In good times, and the challenging times we currently find ourselves in, we often turn to mentors for advice. Our early relationships abound with mentors — parents who modeled behaviors, coaches who showed us how practice makes perfect, and teachers who taught us everything under the sun. It’s no different in the workplace. Mentors play a vital role in keeping business moving forward.
Many of us have been lucky enough to have a strong mentor in our professional lives — someone who has lifted us up, guided us through a tough stretch, and shown us the ropes. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us find ourselves seeking connection and understanding. As mentors, the impact we can have now is perhaps greater than ever before. Now, more than ever, mentors matter.
Don’t take the responsibility of mentoring lightly. These relationships are important, and there are many benefits of a mentor in the workplace; a successful mentor relationship can make a difference in job satisfaction and happiness. According to the CNBC and Survey Monkey Workplace Happiness Index, 91% of employees with mentors say they are satisfied with their jobs. They are also more likely to feel valued by their colleagues. In a time when only 34% of American workers feel engaged at work, according to Gallup, mentors can be an important influence that shouldn’t be overlooked.
What Are the Characteristics of a Good Mentor?
So what’s the secret sauce to a successful, valuable mentor relationship? Take a moment and consider the people who have made impacts in your life. What skill, attitude, or characteristic of theirs felt particularly powerful? Can you identify common traits?
All effective mentor relationships share one thing in common — they’re based on an authentic connection between two people. One study found that if there is not a basic relationship between the mentor and mentee, the effects are null. Relationships like these take time to build.
Beyond time, there are a few other characteristics of a good mentor that I’d like to share with you based on my own experiences, both as mentor and mentee. Here are three qualities that separate effective mentors from the rest of the pack:
Effective mentors show empathy.
One study showed that mentors with higher emotional intelligence enjoyed more trusting relationships with their mentees.Effective mentors seek to understand the world through the eyes of the mentee. When mentees ask for advice, many mentors might simply share their personal experiences: “Here’s what I did when I faced that situation.” Although well-intentioned, this approach limits the mentor’s effectiveness to a.) his or her own experience, and b.) how closely the mentee’s problem aligns to that experience.
Effective mentors give generously.
In a mentoring relationship, effective mentors offer their time and experience for the mentee’s benefit. Having weathered your own challenges, you might find it difficult to remember just how urgent and insurmountable they felt to overcome. Remember, crises don’t wait for openings on your calendar.
Effective mentors don’t shy away.
Part of building trust means mentors must be honest and candid, even when the topics are uncomfortable. Truth is a gift, even if it might hurt to hear in the short term. I’ve been on both sides of the table, and I have great respect for the mentors who told me the uncomfortable truth. They showed me that they cared more about me, about my well-being, than about having an easy conversation.
How to Be a Better Coach and Mentor
Despite the 7,000-plus four star-reviewed books on Amazon about mentoring, there is no single “correct” approach for mentorship. The good news is that folks who care about being good mentors are more likely to become good ones. Becoming an effective mentor is a learned skill that requires practice, time, and self-reflection.
Follow these tips as you figure out how to be a better mentor.
1. Seek to understand the whole person.
Chances are, the best advice you’ve ever received has been personalized just for you. Yet do we typically invest much time in getting to know someone’s unique situation before telling them what to do? Mentees aren’t puzzles to be solved; they’re whole people who come to you with experiences, memories, and lessons learned that shape their approaches to business. By showing genuine interest in who they are over time, you can build a deeper understanding of the person you’re guiding. With greater understanding comes the ability to give better, more holistic support.
2. Ask how you can help.
Mentees don’t always need advice. At some point or another, each of us needs a safe place to let go of frustrations, explore ideas, or ask really uncomfortable questions. If we as mentors jump in with answers, we risk overlooking our mentees’ real needs. Often, a more meaningful moment comes from asking the question, “How can I help?” This feels apt today, when long-term working-from-home situations are uncharted waters for everyone. Your mentee might not know what they need (and that’s OK!). But be open to the possibility that your value as mentor goes far beyond dispensing answers.
3. Develop mentees’ self-sufficiency.
As we help our mentees navigate challenges, it can be tempting to quickly fix the immediate issue at hand. However, we do our mentees a greater service by equipping them to face challenges on their own. The next time you tackle a problem together, think about the frameworks, principles, and models you use to approach the problem. When you share, include the why and not just the how. You’ll build a stronger, more resilient mentee who will someday share those lessons with others.
There are many benefits of a mentor in the workplace, and those benefits can extend beyond employment. It’s not a responsibility to take lightly. If you want to have the most fruitful relationship with your mentee possible, you need to approach them as a whole person and dig deep into how you can help them. With meaningful connections, you’ll help them become more resilient and more engaged.