The 12 pivotal qualities of the best mentors

What qualities should you cultivate as a mentor? In this article, we outline the 12 defining qualities that the best mentors all have in common.

Ryan Carruthers

Published on 

January 20, 2023

Updated on 

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As a mentor, you have the opportunity to make a lasting impact on the career and life of your mentee. But being a truly great mentor is about more than just having experience in the field. 

Research shows that certain qualities are key to fostering growth and change for both mentee and mentor – qualities like a passion for learning, for instance, and a commitment to helping others achieve their best. 

Likewise, enthusiasm is a prerequisite for becoming a great mentor. You could have all the skills needed to transfer knowledge, but if you don’t have the right attitude, you won't be able to help your mentee reach their potential. 

So, what are the qualities of a great mentor? How can you ensure you are the kind of mentor who will foster growth and encourage success?

Why is it important to have mentors?

You are not only a role model and a leader, but you also have the knowledge and experience that others look up to and rely on for guidance. That’s a key motivator in itself – however, there are plenty of compelling reasons to better yourself as a mentor. 

Over 70 percent of Fortune 500 companies recognize the value of workplace mentoring programs. As an enthusiastic mentor, you can help unlock several advantages for your organization – like improved retention and promotion rates among minority employees, a more diverse workplace, and higher revenues, productivity, and performance.

Mentoring also has a positive impact on the emotional and mental health of both mentees and mentors. Through listening and providing guidance during difficult or stressful times, you play a vital role in supporting the well-being of your mentees. Effective mentorship creates strong social ties, encourages a growth mindset, and promotes a learning culture within the organization.

Multinational human resource firm, Randstad, ran its mentoring program within our mentoring platform and found that the retention rate of employees involved in mentorships improved by 49%

This is just one example of the tangible results that mentoring can bring to an organization (want more examples of successful mentoring programs? We’ve outlined over a dozen in our roundup). 

By taking the role of a mentor seriously, you can be a part of this positive change and make a real difference in the lives of your mentees and organization.

eBook Best practices from real world mentoring programs

What qualities do all great mentors have in common?

We've established that mentors can't truly excel in the absence of enthusiasm – but that's not the only characteristic you need to cultivate in order to be successful. 

Here are 12 qualities of all great mentors: 

1. Passionate about helping others.

If you've ever been mentored successfully, you'll have noticed something special about your mentor. They were passionate about helping you reach your goals and discovering the best version of yourself. Great mentors don’t just provide advice; they genuinely care about the success of their mentees and are willing to go out of their way to help them achieve it. 

This is one of the defining qualities that reveals whether you’re going to be a great mentor.

Don't feel overly passionate about your field? That's okay – your mentees don't expect you to be an expert on everything. All they need is someone who cares about their success and will go the extra mile to help them reach it. 

Try going out of your way to learn about the mentee's passions, goals, and dreams; you'll grow more invested in the mentoring process, and they'll feel more supported. Win-win.

2. A great communicator.

This seems like a no-brainer, but communication is absolutely essential for any successful mentorship. Mentors need to be able to articulate their advice and experiences in a way that is easy to understand by the mentee. 

They should also be patient, active listeners who are willing to answer questions, provide feedback, and help their mentees find solutions on their own.

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."

If you find yourself struggling to communicate your thoughts, don't worry – there are plenty of communication skills you can hone with practice. Start by asking open-ended questions and actively listening to the mentee's responses. 

Consider using diagrams or other visuals as well; they often make complex topics easier to understand.

3. Guide mentees to answers rather than just telling them.

It's incredibly tempting to give people answers when you're knowledgeable enough to do so – but that's not the best approach to mentoring. 

Great mentors are aware of their own biases and instead focus on helping their mentees discover solutions by themselves. They realize that it's more important for the mentee to get a better understanding of how things work than just getting an answer right away. 

The qualities of a great mentor include learning how to guide your mentees in the right direction rather than solving all their problems for them. 

Ask questions, encourage them to explore different ideas, and share your experiences, but don't forget that ultimately it is up to the individual learner to find answers and make decisions on their own.

4. Recognizes the value of mentorship for both the mentor and mentee.

You will only get the most out of a mentoring relationship if you understand the value it brings to both sides. Truly great mentors recognize that while they are helping their mentees develop, they are also learning and growing themselves. 

