Since the pandemic, more organizations have begun to see the immense benefits of mentorship. There's been a 30 percent increase in the number of companies offering mentorship initiatives; in fact, mentorship is now one of the top five L&D strategies for organizations.
Great mentorship doesn't just happen, however. It requires mentors with certain characteristics to be effective. Life-changing mentors have certain qualities that allow them to foster meaningful relationships with their mentees, set tangible goals, and provide the guidance necessary for success.
Let's take a look at some of the most important characteristics of great mentors.
Why is it important to find a great mentor?
The vast majority of mentees find their mentors within the same organization they work for (61 percent, according to Olivet Nazarene University). It makes sense to partner with someone who you can easily meet up with, ask questions, and get help on specific tasks.
However, finding high-quality mentors with the characteristics right for you can be a challenge. Quality should always be prioritized over proximity.
Great mentors have the ability to leave a lasting impression on mentees and provide them with useful advice that can help improve their skillset. If an unfit mentee-mentor pairing takes place, it can be a waste of time for both parties. So, to find a mentor with the right characteristics for you, should you look for someone just like you or different?
Do you need a mentor who's just like you or different?
Although 81 percent of mentees end up finding mentors in their exact profession, let's dispel the illusion that mentors and mentees need to be similar. On the contrary, mentors who are from different backgrounds and have a wealth of knowledge in different areas can provide unique insights you won't find elsewhere.
Mentors usually come with different personalities, goals, work styles, and values. Sometimes, mentees misinterpret this as a lack of compatibility; in reality, it can be a great asset. Why? Because mentors with different backgrounds can help you learn to adapt to different situations, think outside the box, and discover new solutions.
In short: don't be afraid of having a mentor who's unlike you; it might even be more beneficial in the end. (So long as they exhibit these 10 characteristics!)
To find a great mentor, look for these 10 characteristics
Just as no two people are the same, no two mentors will deliver the same mentorship experience to their mentees. That said, truly life-changing mentors tend to share certain characteristics.
Let's unpack ten excellent traits to look for in your next mentor.
1. They are both a listener and a sounding board
According to Accenture, 96 percent of people believe they are good listeners. The reality? On average, we only listen to about half of what others say. Great mentors are different – they actively listen to their mentees’ thoughts and ideas.
Mentors are often thought of as advice dispensers, but the best mentors spend more time as a sounding board than as a problem solver. They give their mentee the stage to think and talk through their issues rather than jumping in with solutions.
2. They're self-aware
Just like active listening, 95 percent of us believe we are self-aware – but only 10-15 percent of people actually are. Self-awareness is the ability to understand ourselves, our values and beliefs, and how these influence our behavior.
Great mentors are self-aware; they recognize their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the impact of their words and actions on others. They use this knowledge to better relate to mentees by offering insight into their own experiences or perspectives when appropriate.
3. Empathy is their default
“Empathy has no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of ‘you’re not alone.’” - Brené Brown
To empathize is to understand and share the feelings of another. Experiencing empathy is a powerful experience; it makes us feel seen and heard, allowing us to open up more freely.
Great mentors are empathetic by nature – they can relate to mentees on an emotional level without making judgments or prescribing solutions. Empathy helps break down barriers that can otherwise prevent productive conversations from taking place, creating a strong bond between mentor and mentee.
4. They have time for you
This might seem like an obvious characteristic, but you'd be surprised at how many mentors over-commit and under-deliver. Great mentors are mindful of the time they have to give and don't overpromise. They make an effort to meet regularly, whether in person or via video call.
5. They are open to learning from you, too
The best mentors understand that the mentorship relationship is a two-way street. Yes, they might have more experience; they may even be experts in their field. But great mentors also recognize that everyone has something to learn, and that includes themselves.
6. Enthusiasm is their middle name
Enthusiasm is contagious, and great mentors understand this. They're excited to share their knowledge and experience with you; they don't view mentoring as a chore but rather as an opportunity to make a positive difference in someone’s life.
This enthusiasm can be seen in the way they speak about their field of expertise – it's evident that they love what they do, which makes it easier for the mentee to get inspired and motivated.
7. They're proactive with feedback
Did you know that positive and negative feedback are equally important for growth? Excellent mentors are forthcoming with constructive and positive feedback, and they understand that it's a crucial part of the mentorship process. They don't wait for their mentees to ask for feedback – instead, they proactively provide it after every meeting or task.
But great mentors also know how to give feedback effectively in a way that doesn't make the receiver feel discouraged or disheartened. They use positive language to emphasize strengths and suggest areas of improvement, avoiding judgmental words at all costs.
8. They communicate seamlessly
Communication plays an important role in any relationship, and mentorship relationships are no exception. The best mentors take the time to establish a clear line of communication with their mentees – they make sure that everyone is on the same page about goals, expectations, timelines, etc.
9. They genuinely care
A mentor could be the best communicator in the world; they could be incredibly knowledgeable and experienced in their field. But if they lack genuine care for the program, the entire exercise is futile.
The best mentors have a genuine interest in their mentees and the program itself. They don't view it as another task to check off their list – instead, they see it as an opportunity to help someone grow.
10. They're candid and honest
Finally, ideal mentors don't sugarcoat the truth or provide false hope; instead, they tell it like it is in a tactful way.
Perhaps the mentee is not on track to reach their goals or is making the same mistakes repeatedly. In such cases, great mentors will be honest and upfront about it, but also provide solutions and actionable steps that the mentee can take.
Characteristics of great mentees
Are you on the hunt for a mentor to help you grow in your profession? If so, don't just focus on the other person; think about your own traits and qualities, too. The best mentees possess these characteristics:
- They maintain a growth mindset
- They are open to constructive criticism
- They have a clear vision of what they want to achieve
- They are passionate about their goals and willing to take risks for them
- They take the initiative and are not afraid to ask questions or reach out for help when needed
- They are humble, respectful, and thankful for their mentor's guidance
If you want the very best out of your mentorship pairing, work on yourself and your own qualities to become the best mentee possible.
Which mentor will be best for you?
When you're choosing a mentor to help you reach your goals, don't just go for the first person that comes to mind.
Instead, take a moment to assess what qualities and characteristics you need in a mentor. Consider their expertise in your field of interest, communication style, availability, past successes or failures they've gone through, and so on.
Remember: mentors don't have to be in your profession or even in your field.
The most important thing is to find someone you're compatible with – and of course, who hits each of the ten characteristics mentioned in this article.
Review the 8 different types of mentors here and find one that's the best fit for you.
Selecting mentors for your mentoring program? Here's what to look for
Let’s turn to talk to the mentorship program manager or the person who wants to start a workplace mentoring program.
When organizing a mentoring program, it's tricky to find those in possession of the necessary characteristics to be great mentors. As we've covered in our blog on mentor recruitment, make sure your mentors stick around for the long haul by:
- Motivating them and providing the support they need
- Making sure they understand the goals and vision of the program
- Finding people with relevant experience, skills, or knowledge
- Providing mentors with adequate training and resources to help their mentees succeed
- Ensuring they are both aware and available enough to do the job justice
Good mentors are hard to come by, but with the right recruitment strategy, you can ensure your mentoring program is successful.
Ready to find the best mentor for your growth?
It's time to accelerate your growth and reach your goals with a mentor who's the right fit for you.
Whether you're looking to build a successful career, develop new skills, or break into an industry – having the right mentor by your side can make all the difference.
To continue learning, check out our article on how to build a successful mentoring relationship.