Many of the qualities that make a person a good partner in a personal relationship are also found in a good mentor. He or she should be a good listener, committed to the relationship, considerate of the other person’s feelings, trustworthy, and faithful. Maintaining a nonjudgmental attitude and having a good sense of humor helps ensure friendship and respect, which are needed for the protégé’s success.

People who appear cool and emotionally detached are seldom good mentors because they are not easily approachable. Mentors with relaxed body language and an open, friendly attitude encourage their protégés to confide in them and to trust that they will be available for help whenever it is needed. By making solid eye contact and exhibiting positive and frequent reactions to the protégé’s conversation, the mentor underscores that the protégé and the protégé’s ideas are important.

Open dialogue can lead to the disclosure of information that is meant to be confidential. How much confidentiality that is shared is between the two parties in a mentorship. A mentor should never coerce information from a protégé, and is expected to protect confidentiality unless the limits of safety to people or the organization are in question (or, of course, there are legal concerns). Similarly, the mentor should not reveal confidential company information. Limits should be discussed at the outset of the mentorship so that everyone knows what they are.

In addition to exhibiting good relationship skills, a mentor must serve as a role model. It is not unusual for protégés to mimic characteristics of mentors they admire, but they must also be encouraged to make these characteristics their own. The goal of a mentor is not to create a clone, but to foster a protégé’s growth and development.

Although shared values create strong relationships, the mentorship relationship must leave room for the protégé to choose values that may differ from the mentor’s. A protégé may also develop abilities that the mentor does not have, which can be difficult for the mentor to accept. A successful mentor recognizes and celebrates these accomplishments, for a goal of mentorship is for the two individuals to become colleagues who can benefit one another.

Throughout the mentorship, an effective mentor reads the protégé well and is able to tailor the mentoring experience to that person’s emotions, personality, and drive. The mentor must not be a perfectionist nor allow the protégé to become one. Accepting limitations without expecting them creates a healthy learning environment.

Most important, a good mentor must be trustworthy. For example, a mentor should be able to keep appointments, follow through on promises, and speak honestly in every conversation with his or her protégé. Trustworthiness is exhibited when the mentor behaves with the utmost integrity in both personal and professional activities.



The popular adage, “If you want to have a good friend, you must be a good friend,” also holds true for mentoring. The mentor who sets the example of a proper work ethic, steady productivity, and self-care is most apt to develop a protégé who exhibits these traits. A good mentor accepts responsibility for the success of the relationship and the accountability for how it is proceeding.

Effective mentors realize that their protégés will be helpful in reducing the workload, and can be counted on to provide loyalty and assistance. They will also benefit from the increased excitement of working with talented newcomers and guiding protégés to success. Both mentors and protégés can enrich each other’s networks.

An active mentor should also be an active professional who is highly involved in the organization. By demonstrating command of the field and visibility among peers, the mentor mirrors the activity that is expected of the protégé. Such activity also shows the mentor to be a hard worker and innovator, which creates excitement in the mentorship.

Mentors who are proficient at their jobs, knowledgeable about their companies, and aware of what is required in their mentorship roles will produce the best and most confident protégés. They are aware that their influence over protégés comes with responsibility. They must not exploit protégés personally or professionally, and must be honest about protégés’ abilities at all times. It can be difficult to give objective feedback, especially if a mentor becomes friends with a protégé, or if it becomes clear that the protégé is in the wrong field; however, honest feedback is always in the protégé’s best interest.

Mentors should not attempt to turn their protégés into exact replicas of themselves. A successful mentor discovers what inspires the protégé and where his or her dreams and objectives lie, then shows the protégé how to accomplish as many of them as possible. Humble mentors who are comfortable talking about their own limitations and imperfections have been proven to be better models for their protégés.


Being a good mentor begins with selecting the right person as a protégé. People with compatible personalities, career goals, and talents work better together, providing sound footing for the mentoring relationship. Beyond that, it is important to establish goals, guidelines, and methods of interpreting expected success and to agree on them.

Both member and protégé should be willing to commit the time and attention necessary to a successful mentorship. A mentor who is readily available for questions, instruction, and feedback and who gets to know the protégé well is better able to help that person as the relationship develops. The mentor must determine what it takes to motivate without taking over and how to best help the protégé set reachable goals that utilize talents and allay fears (which may naturally crop up along the way).

