How to be an Effective Mentor


This section of our training is focused entirely on the roles, qualities, and skills of an effective mentor. If your role is that of a mentee, you are welcome to stay with us as we explore the world of a mentor, or you can go directly to the mentee training by clicking here.

Let's begin by taking a moment to review the definition of mentoring:

Mentoring is a collaborative learning relationship between individuals who share mutual responsibility and accountability for helping the mentee work toward the fulfillment of clear and mutually defined learning goals. Mentoring is used to assist individuals at specific stages of development or transition and lasts for a sustain ed but defined period of time. The mentoring relationship provides a developmental opportunity for both parties and can thus be of mutual benefit.

This definition perceives your mentor's role as one of facilitating, supporting and developing. Because mentoring relationships are between equals: a mentor should have no supervisory responsibility or authority over a mentee. This definition also emphasizes that the benefits of the mentoring relationship are mutual. Mentoring is a journey mentors and mentees embark on together. Throughout this journey, two individuals help each other arrive at a common destination called professional excellence.

Mentor's Responsibilities

How does this definition aid us in understanding the responsibilities of a mentor? It shows us that your role is to listen, provide constructive feedback and help your mentee consider options. To do that, you may share your own experiences or refer them to other resources. You will help identify areas for their development, coach your mentee and allow them opportunities to practice new skills. You will act as a sounding board; ask the mentee questions to cause further exploration of ideas or to challenge their thinking. You will provide guidance, not directions, and will not solve their problems but act as a collaborator in the problem solving process.

Click here to return to section one to review the effective and ineffective characteristics of a mentor. When you are finished, click on the "How to be an Effective Mentor" link to return here.

Click here and download the file to watch a brief video entitled "What is a Mentor?" In it, Victoria Raveis, Ph.D., Columbia University, talks about how mentoring is both a core element of responsible research and an essential means for transmitting professional standards. Although her given field may be research, her thoughts on the subject resonate with all professional communities.

Types of Mentoring Relationships

Mentoring can take the form of one-time intervention or a lifelong partnership. It can be as formal as a structured employee orientation or as informal as an element of a professional friendship. Anyone who has been successfully mentored recognizes the impact on their life or the result in their career, but may not have been able to put a name to it at the time.



Review the diagram of the four types of mentoring structures and think about how they relate to your past encounters. We have all had these experiences, whether we were the mentor or the mentee. Please go to your Mentoring Workbook and, using the worksheet titled Types of Mentoring Relationships - Mentor, describe one relationship you have experienced or observed for each of the four categories shown.



Qualities of a Successful Mentor

Effective mentoring relationships begin with the preparation of the mentor and move into preparation of the relationship. Taking the time to prepare yourself for assuming your role can provide a significant self-reflection opportunity for you.

For example, certain behaviors or qualities have been identified as the hallmark of a successful mentor. These qualities can be tied to the motivation that has you participating in a mentoring relationship. Because motivation has a direct impact on a mentor's behavior, attitude and resilience, understanding your specific motivations as they apply to these qualities will deepen your sense of commitment to your journey.

Quality: Personal commitment to be involved with another person for an extended time. Mentors have a genuine desire to be part of other people's lives, to help them with tough decisions and to see them become the best they can be. They have to be invested in the mentoring relationship, over the long haul, to be there long enough to make a difference.
Motivation: I like the feeling of having others seek me out for guidance or advice.

Respect for individuals and for their abilities and their right to make their own choices in life.
Mentors should not approach the mentee with the attitude that their own ways are better or that participants need to be rescued. Mentors who convey a sense of respect and equal dignity in the relationship win the trust of their mentees and the privilege of being advisors to them.
Motivation: I find that helping others grow and learn is personally rewarding.

: Ability to listen and to accept different points of view.
Most people can find someone who will give advice or express opinions. It's much harder to find someone who will suspend his or her own judgment and really listen. Mentors often help simply by listening, asking thoughtful questions and giving mentees an opportunity to explore their own thoughts with a minimum of interference. When people feel accepted, they are more likely to ask for and respond to good ideas.
Motivation: I find that working with others who are different from me to be energizing.

Ability to empathize with another person's challenges.
Effective mentors can feel with people without feeling sorry for them. Even without having had the same life and work experiences, they can empathize with their mentee's feelings while bringing a diverse perspective to the situation.
Motivation: I enjoy collaborative learning, constructing something that did not exist before in our individual lives.

: Ability to see solutions and opportunities as well as barriers.
Effective mentors balance a realistic respect for challenges faced by their mentees with optimism about finding equally realistic solutions. They are able to make sense of a seeming jumble of issues and point out sensible alternatives.
Motivation: I have specific skills and knowledge that I want to pass on to others.

Flexibility and openness.
Effective mentors recognize that relationships take time to develop and that communication is a two-way street. They are willing to take time to get to know their mentees, to learn new things that are important to their mentees, and even to be changed by their relationship.
Motivation: I look for opportunities to further my own growth.
Source MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership.

Now that you have examined qualities that have been identified as the hallmark of a successful mentor and the possible motivation behind them, it is time to take your own "Mentor Motivation Inventory." Please go to your Mentoring Workbook and complete the inventory by indicating the reasons mentoring appeals to you and provide an example to support your reasons.

Counterproductive Mentor Behaviors

As a mentor, you want your mentee to be effective, productive, achieving, successful, and happy. There are behaviors that some mentors may see as helpful but are actually counterproductive and may harm a good mentoring relationship. Three such behaviors to avoid are: criticizing, giving advice, and rescuing your mentee.

A mentor's words and actions can have a significant impact…positive and negative…on the self-confidence and self-image of their mentee. No matter how it is delivered, criticism is evaluative and judgmental. Typically, the outcome of criticism is not to encourage positive change, but rather to create fear and hesitation in the recipient of the criticism. Because of this, criticizing your mentee must be avoided.

This is not to say that you, as a mentor, cannot provide difficult feedback to your mentee; quite the opposite. To avoid criticizing, take the time to think through how you will provide a mentee with feedback. Use a dialogue approach, asking discovery questions (see our section on Providing Positive Feedback), to allow your mentee an opportunity to identify how they might do better.

Giving Advice
A mentoring relationship is not an opportunity for you to provide to your mentee how much you have learned through your experiences. Rather, its purpose is to provide a safe place for your mentee to learn from their experiences. Giving advice removes this opportunity.

You can best help your mentee by:

•  Listening carefully. ( see our section on Active Listening)

•  Demonstrating that you understand the nature of the difficulty by feeding back the emotions that are expressed.

•  When asked, providing information or ideas which the mentee can use to forge a solution.

Mentoring Advice

Rescuing Your Mentee
Sometimes you may be tempted to just tell your mentee what to do; after all, the appropriate action may seem obvious. When this thought occurs to you, remember this old proverb: "Give a man a fish, he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for life." If the mentee appears to set up repetitive patterns of failure, you can use your coaching skills to help the mentee to break the pattern.

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