The Mentoring Manual
October 11, 2023

How the Mentoring Manual can help you become more effective

By Paul Laughlin

It was via my professional body (the European Mentoring & Coaching Council) that I heard of the second edition of The Mentoring Manual. This is the latest book from globally recognised coaching & mentoring author Julie Starr.

Having heard Julie speak previously at the Wales Coaching Conference, I knew her message was engaging & relevant. So, I decided it was high time I finally read her book and reviewed it for this blog. Julie brings the benefit of being a very experienced coach & mentor to her work. So, this is no academic textbook, but rather a hands-on manual for real-world mentors.

You can find out more about Julie’s work at Starr Coaching via her website. But suffice it to say that no less an authority than the late great Sir John Whitmore praises her work and the relevance of her advice. So, let’s dig in. I’ll approach this review both from my own perspective (as a professional mentor) and also on behalf of those leaders for whom mentoring is part of their roles.

What’s in The Mentoring Manual?

This short and very readable book is only 232 pages long but still packed with a lot of practical wisdom. It is also obvious from the beginning that it genuinely deals with the practice of mentoring. That might sound like a ‘Captain Obvious’ statement, but many books with mentoring in the title do not. All too often I have found that books with coaching & mentoring in the titles are 80% about coaching. The other pitfall I experience is ‘mentoring’ books which are mainly theory or academic research and that quickly reveal the author has almost no messy real-world experience. Julie has such practical wisdom in spades.

The content is divided into 7 chapters on the following topics:

  1. How to recognise mentoring (dependent on the context)
  2. What is different about mentoring (a very practical distinction from coaching)
  3. Five guiding principles for mentors (very useful I share more on these below)
  4. What do good mentors do well? (practical examples brought to life)
  5. A 5-stage process for the mentoring journey (a handy framework)
  6. Mentor pitfalls and how to avoid them (I recognised too many)
  7. Consolidate your learning (exercise to help you put this into action)

The format of this book and each chapter within it will also aid your learning. You can tell Julie’s background in personal development work. Each of the above chapters includes:

  • Ideas for putting the theory/advice into action (to start learning by doing)
  • Personal reflection questions (well-worded for reflective practice)
  • At a glance summaries (complemented by the summary in the last chapter)
  • Stories (reworded/anonymised from Julie’s mentoring clients over the years)
  • Links to downloadable resources (this has been expanded since the first edition)

What’s different to all the other books out there?

I’ve already mentioned that this differs from a lot of books out there by focusing exclusively on mentoring & being grounded in practical experience. It also provides a genuine depth of insight into what makes for effective mentoring. This includes advice for both mentors and mentees. It also drills deeper than many texts which assume that such mentoring is only a part of a leader or professional’s role. There is much to learn here, even for full-time external mentors with many years of experience.

One of the gems of this book is the simplicity of individual sections, frameworks and principles. No one part feels too hard to understand and practice, even though together they make up a craft requiring much good judgement. There are plenty of tables which neatly summarise practical examples of each stage or potential pitfalls. Plus, ‘client’ stories which bring to life how this can show up.

Two lists that I referenced above are also worth highlighting and praising as both relevant and wise. The first is the five guiding principles for mentors that I mentioned above. These are:

  1. Your relationship is one of equality and yet has a natural bias/emphasis (on mentor)
  2. The responsibility for learning, progress and results ultimately rests with mentee
  3. Mentoring is a collaboration between you, your mentee and ‘everyday life’
  4. Ultimately, what your mentee chooses to do, learn or ignore from the mentoring is not the mentor’s business
  5. Some results of mentoring can be identified or measured, while some results cannot

Those really helped me and all rang true from practical experience. I also believe many mentors would benefit from Julie’s 5-stage process. It provides a useful big picture for the mentoring journey. The stages she highlights are:

  • Set-up: prepare to mentor (more research and questions than often used)
  • Set-out: begin, get started working together
  • Navigate: maintain progress (with useful point to keep an eye on)
  • Set down: consolidate learning (more directive than closing in coaching)
  • Parting ways: complete the relationship (including when might continue)

What did I learn from reading this book?

Too much to include here (in what is already quite long for a book review). My first response is to admit that I was surprised at how much I learned from this book. After over 300 hours of professional mentoring experience (and being a certified senior practitioner with the EMCC), I foolishly thought I’d heard it all. Another reminder of the need for humility and a beginner’s mind.

I’ll just give you the edited highlights by reflecting on the two principles that have most stayed with me. That is they still come to mind even weeks after finishing reading this book. First, is principle 3 (Mentoring is a collaboration between you, your mentee and ‘everyday life’). This has so often been proved true in my own practice. It pays to allow flexible time at the start of a session to check in well. To empower a client to reflect well on what has happened & what they have learnt. A Gestalt mindset, attuned to what “emerges in the field” can often help you both notice what matters most.

The second principle which has continued to guide me is 4 (what your mentee chooses to do, learn or ignore from the mentoring is not the mentor’s business). I am motivated and energised by seeing my clients make progress. If I am not careful I can take it as an insult or a fault on my side if they become unengaged or fail to make such progress. This is such a helpful reminder to hold their goals loosely. It helps to care, it does not help to over-identify with my client. Even if I create an environment conducive to their growth, they still have agency & the right to choose. I should not become overly paternal.

Should you buy this book?

If you are a mentor (either full or part-time) yes. I am sure you will benefit from at least a few principles, stories and practical tips. Plus, I’d recommend that you read it slowly (marker at the ready) and give yourself time to reflect on past experiences as you go through it. The reflective questions can really help with this. You may also want to bring such insights to supervision sessions.

But I would also recommend this book to those leaders who plan to engage a professional mentor. More than any other book I have read, it could help you be clear on the role you have to play. As so much authority & responsibility lie with the mentee, it would help for them to be more prepared for such sessions. This book could help any leader prepare for a mentoring programme & avoid them just turning up expecting a mentor to ‘do their stuff’.

I hope both types of readers benefit from this book as much as I did. But, of course, it’s your choice.