An affirming attitude that does not give way to frustration when things do not work out as planned encourages the protégé to feel safe during challenges, and that leads to growth and comfort in the mentorship. Good mentors are willing to offer counsel, share their own inadequacies and struggles, and promote their protégés within organizations by giving them high-profile assignments and introducing them to others who can also help them become successful.

Excellent mentors refuse to accept anything but the best efforts from their protégés. When a mentor lets a protégé know that he or she expects the best and has complete confidence in the protégé’s abilities, the protégé makes every effort to succeed and experiences increased self-confidence.

At times, a protégé may need protection against others in the organization who may be threats. A successful mentor provides this protection, while at the same time offering corrective feedback and encouragement when both are needed to keep the protégé on the right path to success. In a sense, the mentorship is like an incubator, providing a safe place for the protégé to experiment with developing skills before having to depend on them for survival. In the mentoring relationship, creativity is allowed to bloom in a somewhat protected environment.

Additionally, a good mentor sponsors the protégé within the company by providing introductions to people who are important to know and by creating projects that will gain the protégé recognition. Such experiences allow the protégé to develop a circle of colleagues and a history of accomplishments.

Other mentoring responsibilities include imparting insider knowledge about the organization, its history, the way it does business, and how best to navigate within the organization to be successful. Throughout the mentorship, and during regular meetings and discussions of goals and abilities, the mentor provides direction regarding how much progress is being made.

A mentoring relationship changes as the protégé becomes more confident and skillful. Because each partner in the relationship becomes more trusting and respectful of the other, and affection between them grows, it is the mentor’s further responsibility to ensure that the personal boundaries between them stay on a professional level.

Continual affirmation of the protégé’s personal and professional skills communicates trust and confidence on the part of a mentor–who must also be aware of the protégé’s talents, fears, and vulnerabilities so that he or she can apply praise, encouragement, and validation in the proper areas.



There are four different personality styles that individuals fall into, and each category represents differing degrees of assertiveness and responsiveness in their dealings with others. Mentors do not need to be matched with those with similar styles, but they do need to understand the differences in the styles and how best to interact with each.

1. Drivers are results-driven. They are decisive and work at a rapid pace. They are not interested in small details and they have a direct interpersonal style. Drivers are highly assertive and less responsive to others’ needs. Mentors should set clear goals, be available for questions, and let Drivers take charge of setting objectives.

2. Expressives are outgoing and energetic, and they enjoy being in the spotlight. They have strong people skills and are less task focused than other styles. Expressives score high on both the assertiveness and responsiveness scales. Mentors will need flexibility in implementing mentoring plans because Expressives are subject to shifts in interests and priorities. Expressives will need some independence in executing their plans and are responsive to praise.

3. Amiables are team players who are easygoing, like to work with others, and do well in service positions. They are comfortable with routine. They score higher on the responsiveness scale and lower on the assertiveness scale than other styles. Mentors should be aware that Amiables may be motivated to please their mentors, but they may be passive about setting strategies and taking bold steps toward innovation.

4. Analyticals are perfectionists; they are low-key in disposition and task oriented. They prefer working alone and may keep their feelings to themselves. Analyticals are lower on both the assertiveness and responsiveness scales. Mentors should make sure their plans are in writing so that Analyticals can review and assess them. Mentoring that is focused more on career coaching and less on psychosocial aspects will be better received by Analyticals.



Mentors’ behaviors have a more powerful impact on protégés than words do. Protégés pay attention to behaviors, and when they observe their mentors’ traits and see a connection to career success, they will want to adopt similar behaviors.

Mentors should model several different types of behavior. For example, technical expertise is important, but interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence hat have the greatest impact. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognize emotional responses to situations and manage them productively. There are four attributes mentors need to demonstrate strong emotional intelligence:

1. Self-awareness. When mentors are aware of their own weaknesses and discuss them candidly with protégés, they are modeling self-awareness. For example, a mentor can ask a protégé for feedback on any aspect of the mentor’s performance. By accepting feedback without defensiveness, the mentor has set an example of behavior that the protégé can emulate.

2. Self-management. Self-management involves dealing positively with stress and not letting emotions overtake rational thinking when difficult challenges arise.

3. Relationship awareness. Mentors who have good relationship awareness are able to step outside themselves and see situations from others’ perspectives. They begin discussions by first trying to understand another’s viewpoint.

