Professional Certified Coach, with global product management experience since 2000, employing Agile & Lean since 2010, Georg Fasching guides leadership teams to delighting their clients, fulfil their people, and improve their prosperity.

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