When we look back on our lives, most of us can identify people who, at some point or another, stood up for us, encouraged us, held us accountable, gave us honest feedback, challenged us, and drove us to become better. These mentors saw something in us that maybe we couldn’t see in ourselves.
What is it about great mentorship that changes lives and promotes growth?
Whether you’re seeking a great mentor or hoping to mentor someone else, there are several criteria we can look for or build within ourselves to ensure a successful mentorship. I tapped into my leadership network to gain insight and validate what we believe to be the primary characteristics in identifying great mentors.
Here are five characteristics of great mentorship:
1. Genuine Openness to Helping Others
Great mentors are usually people that genuinely care about other people. Mentoring isn’t for show or recognition, but rather something one does out of concern for another person. An empathetic element enables a mentor to visualize something beyond their own dreams and goals to lift someone else.
Mentors are respectful of other people and find value in helping them find and pursue their dreams and passions.
It’s not easy to be a great mentor when your own life is extremely busy or in crisis mode, but mentors lead teams of people while still looking to foster others’ development. Great mentors ignite a ripple effect that moves well beyond the person mentored. They know how to make an impact.
2. Good Observers Who Understand Networking
Great mentors identify strengths, or even potential strengths, in others and then help connect those talents to the right people and situations. They can observe talent and then as if their minds house a Rolodex of information, network to connect that talent to an organization, fundamental need, or some other entity that could put that talent to good use.
Everyone is good at something. Identifying that skill in someone else is how mentors plant the seeds of greatness in the first place. Sometimes the mentee realizes their strengths solely due to the actions of the mentor.
This capability requires a non-judgmental approach to both observing the talent and connecting it to the broader network. It doesn’t work as well if only certain people have access to the network or the mentors. Great mentors don’t see color or status; they see people.
With the tool of the network, anything is possible. Networking is an art, and it takes time and attention to build an invaluable one. Good mentors foster great relationships and maintain their networks.
3. Great Communicators Who Listen
Not everyone has the relational tools that are necessary for good mentorship. Being a good communicator, including the listening portion of communication, is key to developing and sustaining relationships critical for networking and mentoring. You can learn more about another person by merely listening to them and understanding their background, opinions, and beliefs.
Great mentors can read people and have an understanding of how to reach them. They help people find their passion and initiate a conversation to help draw out interests. They tell stories and show a path forward to the person connecting with them.
Mentors give mentees valuable feedback that is true and honest. They are enthusiastic about the feedback and the communication because they engage in the process. Their communication brings about clarity and provides direction.
Instead of always pointing out weaknesses in someone else, mentors help people find their strengths and then nourish and direct those strengths toward something even better with active listening and an encouraging voice.
4. Sacrifice Time and Money
Great mentors are not opposed to spending time and money to help someone grow. This investment comes in many forms. Have you ever had someone invest in you because they believed in you and what you were doing? Have you ever had someone pay for an educational course, cover the cost of a trip to visit someone who could help your cause, or purchase a software program that you needed? Have you ever had someone spend extra time with you to develop a skill or review a resume, application, or proposal you had to submit?
We all know people who orchestrated events and circumstances in our lives that made a difference in our journey. They spent time or money, or sometimes both, to make sure we had the tools necessary to succeed in something we were passionate about.
Even with busy jobs or challenges of their own, mentors are willing to sacrifice for the growth and progression of others.
5. Value a Higher Purpose
Genuine mentors have a mentality that “we’re all in this together.” This phrase is a common saying for all great teams—we’re in it together; we have each other’s backs.
Great mentors understand that it goes beyond the team they lead, the company they own, or the family with which they belong. Discovering others’ skills and bridging that talent to a broader network means aiming for a better world, where a lasting impact is made possible.
They understand that the world is small and that we’re all connected in some way. The stronger the connections, the better off we are as a greater community.
Like leaders and managers, those they oversee also have lives, families, crises, and challenges. They make mistakes and have weaknesses, just like the leaders, yet, they also have strengths. They have passions and qualities that could lead to greatness if only someone stepped in to help them unlock those qualities and direct them toward a potential path.
Obstacles to Great Mentoring
If mentoring has such positive effects on people and society, why aren’t all managers and leaders also great mentors? Several responses emerged when I asked my network about what obstacles they see preventing great mentorship.
I’ve heard people say they’re too busy to mentor. I’ve listened to managers and coaches complain that they’ve got too much on their plates to worry about mentoring others. They have tight schedules, deadlines to meet, games to win, and bottom lines to hit. There’s no extra time to mentor the people that work for or with them or even others outside their direct responsibility.
We’ve often seen and heard this word, particularly in the past couple of years. Privilege has always existed but has reemerged due to the recent social unrest. Unfortunately, we have biases as to where people should be in life. Some believe there is a pecking order, and only certain types of people are deserving of the resources and available help.
It’s hard for some to see past their own lives and narrow worlds. Narcissism is excessive interest in oneself. It is a hyper sense of entitlement and a lack of empathy. It’s driven by a feeling that one can never look bad or be the cause of any mistakes. In an unempathetic mindset, there is no room to help anyone else unless and only if it serves the narcissist.
This list of the obstacles to great mentoring is not exclusive, but it allows the opportunity to reflect on our own leadership style or the styles with which we work. Not all leaders are mentors, and not all mentors are leaders. But when we find individuals who are both leaders and mentors, we see great mentorship. What follows in their wake is a trail of remarkable people making a difference in this world.
Just think of how many people could join in the effort to make the world a better place. If only we all had access to the same tools, resources, support, and opportunity to develop our talents and find our passions. Imagine how many people could realize their greatness if we all took the time to mentor only one person this year.
When people discover their passion, they tend to invest in it more and enjoy doing so. This investment leads to a greater purpose-driven society. When others benefit from what we do, our jobs, communities, families, and the world become a better place.
When presented with the opportunity to discover talent and connect them to someone who could help them, do we assist in making the connection, or do we immerse ourselves in our own worlds, ignoring the fact that we could have propelled someone forward?
As leaders, we have the opportunity to make a difference and have a lasting impact. Become a mentor.