How To Be a Good Mentor: 10 Important Steps You Can Follow

Updated February 3, 2023

Two people engaged in conversation, sitting on a couch.

At some point in your career, you may become a mentor. When you become a mentor, you're seen as a trusted leader in the workplace. Taking on a mentorship role can help you develop your leadership skills and enable you to be of maximum service to your mentees.

In this article, we define the role of a mentor, describe the steps you can follow to be a good mentor and list some traits of successful mentors.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is a trusted adviser who provides insight and support when needed. The objective is for you to help the person you're mentoring—often referred to as the mentee—achieve their aspirations and goals. While the relationship can be informal or formal, it's always considered professional. The ground rules can change over time as both people develop and grow.

A mentor can provide value to a mentee by:

  • Sharing knowledge and life experiences

  • Offering encouragement and inspiration

  • Listening when needed and providing guidance or advice when asked

  • Helping the mentee set goals and explore different career paths

  • Reviewing the mentee's resume and helping them prepare for interviews

  • Helping the mentee develop their own leadership skills

  • Suggesting new opportunities for the mentee to take on to advance their skills

Mentor relationships can last anywhere from a one-time session through the lifetime of your career. Some mentors help people in the workplace with a variety of issues such as pursuing promotions, taking on new responsibilities and developing interpersonal relationships.

Related: Leadership Traits: 10 Top Qualities of Effective Leaders

How to be a great mentor in your workplace

Follow these 10 steps to become a strong and valuable mentor within your workplace:

1. Enroll in a formal mentoring program if your company has one

Some companies put a lot of effort into making sure there are available mentors in the workplace. They may have a structured process for training new mentors and pairing them with interested mentees. If your employer offers a mentorship program, consider participating as a way to support your employer's efforts and prepare for being an active mentor at your job.

Related: 9 Prompting Questions a Mentor Can Ask Their Mentee

2. Invest time in getting to know your mentee

As with any relationship, a mentee-mentor relationship works best when you invest time. Get to know your mentee on both a personal and professional level and learn about their long-term goals, education and wants/needs within their current career.

Request an interview or a personal discussion with your mentee. This can help you give the attention and time to get to know more about your mentee on a personal and professional level. The stronger your relationship with your mentee, the more you both can benefit.

3. Decide the structure of your mentorship

Being a good mentor requires a well-defined structure. Some questions to consider include:

  • How often do you want to meet? Only as needed or at specific times?

  • How do you plan to guide your mentee? Are you going to set tasks and objectives or meet for coffee and discuss your approach?

  • How do you plan on determining if the process is successful? Do you have a formal review or are you going to use a casual check-in to see how your mentee is doing and whether the relationship is still meeting both of your needs and expectations?

The more specific you can be by outlining measurable goals together, the more likely both of you may experience the benefits of a mentorship program.

4. Let your mentee make their own decisions

While you may be more experienced than your mentee, it's important to guide them and let them make their own decisions. You can give advice and let them figure out what decisions to make. This is part of the evolution process and allows your mentee to learn by trial and error. It also allows your mentee to continue to grow and become confident in their decisions independently of you.

5. Deliver honest and genuine feedback

Providing constructive criticism is a requirement of the mentor-mentee relationship. Don't be afraid to sound like a harsh critic, as long as your approach is pertinent, honest and compassionate. Giving regular feedback from the start can help them develop as a professional by ensuring they set high expectations for themselves.

6. Establish respect for each other

With mutual respect comes acceptance, and that can help both parties feel as though the mentorship is operating in a safe environment. Both sides are more likely to communicate openly and take bigger risks since there is no fear of being ridiculed or judged. Also, a good mentor is willing to share their expertise, skills and knowledge with others and above all, they want to see their mentee succeed.

Related: 22 Gift Ideas for a Mentor That Will Show Your Gratitude

7. Be a good listener and a compassionate communicator

While you may be able to help your mentee find a solution to their problems, you can't fix the problem for them. A successful mentor understands that listening is just as important as offering advice or guidance. Letting your mentee know that you're available and willing to listen and brainstorm when needed can foster open communication and a more productive relationship.

When being a good listener and communicator, consider using the acronym WAIT—why am I talking—to help communicate effectively and reflect on what you're trying to communicate with your mentee. Is what I'm saying adding value to the conversation? Is what I'm saying repeating information already said during the conversation?

Asking these questions helps constantly add value to a discussion and can help build a stronger mentor-mentee relationship.

8. Be open about your own mistakes

Being honest about your struggles can build trust with your mentee and encourage them to open up about their missteps and failures. It can also help with problem-solving skills. Others may like to see how you approached a situation and what worked as well as what didn't work.

9. Celebrate your mentee's achievements

It may seem like a lot of your conversations revolve around negative topics if your primary communication with your mentee is about how to solve problems in the workplace. A good mentor understands that the best mentorships involve more than just work and problem-solving, so be sure to set aside time to celebrate your mentee's achievements to keep the vibe positive.

Encourage your mentee to share their awards and achievements. How you choose to celebrate their achievements is subjective, and only you can decide what works best for your mentorship. To be a good mentor, you want to take a personal interest in the relationship and treat it as an important part of your life. A successful mentor feels invested in the mentee's successes.

10. Be a role model

Your mentee may look up to you if you're in a leadership role or have more experience than them. Be aware of your behavior in the workplace and the way you portray yourself verbally and nonverbally.

A good mentor exhibits enthusiasm about their job and the company, so even how you write and respond to emails is one way your mentee may take a cue on how to act in the workplace. Further, if a mentor isn't enthusiastic about the mentee, it can show, and the mentorship is not likely to work out. Or, if they aren't happy in their career or with the company, a lack of enthusiasm may come through, which can also damage the relationship.

Related: How To Make the Most of Your Mentor Relationship

Traits of successful mentors

There are certain traits that successful mentors demonstrate. The following are common characteristics and traits of effective mentors:

  • They meet their own ongoing professional and personal goals.

  • They're respected by colleagues at multiple levels within the company because they have worked to develop positive relationships.

  • They value ongoing learning and advance their own knowledge of their field by staying on top of the latest trends via professional conferences, workshops or even teaching classes.

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