What makes a great mentor?


how to be a great mentor

When you imagine a great mentor, who do you picture? What qualities do they have? What makes them stand out? 

The truth is, what makes a great mentor is a very personal question. And the answer can differ from person to person. Despite this, there are some key features that all great mentors possess. Many of which came up repeatedly in season 1 of our ‘The Mentors Who Made Me’ podcast.

In each episode we interviewed a successful individual about the mentors in their lives that made them who they are today. Throughout these interviews, it became clear that although “What makes a great mentor?” is a very personal question, there are four key attributes all great mentors have.

The four key attributes of a great mentor

1. Active listening

Unsurprisingly, the importance of being a good listener came up in almost every interview we hosted. Mentees want to feel heard and understood – and listening to respond isn’t adequate in alleviating these concerns.

Chris Aleong, Head of Emerging Markets and Endoceutics listed listening as an important skill of great mentors, only second to setting expectations. In his interview, Chris commented that “mentors should not always be eager to talk and give advice. Instead, they should take the time to listen and understand what the mentee is trying to get from the conversation.”

Nathan Chestney-Stagg, VP Vault Strategy Europe at Veeva Systems echoed this sentiment, highlighting that mentors do not always need all the answers straight away: “It’s very empowering and concise when someone asks you a question to say ‘hey, that’s a really good question, I’m not so sure I have a great answer for you right now, let me think about that for a few minutes and I’ll come back to you”.

2. Empathy

Empathy is one of the most important workplace skills and a lack of empathy can be actively damaging for business. So, it’s unsurprising that it’s also one of the most important attributes of a great mentor. The ability to empathise with a mentee, based on shared experiences, can truly strengthen mentorships.

Leȉla Bazzi, Lawyer, gender equality advocate and founder of Lean In Morocco Chapter highlighted the importance of empathy in mentoring in her interview, explaining that a great mentorship can develop into a great friendship, with the mentor guiding the mentee throughout their career.

3. Selflessness

Becoming a mentor is a selfless act. You are giving your skills, knowledge and advice to your mentee, without expecting anything in return. Of course, there are instances where reverse mentoring comes into play. But on the whole, mentors get little back from the relationship. So being selfless and fully-invested in a mentees’ growth is paramount to being a great mentor.

This selflessness has been likened to that of parental pride. In fact, Donna Peters, Career Coach and Host of The Me-Suite Podcast says “A great mentor is fully invested in [their mentee’s] success, and when [the mentee] achieves it, they have a sense of pride because they feel it and own it as much as [the mentee] does”.

This attribute of selflessness allows mentors to put the needs of the mentee first. Each mentee will enter the mentorship with a unique set of needs, and the mentor must have the skills to cater for those needs. At Grasp HR, we’ve categorised a mentee’s needs into four core groups: Spark, Learn, Support and Network. Each of these needs require a different style of mentoring. A great mentor will be able to identify how they’re helping their mentee, or perhaps where they’re falling short.

4. Authenticity

Another attribute repeatedly mentioned in our podcast series was mentor authenticity. This ties in nicely with Nathan Chestney-Stagg’s comment about active listening, when he stated mentors do not need to have all the answers right away. Mentees are looking for a ‘real’ person to guide them and help them in their career growth. They aren’t expecting a superhero to sweep them off their feet and give them all the answers.

Most of all, mentees want someone they can trust. If they can tell you’re not being authentic, their trust in you will diminish quickly. Mariana Machado, VP Global Cultural Transformation at Accor commented that the more authentic and honest, the better the mentor: “Because you are being honest with [the mentee] and pushing them to listen to the truth about what you see about them”.

These four attributes of a great mentor came up time and time again in our podcast interviews. But the truth is: nobody is a perfect mentor for all mentees. The best mentoring relationships are when the mentor’s style matches the mentee’s needs. It is only then that the attributes listed above enhance the relationship. 

Finding the perfect mentoring relationship isn’t easy. So, if you’re looking at becoming or finding a mentor, or developing a programme in your organisation, take a list to our ‘What makes a great mentor’ podcast episode for more insights and tips from our wonderful Season 1 guests.

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