7 Characteristics of a Great Mentor — and Why They’re Important for Your Business

Mentorships can help you achieve a healthy organization. Here are the qualities a great mentor should have and how they can support mentees.

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7 Characteristics of a Great Mentor — and Why They're Important for Your Business

Here's what you need to know:

  • Mentors use their experience to guide knowledgeable workers toward success, ultimately contributing to a happy workforce
  • Successful mentors are knowledgeable, dynamic communicators, and responsive
  • Excellent mentors are also trustworthy, role models, accountability partners, and focused on the mentee
  • Beneficial mentorships can be formal or informal

Mentors play a valuable role in strengthening employee performance. They use their experience to guide knowledgeable workers toward success, ultimately contributing to a happy workforce.

In 1 study, over 91% of workers who have a mentor say they are satisfied with their jobs. Over half (57%) of them report being very satisfied. Each of these percentages drop by double digits, among workers without a mentor.

What’s more, employees with a mentor are more likely to say they’re well paid, compared to those without one. They’re also more likely to believe their colleagues value their contributions. Note that these 2 components — being well paid and feeling valued — are essential to employee happiness.

The above are all compelling reasons to have a mentoring program in your workplace. But what exactly does a mentor do, and what characteristics should they have? Read on for answers.

What types of support does a mentor provide?

“A mentor may share with a mentee (or protege) information about his or her own career path, as well as provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling. A mentor may help with exploring careers, setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources.” — University of Washington

This is a sound definition of what a mentor does. That said, the advice, knowledge, and resources a mentor provides vary by mentoring relationship. In other words, it depends on the type of mentoring the mentee needs.

Mentees require different types of support at different phases of their career. This means a mentor does not have to be a “guru” in their field to be highly effective. Again, it all boils down to the objectives of the mentoring relationship.

A mentor can provide the following types of support, but not necessarily all of them:

  • Encourage the mentee to explore new ideas and take calculated risks in learning
  • Help the mentee to positively shift their mindset
  • Recommend the right type of skills training
  • Offer practical and timely advice
  • Serve as a trusted person whom the mentee can confide in
  • Assist the mentee in developing their soft skills
  • Serve as a reliable source of knowledge for the mentee
  • Advocate for the mentee on work-related matters

The mentor must have specific qualities in order to have a favorable impact on the mentee. Successful mentors tend to have the following 7 characteristics:

  1. Knowledgeable
  2. Dynamic communicator
  3. Responsive
  4. Trustworthy
  5. Role model
  6. Accountability partner
  7. Focused on the mentee

Let’s explore each of these qualities.

1. Knowledgeable

A great mentor is knowledgeable about the appropriate subjects, and willingly transfers the necessary information to the mentee.

For example, a mentor assigned to a new hire can teach them how to:

  • Navigate their day-to-day tasks
  • Adhere to company policies and procedures
  • Become productive in their role
  • Build healthy relationships with their coworkers

Great mentors are always learning. They stay on top of new developments in their field, and know where to access relevant resources.

However, there is a limit to their knowledge, and they accept this. If they aren’t sure about something, they will admit it and try to obtain answers.

2. Dynamic communicator

Great mentors communicate in a way that promotes trust and collaboration. This makes them dynamic communicators who are skilled at:

  • Listening
  • Speaking
  • Networking
  • Writing
  • Presentation

They seek to understand the mentee on a deeper level by building rapport, asking questions, and truly listening. Then, they determine the best ways to support the mentee, based on the information received.

In addition, they:

  • Teach, instead of preach
  • Apply the communication method most suitable to the situation
  • Encourage 2-way communication
  • Take steps to remove obstacles to effective workplace communication

Along with that, great mentors have a knack for delivering information to diverse individuals and teams.

3. Responsive

A great mentor seeks to understand the emotional, intellectual, and psychological needs of the mentee — and is responsive to them.

Responsiveness means:

  • Exhibiting interest in the mentee’s well-being
  • Caring about, and investing in, the mentee’s success
  • Having the mentee’s best interests at heart
  • Understanding and accepting the mentee’s decisions regarding their career path
  • Helping the mentee overcome problems hindering their development

While helping to meet the mentee’s needs, they are careful not to overstep. In other words, they refrain from violating personal boundaries, company rules, and legal requirements.

4. Trustworthy

Trust is the foundation of any successful mentoring relationship. The mentee will not listen to, respect, or disclose information to a mentor they do not trust.

For this partnership to work, trust must be present. This is nonnegotiable. In fact, the mentor has a duty to be trustworthy.

A great mentor:

  • Is discreet. The mentee feels comfortable talking to them. They do not fear that the mentor will use the information they divulged against them.
  • Honors confidentiality. The mentor operates within the bounds of all confidentiality agreements. They do not disclose unauthorized information.
  • Is nonjudgmental. They build rapport by listening without judgment, and they empower by delivering feedback without judgment.

5. Role model

Role models and mentors are technically different, but they can go hand in hand.

Mentors focus on supporting the development and growth of the mentee.

A role model is someone who others look up to, and often try to emulate. Role models can be positive or negative. Mentors, however, focus on supporting the development and growth of the mentee.

Great mentors can become positive role models by displaying:

  • Integrity
  • Ethical conduct
  • A strong work ethic
  • A positive attitude

Additional traits of great mentors/positive role models include:

  • Motivated
  • Responsible
  • Understanding
  • Confident
  • Helpful
  • Calm
  • Patient
  • Tolerant
  • Realistic
  • Well regarded
  • Organized
  • Pleasant
  • Professional
  • Dependable
  • Self-aware

These role models take a diplomatic approach to handling sensitive issues. Moreover, they do not set standards for others that they cannot reach themselves.

6. Accountability partner

A great mentor guides the mentee toward accomplishing their career goals, and holds them accountable throughout the process.

The following quote sums up the mentor as an accountability partner.

“To be an effective mentor, start by delving into what your mentee’s goals are, what they want and need out of the relationship and their passions. Then, hold them accountable. Do not do the work for them; rather help guide them along their journey.” — Mariana Bugallos-Muros, Vice President, Chief Human Resources Officer, Moffitt Cancer Center

7. Focused on the mentee

Although it takes 2 to work, the mentorship relationship is ultimately about the mentee, not the mentor. The following quote aptly explains:

“Always be adaptable. To be an effective mentor, we must be able to recognize our mentee’s strengths and help them continue to build on them rather than encouraging the mentee to adjust to our strengths.” Nate Penha, Retirement Plan Consultant, Mutual of America

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Beneficial mentorships can be formal or informal

A great mentor can help a timid new hire become a confident employee. Similarly, they can help experienced employees maximize their potential.

However, research shows that many employees lack adequate access to career planning and development opportunities.

Also, there’s the misconception that mentorship has to be formal. A formal mentorship program helps to streamline the process, and is especially beneficial to employers with a large workforce.

But this does not mean you cannot offer mentoring without a formal program. Many employers do not have a formal mentorship program, but provide mentoring informally.

This can be as simple as having a more experienced employee take time out of their day to show a new hire the ropes.

Note, as well, that most mentorship relationships are formed unintentionally and naturally. According to one study, “Only 14% of mentor relationships started by asking someone to be their mentor. 61% of those relationships developed naturally.”

Whether formal or informal, great mentors can help you achieve a healthy organization.

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