Effective mentoring must be based on more than experience and intuition. By ordering the process, you can empower your team to lead with confidence and authority, says Darren Hill.

We are living in the content age. A typical fitness client these days is smarter than ever before, but paradoxically is likely to be more confused than ever before due to a barrage of conflicting health and fitness messages. This has made the need for skilled, experienced and industry-relevant fitness and wellbeing mentors within the work environment not just desirable, but necessary.

A good mentor has the ability to guide staff and fellow fitness professionals and help them cut through confusion in order to confidently and authoritatively lead clients and members to success.

So what makes a successful mentor? What skills are required? And more importantly, when attempting to build a mentoring culture within your facility, are you mentoring your mentors effectively?

The process of mentoring

Contrary to popular opinion, mentoring skills aren't simply acquired through 'time on the job' or unique experiences. Some people can have a wealth of experience and be terrible mentors!

Like any other skill, mentoring has key components that have to be learnt and put into practice. An effective way of mastering mentoring is to use a Mentoring Matrix (Table 1). The Matrix is drawn from synergising the common skills of gifted mentors, and placing them into a model that can be used to develop mentoring within your fitness business.

As you can see, the Matrix has three focus areas down the left-hand side (field, team and individual) and three roles along the top that are played within a mentoring environment (mentor, individual and relationship). The intersection of these elements gives nine critical areas for supporting effective mentoring. Let's unpack these areas:

What the mentor has to offer (first column)

A mentor is recognised as such because of their bank of knowledge. Often a curse for mentors, however, is the intuitive way in which they work. Years of experience can deeply ingrain practices and behaviours into the experienced fitness professional's subconscious – resulting in an inability to express exactly why they do what they do, and the uttering of phrases like 'I don't know why,

I just know' or 'It's just the way I've always done it'. This is not very helpful for the person learning from the mentor. On the Mentoring Matrix model, the first column centres upon the ability to unpack what the mentor knows across three levels.

Who I've been

This may include: the jobs/roles performed; other successful projects involved in; experience gained and knowledge acquired; the changes that have been made both personally and professionally; decision-making processes; problem-solving processes; and the mentor's unique values and approach to fitness.

Bonds formed in between

This focuses on who the mentor knows; who has played a key role in their own personal fitness journey; how they have developed these bonds; what has and has not worked in building and maintaining relationships; and the pitfalls to avoid. Using other mentors within the business, rather than 'knowing everything', works well not just for the mentor, but for the business as a whole.

What I've seen

This may include trends within the industry; changes the mentor has been involved in from an organisational and an industry level within their field of expertise; and changes they predict for the future.

What drives the individual (second column)

The mentoring process can run astray if the mentor places too much focus on themself. This ego-centric approach will leave the person being mentored feeling second rate. To avoid this, a good mentor should focus on the person being mentored, as well as their own experience and the task at hand.

What lights up their soul?

Focus on the person being mentored in order to get clear on their values, strengths, goals and aspirations. Key questions relate to what they have done in the past, their family background, what they do both inside and outside of work, and what they love to read/watch/get involved in.

What's their role?

Discussions around the mentoree's current role is important to get clear on: a) what they do. What roles do they play in their life?; b) what they know. Assess their current level of knowledge, and what processes and systems they have in place with regards their personal wellness; c) who they rely upon. Clarify their support networks.

What's their goal?

This area involves the ability to focus on the way that the individual's goals and ambitions may be able to contribute to an immediate improvement in health, or how they might make fundamental changes to how things are done in the future.

Making the most from the relationship (third column)

A key aspect of mentoring is the understanding that it is a relationship. One thing we know about functional, healthy relationships is that both parties grow and benefit from the connection. For mentors to continue to be successful and engaged, they need to get something out of the process as well. If this is not present there is a risk of burn-out.

How we communicate

All successful relationships tend to have rules and expectations surrounding how communication is handled. From frequency and duration of meetings, to expectations around how each person presents/conducts themselves – these points need to be discussed for the health of the relationship. It is also worth covering in detail how each person likes to give and receive feedback, and to express any pet hates/or loves in communication.

How we collaborate

Sometimes mentoring relationships can have blurry lines. The best relationships are inherently collaborative, but all collaborations need healthy ground rules attached to them. Conversations should take place to establish where the lines of 'no go' exist, where confidentiality should be applied, and where you can refer or recommend each other.

How we innovate

In healthy mentoring relationships something remarkable can, and does, happen. We mix wisdom and experience (mentor) with enthusiasm through a new set of eyes (person being mentored). If the relationship honours and respects this process, innovation has fertile ground on which to prosper. This can be incredibly rewarding for both parties and can change best practice within organisations.

Mentoring is more than experience

This overview of the Mentoring Matrix should provide some food for thought to help increase the level of mentoring mastery within your team. Great mentoring is not simply a sharing of experience or knowledge; it is a process that can see lifelong bonds formed, careers kick-started, and – in some cases – careers revived.

By ensuring your mentoring has structure and focus, rather than simply being an intuitive process, you will develop the skills to mentor with mastery, and in turn develop a phenomenal culture of mentoring within your business.


Darren Hill
A behavioural scientist and creator of the Humanity Quotient inventory (HQ-i), Darren is executive director of the dynamic behavioural strategy company Pragmatic Thinking. He also serves on the board of Latitude 12, a progressive venture with East and West Arnhem Shire Councils to drive a new era of sustainability in indigenous business and reform in the Northern Territory. For more information, visit