Whether you are a mentor, mentee or interested in getting involved in this type of relationship, it’s important to understand the qualities that make for a great mentor. A high-quality, motivated mentor makes the experience a winning endeavor for everyone involved.
14 mentor qualities that separate the good from the great
Great mentors do not become so accidentally. It takes time to identify ideal mentor qualities and develop them in your own mentor-mentee relationships. Interested in skilling up? Here are some essential mentor qualities to add to your list.
- Willingness to teach what they know.
- Can listen without offering unsolicited advice.
- Can dedicate time in their busy schedule.
- Can demonstrate a positive attitude no matter what the situation.
- Eager to invest in others.
- Has the respect of their colleagues.
- Can provide motivation.
- Values others’ opinions.
- Sets a stellar example.
- Keeps promises.
- Can provide personal experiences.
- Sincere desire to be a mentor.
- Values learning.
- Enthusiastic about mentoring.
Let’s explore each trait in detail to make sure you’re well prepared for your mentorship journey.
1. Willingness to teach what they know
Experience is something you can only get with time. Quality mentors look forward to sharing what they’ve learned over the years. Anyone with years of leadership or industry experience is filled with useful gems of knowledge. Engaged mentors don’t keep that knowledge to themselves. Rather, they willingly teach and share to help others learn from their success.
If you are a mentor and don’t know where to start teaching, look back at the parts of your career you found most interesting, exciting and challenging.
Those stories tend to be filled with the most impactful lessons.
Mentors should not limit themselves to sharing advice on technical or purely objective topics, either. Sometimes advice about how to present oneself, manage relationships, and navigate unique challenges in reaching personal and professional goals can help greatly.
Related: The importance of female mentorship in the tech industry
2. Can listen without offering unsolicited advice
In his book, “The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever,” author Michael Bungay Stanier states that it is up to leaders to “help create the space for people to have those learning moments.”
This sometimes means knowing when to stop talking and start listening.
From there, sometimes it’s best to listen and allow the mentee to figure out the answer on their own. When mentors have a relevant pearl of wisdom, they should certainly share it. But mentorship isn’t a one-way street. It’s a dialogue and a relationship that evolves over time.
Unsolicited advice has its time and place, but sometimes it can come off as arrogant or unflattering. Through active listening and getting an understanding of the mentee’s circumstances, the best guidance will emerge.
3. Can dedicate time in their busy schedule
Business owners, executives and managers typically have many competing demands for their time. While it might seem obvious, a mentor needs to have enough time to regularly communicate with their mentee.
Even with the best of intentions, some potentially amazing mentors simply don’t have the time to dedicate to their mentees.
It’s important to be honest with oneself and only take on a mentee if there is enough time available.
If not, the entire experience could be frustrating for everyone involved. The mentee might be upset or disappointed that the mentor is never available. And the mentor might feel bad that they are not giving what they promised.
Unless a mentor is fully able to commit, they should probably avoid starting with a new mentee.
Related: Finding a mentor — Where to look and what to look for
4. Can demonstrate a positive attitude no matter what the situation
Mentees might bring difficult and sometimes personal questions to mentors. When discussions are sensitive in nature, keep a positive outlook and attitude.
In these cases, mentors should help others rise to the occasion. They should never bring negativity to the conversation or put a mentee down.
In his book, “The Yes Culture: Making Positivity and Trust Your Competitive Edge,” Mikael Kamber says the following about positivity:
“Positive emotions such as joy and enthusiasm increase workplace innovation, efficiency and competitiveness. A positive atmosphere in the workplace has a positive impact on the bottom line. It is a veritable gold mine.”
Even when the mentor and mentee disagree, an ideal mentor quality is the ability to bring a positive outlook and solution-oriented approach.
Constructive criticism can help people to evolve and grow. Pure negativity that isn’t attached to advice, solution, or deeper question, however, should always be avoided.
5. Eager to invest in others
Outside of a well-deserved thanks, most mentors don’t get anything in return. The mentor invests time and energy in their mentees selflessly.
High-quality mentors go above and beyond by traveling to visit a mentee, as an example. Time is an asset, and it is a big deal to set aside so much time for someone else.
Spending that much time on another person doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but motivated mentors are willing to do what is necessary to help their mentee succeed. They’re excited to meet with mentees and don’t hesitate to take a proactive approach to the relationship.
Related: Why mentoring is a powerful tool for women in business
6. Has the respect of their colleagues
A mentor should be well connected to others in their community and be forthcoming in helping their mentee build other valuable relationships.
They might even find that the mentee benefits from having multiple mentors.