Mentorship is a two-way street – as your mentee learns from you, you will learn from them as well. They can introduce fresh perspectives on topics you already know or give insight into new areas of knowledge that help broaden your horizons. 

Make sure to take the time to reflect on what each session has taught you and how it contributes to your own development journey. 

5. Gives honest and candid feedback.

Let's face it: giving criticism is difficult, and it's even harder when you're dealing with someone who looks up to you. Embrace the challenge and learn how to give constructive and honest feedback. 

Explain why certain behaviors need improvement or why certain decisions might not be the best ones instead of just pointing out mistakes. 

Be patient, understanding and encouraging; help your mentee create a safe environment where they can feel comfortable receiving criticism without feeling discouraged or judged.

6. Asks great questions. 

Has anyone ever asked you a question that makes you truly think? 

For instance, "What would you tell yourself five years ago?" or "When in your life have you felt most fulfilled?" These are the types of questions great mentors ask to get their mentees thinking deeply and help them gain clarity in life.

As a mentor, you should strive to be curious and ask meaningful questions that will lead your mentee on a journey toward self-discovery. 

Be willing to explore different paths and uncover hidden opportunities – your role is as much about facilitating learning as it is about providing guidance. 

7. Shares their knowledge and experience.

Impostor syndrome is common among mentors; it's the feeling that you don't know enough, or aren't capable enough, to be a mentor. 

Be aware that this is a sign of true mentorship material. While it's important to work through those impostor feelings, their very existence means you are humble enough to admit that you don't have all the answers.

But know this: the experience you've had in life is valuable. It's a learning tool for your mentee, and they will gain valuable insight from your stories. 

Great mentors don't just offer typical advice; they share their knowledge and experience with their mentees to help them grow.

8. Withhold judgment; seek understanding.

It's easy to become frustrated with a mentee who is not making progress or one whose values and ideas are different from your own. But don't give in to the temptation to judge. 

No matter what your mentee does, great mentors always strive to remain balanced and objective.

Your job is to provide support and acceptance, no matter what your mentee says or does. Of course, that includes constructive criticism and advice – but it should always be delivered in a compassionate way.

9. Understands the power of relationships.

Do you have industry connections that could be beneficial to your mentee? Or perhaps you know someone who has gone through a similar experience and could provide valuable advice? 

Skilled mentors weave powerful connections and relationships into their mentoring sessions. They know the importance of networking, collaboration, and relationship-building in achieving success, and they use these tools to create a supportive environment for their mentees.

10. Is passionate about making a difference.

The best mentors are driven by an inner passion to make a positive impact on the world around them. It's this quality that makes great mentors so inspiring; not only do they want to help their mentees reach their goals, but they also hope to inspire others to do the same. 

Great mentors have an infectious enthusiasm for life and learning. As a result, their mentees are often motivated to reach for the stars. After all, if a mentor can believe in you and your dreams, why shouldn't you?

11. Invests in the people around them. 

Often, the best mentors are those with strong and healthy personal relationships. It's a sign that they know how to invest in the people around them and make meaningful connections. 

When highly relational people become mentors, a beautiful thing happens: their mentees feel valued rather than like a chore. They feel able to open up about their struggles, knowing that their mentor isn't just listening out of obligation but because they genuinely care. 

12. Always takes responsibility for their actions.

Mentors who take ownership of their own mistakes serve as great role models for their mentees. They remain accountable and honest when things don't go according to plan, knowing this is the only way to learn from their errors and move forward constructively. 

Great mentors know that leadership means taking charge of a situation, even if it means admitting you were wrong or apologizing for something you said or did. Accountable behavior shows your mentee how to take responsibility in all aspects of life.

Become a mentor who drives meaningful growth

Mentors create successful, reasonably fulfilled people if they're lucky. Great mentors, however, go beyond this; they inspire and empower their mentees to reach for the stars.

The best mentors create something else: a line of passionate, knowledgeable, and dedicated people who carry the torch of knowledge and success from one generation to the next. If you're a mentor, strive to make this your legacy.

To continue your journey of cultivating the qualities of a great mentor, read our article on how to mentor someone at work.

Bring mentorship 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. 

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