The Essential Qualities of a Mentor

I write often on the importance of having a mentor. That invariably leads people to ask me what to look for in a good mentor. I’ve never actually written on the characteristics of a good mentor but this post will address that very topic.

 

First off the fact that people ask about what makes a mentor good should be a clue that not all mentors are created equal. Some are better than others are some are actually bad. Not bad people mind you, just bad as a mentor.

 

It would seem obvious that a mentor should be smart. What’s far less obvious is that a mentor must know why they are smart. A good example comes from the world of golf. If you watch golf on TV you see some amazing shots made week in and week out. Pro Golfers are the very best at what they do. I’ve been fortunate to know a few and play an occasional round with them. 

 

They are way better than me (understatement of the year) and I marvel at what they can do on a golf course. But most of those professional golfers aren’t much help when it comes to teaching me how to hit the shots like they do. They cannot transfer their knowledge of how to hit a golf ball to me. They know what works for them but they can’t explain why it works in a way that makes it possible for me to duplicate. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t great golfers, it means that they aren’t great teachers, or mentors.

 

A golf teaching professional is a very different story. While they may not be blessed with the skill to play top level golf on a weekly basis they do know what it takes to hit shots required to score well. They know why some shots work and why others don’t. Plus, they know how to transfer that knowledge to the people they teach. They are great teachers and mentors.

 

Not all successful people make good mentors. A good mentor will invest a fair amount of time thinking about not only what they did to become successful but why they did it. They not only know what works, they know why it works. You can get the “what” from a book but the “why” most often comes from a mentor. 

 

Good mentors spend a considerable amount of time in self-reflection. When looking for a mentor make certain that the person you select knows themselves well. They must be able to explain both the what and the why of their success. 

 

If you can’t trust your mentor then they cannot mentor you. Pick a mentor that you can trust with your deepest secrets and concerns. There should be no doubt that your mentor will not, under any circumstances, share your mentoring discussions with others. 

 

Your mentor must be courageous enough to tell you the truth even when the truth is less than pleasant. Hopefully your mentor will have the human relations skills to not crush you with the truth. Pure unvarnished truth may sting for a bit but it shouldn’t leave a lasting scar. You do not want a mentor who is so concerned with protecting your feelings that they forget about protecting your future. 

 

The number one reason that mentoring relationships fail is that one or both sides of the relationship underestimate the amount of time required for a successful mentoring relationship. Mentoring is serious stuff. 

 

The most important thing a committed mentor can give you is their time. They may have the best of intentions but if they don’t also have time to commit to you then it will not work. Ask upfront how much time your prospective mentor is willing to invest in you. If they are serious about helping you they shouldn’t be at all offended by the question. 

 

Ask also if that commitment includes regularly scheduling time with you on their calendar to make sure those good intentions become great mentoring sessions. 

 

Everyone, absolutely everyone can benefit from a true mentoring relationship. Regardless of your stage in life, your level of success or the goals you are pursuing, you will be better off with a mentor than without. 


That’s assuming of course that they are the right mentor for you.