5 things that great mentors do

A wise man named Mentor is given the task of educating Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.

When Odysseus went to fight in the Trojan War, he entrusted the care of his kingdom and his son to Mentor.

From this ancient Greek origin, modern dictionaries define a mentor as a trusted counsellor or guide.

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A good mentor, however, is hard to find, so many of us go through life without experiencing the difference they can make.

Mentors don’t just provide guidance and answers in sticky situations or career transitions, they also provide motivation and inspiration that helps mentees fulfil their potential.

Here’s what sets great mentors apart:

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1. They know the mentee brings value to the table

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” — John Crosby

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Mentors may possess all kinds of accumulated wisdom, but a mentee isn’t an empty vessel into which they can pour all this knowledge.

It is difficult to deal with someone who drones on and on, taken with their own brilliance. Great mentors hear what the mentee has to say before giving their opinion.

A great mentor questions points of view. They welcome insights and perspectives that they may not yet appreciate. They find out what makes someone tick, and learn a mentee’s talents and limitations.

They dig deeper to find out where mentees see themselves in the future, what their more immediate goals are, how their passions align with their careers, and how their jobs fit into the rest of their lives.

Great mentors read between the lines to identify what hasn’t been shared yet. Without making the effort to get a full picture of a mentee, they can never be truly effective.

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2. They help set things in motion

“My mentor said, ‘Let’s go do it,’ not, ‘You go do it’. How powerful when someone says, ‘Let’s!’”

— Jim Rohn

Mentors need to allow mentees the opportunity to identify concerns and potential solutions. Mentors should encourage mentees to take risks and do things differently by implementing creative solutions.

Mentors can improve the outcome of their mentoring by doing things like setting goals and brainstorming on possible solutions to job problems together with their mentees.

A mentor can offer ideas, but the mentee should be allowed to choose which plan to put into action. The mentor’s role is to offer support and encouragement to ensure the successful completion of the plan.

A mentor and mentee should also reflect on outcomes of their plan together, and make adjustments where they’re needed.

3. They bring out a mentee’s potential

“The key to being a good mentor is to help people become more of who they already are, not to make them more like you.” — Suze Orman

A mentor’s role is to recognise and then help foster a mentee’s true talent and potential. Oftentimes, a mentee may have difficulty seeing their own strengths or limitations.

A mentor, as an outsider, can help a mentee acknowledge what they bring to the table, and then constantly inspire and assist them in seeing their talents, potential and goals come to fruition.

However, they don’t force their own ideas or goals down a mentee’s throat.

4. They don’t just talk a good game

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is easy to talk a good game in mentorship. However, it’s the mentors who follow through with actual action that stand apart from those who offer advice alone.

Listening and sharing knowledge are important facets of any mentoring relationship, but what are mentors really willing to do for their mentees?

Good mentors should believe in their mentees enough to take risks for them. That means introducing them to people who could be helpful to their careers, passing on their CVs to companies they’re interested in, letting them shadow or attend meetings with you or pointing them toward a conference or programme that could enrich their careers.

The truest signs of a dedicated and valuable mentor is one who’s always keeping an eye out for tangible opportunities that they can initiate on behalf of their mentees, and then taking action to connect them.

5. They prove their worth

“One good mentor can be more informative than a college education and more valuable than a decade’s income.” — Sean Stephenson

It is tempting for mentors to want to live up to the ‘all-knowing, all-powerful’ person their mentees may believe them to be.

We all want to gloss over some of the more embarrassing mistakes we’ve made. However, in a mentoring relationship, sugarcoating failings does a disservice to the mentee, and as a mentee you will likely encounter many of the same challenges that led to these mistakes.

If a mentor has learned from their mistakes, their mentees deserve the benefit of that wisdom. Mentors aren’t just there to add this role to a list of accomplishments. The best mentors teach mentees their insight, draw from their experiences, and provide a once-in-a-lifetime education.

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