Daily Archives: September 20, 2007

9 Essential Qualities to Look for In a Mentor

“Always in motion is the future.”
– Yoda

Mentors are more than just advisors. They are guides that help protégés grow and develop. Mentors are valuable allies to have on your side. Let’s explore some of the best qualities to look for in a mentor.

Mentors should:

• Be available. The relationship between a mentor and protégé doesn’t occur immediately. It evolves over time. And time is something most people have in short supply. Mentors must be willing to spend time regularly with their protégé and have a desire to work with their protégé to plan strategically and to help build that individual’s career.

• Be willing to learn. An ideal mentoring relationship is really a partnership in which both parties learn from each other. The mentor brings knowledge and experience, but so too does the protégé. The mentor’s insights can help boost your skills, abilities and goals accomplishment. The younger protégé (or less experienced because mentors can be younger than their protégé) can provide a different perspective that an open-minded mentor can use to improve their workplace relationships.

• Be knowledgable. A mentor does not have to be an expert, but should be proficient with the political structure and operations of the company, the industry or your profession. You can benefit from a mentor’s cross-departmental relationships or industry contacts. A mentor with a broad-base of knowledge has more to offer and can add to your overall career development.

• Be a good listener. Listening is an important interpersonal skill and one that not everyone is proficient. The mentor should give their full attention to the protégé (and vice versa). Let the person finish speaking before you chime in. It is also important to ask questions. A mentor who is a good listener can ask probing questions to flesh out a clearer picture of what the protégé is presenting. This way the mentor acts as a sounding board who in turn can provide unbiased feedback.

• Be open-minded. By keeping an open mind, a mentor can help you develop a vision for the future based on their short- and long-term goals. Understanding the direction and expectations of the protégé will make charting the course a seamless process.

• Be a confidant. Everyone needs a safe place to safely open up, a place to work off frustration, anger, or apprehension without fear of retaliation. A safe harbor is created after there is mutual trust established in the relationship. In addition to listening, maintaining confidentiality and providing feedback are the key things you needs. Mentors should provide protégés with a shelter where thoughts can be voiced, emotions can run and ideas can be acted upon (or curbed). This sanctuary provides an environment suitable for you to learn control and coping techniques.

• Be challenging. Imagine taking a dog for a walk (I’m in no way comparing a protégé to a dog). You can walk a dog with no leash and the dog can run all over the place. You can also walk a dog on a three-foot leash and it will stay right by your side. Or you can walk a dog on a leash that allows it to walk from three feet to 15 feet away, but it can always get back to safety if danger threatens. Likewise, mentors can create situations or assign activities to protégés. This allows you to step out of your comfort zone and develop new ways of thinking or new skills. The safe environment is conducive to you gaining independence. If the project goes well, the protégé could earn credit and recognition and discover a new identity in the workplace.

• Be honest. When I was growing up my mother would tell me to “look in the mirror” when I was acting out. I didn’t get it until I became a parent. Explaining how others view the protégé is an important attribute of a mentor as well. Just like with parenting, sometimes mentors need to use tough love and say the things that you might not want to hear. The advice is offered in a mentoring relationship, so then you are less likely to get defensive because you know the mentor has your best interests at heart.

• Be a champion. If you have demonstrated that you are a solid performer, a mentor can be your best supporter – and defender. Mentors can help protégés transfer to other areas of the company when opportunities arise. If you misspeak at a meeting and something is taken out of context, the mentor can step in and stop the rumor mill.

You shouldn’t seek out a mentor that can only provide instruction. Instead, you should look to a mentor who can commit to an ongoing, developmental relationship that will foster trust and help build confidence in the workplace. Tomorrow, I will discuss the essential attributes for protégés.

Has your career been impacted by a mentor? If so, please add to my list of mentor attributes.