Further, at some point, a mentor might recognize that their mentor relationship has run its course and hand off the relationship entirely to another mentor.
The respect of colleagues isn’t measurable directly, but it can be seen through involvement and influence in their business or community. People in leadership positions are generally respected and recognized experts in their fields.
Keep in mind, though, that one doesn’t have to be in a leadership role to be respected by their colleagues, so don’t stress if you’re not in a leadership position as a mentor.
7. Can provide motivation
Hopefully, a mentee is excited about their work or their goals already. When a mentor is excited about what they do, however, the motivation is infectious.
What, then, can be done when the mentee’s motivation is lacking? In those cases, a call or meeting with their mentor should reinvigorate them and recharge them for the future.
Some people are motivated by promotions. Some are motivated by a raise or bonus. Others are just excited about learning and fulfilling their potential.
High-quality mentors recognize what motivates the people around them and use those motivators to keep them moving through thick and thin.
Plateaus in progress or delays in reaching a goal can be discouraging. When that happens, a quality mentor motivates their mentees to push their limits to reach their best potential success.
8. Values others’ opinions
Communication is a two-way street. You should be open to opinions, especially as a mentor. If a mentor is too resistant to others’ opinions and isn’t willing to change themselves, they are unlikely to be an effective mentor.
Beyond the opinions of others, a mentor should seek out what others have to say and learn from diverse opinions that sometimes conflict with their own. This is what allows for growth and change.
It’s also extremely difficult to be open to criticism or change ingrained opinions. But, when faced with compelling evidence, high-quality mentors value outside opinions and allow them to influence their own.
A popular quote says that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. The most successful CEOs, politicians, entertainers and business leaders often attribute much of their success to having a great team around them. By listening to that team, mentors can set a winning example for their mentees.
9. Sets a stellar example
Speaking of setting an example, high-quality mentors always lead by example. Hypocrisy has no place in a mentor-mentee relationship. “Do as I say and not as I do,” isn’t an effective parenting strategy. It doesn’t work well with mentees either.
Setting a stellar example isn’t always easy, but it’s important to remember that your mentee is watching your actions in order to learn. Always strive for improvement and your mentee will follow in your steps.
10. Keeps promises
It isn’t always easy to fulfill every promise, but doing so is a sign of admirable character. Quality mentors keep promises to their mentees, as well as others.
Another part of keeping promises means knowing when to say no. It’s likely that you have pressing demands on your time. It’s not realistic to say yes to every demand. Professional commitments, family plans and your mentee should be your primary focus.
Saying no prevents making an unkept promise.
Quality mentors also make a point to be honest and tell the entire truth. You can’t keep promises while simultaneously being dishonest. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
11. Can provide personal experiences
To be a better mentor, it’s essential to have experiences to share. Personal experiences lead to more valuable insights and more effective advice. With years of professional experience, mentors usually have countless tales and experiences that can relate to what the mentee is dealing with at any given time.
Though it isn’t always fun to discuss failures, one of the ideal mentor qualities is a willingness to be open with their mentee about relevant good and bad personal experiences.
12. Sincere desire to be a mentor
Some businesses have mentorship programs where senior employees are required to mentor junior ones. Many high-quality mentors emerge in these situations, but if someone doesn’t have a sincere desire to be a mentor, they’re setting themselves up for failure.
In a mentorship role, that desire translates to enthusiasm and positivity, which are important to the mentor-mentee relationship.
13. Values learning
Learning is a big part of personal growth. As with some of the other mentor qualities here, learning is something quality mentors are often excited about.
There’s a reason that many high school teachers, professors and coaches find themselves in the role of a mentor. These people are already drawn to teaching, which tends to be a sign that they also value learning.
Both the mentor and mentee should value learning if they want to achieve anything together. If the mentee isn’t interested in learning, then both mentor and mentee are wasting their time.
14. Enthusiastic about mentoring
A mentor should be enthusiastic about mentoring. If they have a positive attitude and a sincere desire to be a mentor already, the enthusiasm for mentoring should be apparent.
You can tell that someone is enthusiastic about mentoring by their willingness to go out of their way for someone else. For the mentee, that enthusiasm should ignite excitement and drive to reach whatever they hope to accomplish through working with a mentor.
Mentor qualities will improve with practice
Some people are born leaders, but others work to learn leadership skills and become better leaders over time. Fantastic mentors do the exact same thing. And for the ideal mentor qualities that can’t be taught, those tend to emerge on their own as experience grows.
So if you decide to work with a mentor or mentee, keep these mentor qualities in mind. Don’t wait too long to get started, though. No one improves by sitting around. And, with a high-quality mentor by their side, the sky’s the limit.
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