It can be very exciting to step into a mentoring role within your organization. The opportunity to impact someone’s career and life is a great opportunity. But you may be asking if you have what it takes to be a great mentor.
Being a mentor requires more than just having more experience in a company. Research has demonstrated there are several qualities of a good mentor needed to foster growth and change. When these qualities are present, the experience is better for both the mentee and the mentor. For example, a mentor should be passionate about learning and helping others achieve their best. You can’t fake enthusiasm for mentoring. Mentors who truly want to see their mentee achieve their goals will be committed to doing what they can to help.
While you may not have all of the qualities that experts have listed, you can develop the skills to be successful if you have a passion for mentoring.
Why is it important to have mentors?
A workplace mentoring program is only beneficial if you have good mentors. That is strong leaders who have the knowledge and experience that other employees admire and respect. These are individuals that mentees can learn from and rely on for helpful guidance.
With over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies having workplace mentoring programs, you need to ask what are you missing if you don’t have one at your organization?
Mentoring programs can unlock several advantages for your organization, including
improved retention and promotion rates among minority employees by up to 38 percent. And a more diverse workplace brings a lot of positive changes to an organization, like higher revenues, productivity, and performance.
Mentoring also positively impacts both mentees' and mentors' emotional and mental health. This stems from a mentor's role in listening and counselling a mentee during times of difficulty or stress.
Employee engagement also increases with mentorship. These working relationships build social ties that help employees from getting discouraged. It also encourages a growth mindset and learning culture in an organization.
What qualities do all great mentors have in common?
Mentors will bring their unique personalities to the table, making for a successful mentorship with the right pairing. Yet, there are some characteristics that great mentors have in common, such as:
Passionate about helping others
Mentors have to desire to be involved in mentoring. Look for someone who has demonstrated a passion for helping other people. This kind of person could be a leader within the company or a peer who’s passionate about coaching others.
Helping others requires a mentor to be humble and thoughtful. It indicates they understand how to offer support in the right way. You don’t want to end up with a mentor who is competitive with their mentee. Rather, an ideal mentor can let someone else have the spotlight. A mentor who can inspire others will create an unforgettable mentoring experience.
A great communicator
Good communication is vital in mentorships. For a mentee to learn, they need to grasp what a mentor is saying. It also helps to understand different learning styles to use the best communication technique for your mentee.
For example, if your mentee is a visual learner, advising them to read five leadership books to help them grow is not likely to be effective. Rather, a good communicator would recognize this trait in their mentee and be able to adjust their recommendations accordingly.
In addition, there are times when a mentor will need to share news with a mentee that is hard to hear. For example, if a mentor is called upon to critique a mentee’s presentation or report. A skilled communicator will know how to honestly provide feedback so that a mentee can grow from the experience.
Ben Winn, the Manager of Community at Catalyst shares that a mentor who's a great communicator is also a great listener:
"The best mentors are excellent listeners, extremely patient, and skilled at extracting insights from conversations. They are empathetic, genuine, and truly have their mentee’s best interests at heart. Mentors need to be great listeners, because they should be spending 80% of their time listening, 10% of their time asking questions to probe deeper into important topics, and 10% of their time offering advice. They need to be patient because often the mentee needs to spend time talking through their challenges and potential solutions. The best mentors are focused on leading to the answers instead of simply providing the answers directly. This is also why it’s so critical that mentors be skilled at extracting insights from conversations. They need to be able to read between the lines, quickly gain an understanding of the situation, and then act as a helpful guide as their mentee uncovers potential solutions and next steps."
Guides mentees to answers rather than just telling them
A mentorship should be more than a mentor telling the mentee what they need to do to succeed. If this is the case, it becomes too similar to a manager-employee relationship to lead to real growth.
Workplace mentoring experiences need to equip a mentee to think independently and find solutions to their challenges and problems. If your mentorship involves you giving your mentee step-by-step instructions for their career journey, it’s not going to be as fulfilling for either of you. Instead, be a mentor who understands the nuances of guiding others to answers rather than providing them.
Recognizes the value of mentorship for both the mentor and mentee
You’ll need a mentor who is committed to mentoring. It requires extra time and energy to take on a mentee. A great mentor is not only willing to put in the time needed, but they are truly advocates for the mentoring experience.
For example, employees who have had a good experience in their professional lives with a mentor are more willing to give back by being a mentor themselves.
Honest and candid with feedback
A mentor needs to offer sincere input to a mentee. Being honest and direct when delivering feedback can help a mentee grow. It can also build the connection between a mentor and mentee by developing trust. A mentee will learn they can trust a mentor to be honest with them and not just tell them what they want to hear.
Asks great questions
Asking questions not only helps you understand but can also put things into perspective for your mentee. It can be a great learning tool to help them think of a solution to the issue. When you ask thoughtful questions, it demonstrates that you are listening and thinking about what your mentee has shared. This further builds on the trust that has developed.
Bring mentoring to your workplace
Convincing company leadership to bring a mentoring program to your workplace is not as difficult as it may seem. It starts with demonstrating the advantages that mentorships offer to an organization, such as:
- Reduced turnover rate
- Higher employee engagement
- Succession planning
- Increased productivity
But it also means marketing your mentoring program to employees who would make great mentors.