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What Makes a Successful Mentor?

 What Makes a Successful Mentor?


Mentors can change people’s lives. That may sound dramatic but it’s true. And the experience of mentoring someone can be deeply rewarding if you have the tools and willingness to help someone else succeed. And while some mentor-mentee relationships do happen by chance, there is real benefit to being deliberate about creating mentoring partnerships, taking the lead and using specific skills to bring out the best in your mentees.


A lot of what it takes to be a successful mentor stems from personal desire. You need to genuinely want to help others achieve their goals. Think about your own career journey and the people who helped you along the way. Whether it was a formal relationship or someone recommended you for a promotion, rare is the person who succeeded all on their own. Now you have an opportunity to pay it forward and help someone achieve their own career success.


Good mentors have been there, done that. They know what it takes to be successful and their skills are relevant and relatable to their mentee.  Much of the time this means being a ‘learning broker’ through coaching, connecting your mentee to resources and facilitating tangible training moments. Perhaps more importantly, it also means being a great role model for your mentee to emulate. Observational learning is very important and you will impart valuable lessons related to values, ethics, and attitudes by just being who you are and letting your proficiency and wisdom speak for itself.

Empathy, Openness and Humility

Being a mentor is much more about the journey than the destination. Great mentors understand that people have a broad range of perspectives and styles and there is no one ‘right’ way to do something. So while you will coach and instruct, you should also seek to understand where your mentee is coming from and help them make the best decision for them; knowing it may not be the decision you would make. This level of openness often entails humility and being willing to share your successes as well as your failures. Sometimes, the best lessons are learned by rehashing actions and decisions that you’d rather forget.

Active Listening

Rather than telling someone what to do, it’s far more powerful to listen to their thought process and help them work through a problem or situation on their own. This means listening more than talking, and recognizing when your mentee just needs to vent. Remain curious and ask lots of questions. The more they express their own thoughts and come to their own conclusions, the less dependent on you they will be for answers and will begin to trust their own judgment. Reflect their ideas back to them and help them spot pitfalls and gaps in their understanding. The 5 Whys is a useful tool to help people dig deeper into a problem – ask why repeatedly until the root of the problem is exposed.

Respectful Feedback

Sometimes people to need to hear the truth. Providing constructive feedback however, can feel difficult and awkward especially when you first start your mentoring relationship. As a mentor though, you are expected to give honest feedback so you need to know how to do it kindly but directly. Start by setting expectations and asking your mentee how they prefer to receive feedback. Some may be happy to receive feedback in the moment and others may want to prepare. Talk too about language, and tone and how important direct feedback is to them achieving their goals. Remember to be as timely as you can, remain positive, and be open to improving your feedback skills with each interaction (that may mean apologizing if you get it wrong).


As a mentor one of your most important roles is opening doors. To help unlock someone’s full potential often means creating opportunity for them to shine. When you are confident in your mentee’s skills, introduce them to people who you think have potential to help, talk about their skills to your contacts, showcase the progress they’ve made and increase their visibility. Talk too about your mentoring process to help others understand the work you’ve put in and the depth of their problem solving and decision making skills. Don’t forget to be your mentee’s biggest fan. Offer encouragement, cheer them on as they learn skills, and celebrate their wins as enthusiastically as you do your own.

Mentoring is deeply rewarding. It is also an investment. To maximize all parties’ return on that investment be prepared for the long term. Stay focused, be patient and don’t expect immediate gains. Enjoy the journey and reap your own rewards knowing you are making a difference in someone else’s career and helping them achieve the success you’ve enjoyed.

About Great Place to Work®

Great Place to Work® is the Global Authority on Workplace Culture. We make it easy to survey your employees, uncover actionable insights and get recognized for your great company culture. Learn more about Great Place to Work Certification.

Nancy Fonseca
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