What makes for a successful professional mentor? While certain characteristics can—and do—vary from person to person, some are more common than others. Below is a roundup.
- They have a positive attitude. It's hard to be an effective mentor if you're negative or grumpy all the time. (It's hard to be an effective anything if you have a bad attitude, right?) That's not to say a mentor isn't allowed a bad day or even a bad week or month. But the best mentors will turn these challenging times into teachable moments by sharing the experience with the mentorees and explaining how they (the mentors) navigate rough waters—info that the mentorees can certainly benefit from hearing.
- They are active listeners. Active listeners make eye contact, pay close attention to what the speaker is saying (and not saying), and notice non-verbal gestures. They show genuine interest in the topic and they ask appropriate and relevant follow-up questions. They make it all about the speaker, rather than themselves.
- They are intuitive. They can sense when something isn't OK, even if the mentoree says everything is fine. They know how to gently prod someone into opening up about what's bothering them. They also know when to let something go or to back off. Here's the thing: We're all born with basic intuition. With practice, we can get better at it (through things like active listening and becoming close observers).
- They are curious. They ask questions because they genuinely want to know and understand their mentorees. If the mentoree brings up a topic that the mentor isn't familiar with, or if the mentoree asks a question that stumps the mentor, the successful professional mentor will go out and find the answer because he or she thirsts for knowledge.
- They understand Rome wasn't built in a day. The best mentors will help their mentorees focus on reasonable, achievable goals. At the outset of a relationship, mentorees tend to be excited and a bit unrealistic regarding what they want to accomplish in 9-12 months. But the successful professional mentor understands that transformation takes time—and that's OK.
- They know how to address problems without being confrontational, threatening, or intimidating. At the end of the day, we're all human. Humans disagree from time to time. Feelings can get hurt. Miscommunication might occur. Effective mentors will address these issues straight away before they blow up into something big. And they will do so in a firm, but fair and compassionate manner.
- They know how to apologize and "own" a mistake. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous point. Everyone makes mistakes. Even mentors. The best mentors know how to say I'm sorry—and mean it.
- They are genuinely thrilled when their mentorees soar. The best mentors take great pleasure in seeing good stuff happen to other people—friends, family, co-workers, and mentorees.
Can you think of any other habits or traits of highly successful mentors? Share in the comments.