4. Relationship management. Conflict in situations or relationships can impede progress. A good mentor knows how to manage conflict by respecting others’ viewpoints and by looking for positive change.



An organization can maximize the potential of its internal workforce through mentoring programs. By developing its existing staff, a company can save on the cost of hiring from the outside, uncover hidden talent, boost staff retention, and see protégés direct their creative energy toward finding innovative solutions.

The key to a successful mentoring program is to match the right level of mentoring resources to the right workers. Different combinations of resources applied to different workers yield various outcomes. For example:

*Spending a limited amount of time and energy mentoring workers whose jobs are repetitive with limited growth opportunity may result in talent stasis, or decreased opportunities for people to create value within their organizations.

*Spending a large amount of mentoring resources across the board for everyone in the organization can result in wasted resources because not all workers have the potential to develop enough to justify the investment.

*Spending only a small amount of mentoring resources on people who have great upside potential results in wasted opportunities for development.

*Spending a large amount of resources on mentoring and carefully matching the right mentors to the right workers provides the best leveraging of talent and resources.


Informal mentoring occurs when a mentor and protégé naturally gravitate toward each other and form a bond. It is the most effective type of mentoring. It often happens when a senior leader in a company wants to help a junior member who is having career struggles similar to what the senior member once experienced. Or, a junior employee may aspire to a higher position and approach the senior person for advice. This type of mentoring relationship tends to have strong emotional components.

In formal mentoring, a company organizes a mentoring system to match mentors to protégés. Since people are directed to be together rather than naturally coming together, there will need to be a period of trust building and exploration of joint interests.

How organizations can make the best matches in a formal mentoring system is not fully understood, although it is sometimes compared to a dating service. An essential ingredient in the matchmaking is giving the mentee major input into the process. A company can compile a group of people who are willing to be mentors and then the protégés can select who they want to work with. Mentor profiles can help protégés find people with backgrounds, positions, or other qualities that might be a good fit. Other types of information that should be included in a mentor profile include:

*Background information, such as age, location, marital status, ethnicity, and college affiliations.

*Career details, including current and previous positions.

*Professional interests, such as an interest in technology or an industry specialty.

*Personal interests that can help build rapport, such as politics, sports, or fitness.


Mentors need to possess three fundamental skills before they can implement the nine mentoring practices:

1. Understanding self-actualization. Once people have met their basic survival needs, their motivation turns to personal fulfillment. Mentors need to understand their protégés’ ideas of what they need to have meaningful and fulfilling careers.

2. Fostering self-awareness. Mentors must help mentees become aware of their strengths and weaknesses and guide them in developing plans for improvement.

3. Having empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand someone else’s experience and engage effectively based on that understanding. Empathy can be cultivated by listening more than talking and asking open-ended questions.



While mentors draw upon similar skills used by advisors, coaches, and confidants, they also employ special skills that distinguish the mentor role from other helping and teaching roles. The unique characteristics of mentoring relationships include:

*Offline assistance. Mentoring happens outside the scope of formal work responsibilities. Outcomes of the process should not be a direct part of an employee’s performance evaluation.

*Transitional assistance. Mentors often help protégés manage major transitions, such as career changes.

*Emotional connection. In a mentoring relationship, trust and a deep sense of emotional connection are developed.

*Long-term stability. The mentoring process is a bond that lasts even when there are big changes, such as a geographic relocation of one of the participants.

*Wide competence difference. For mentoring associations to be useful to mentees over their careers, mentors need to hold more senior positions and offer advice throughout the various levels of the mentees’ advancement.

*Multifaceted role. At different phases in a protégé’s development, the mentor may need to take on different roles, such as being a sponsor on a big project or being a teacher explaining effective techniques.

*Modeling performance. Telling a protégé how to do something is good, but demonstrating it is even better. For example, a mentor could invite his or her mentee to a meeting to observe the mentor’s speech-making skills



A detailed plan is essential for success. Based on initial assessments, leaders must determine specific courses of action for each stage of the process and what resources will be needed. They should then focus on winning over key people in the organization.

The Plan

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 2.55.13 pmDespite the pressure to show quick results, leaders must take the time to develop in-depth plans spelling out what is expected, the implementation process, the cost, and what is due when. This will help their teams work more efficiently and communicate better. Insufficient support can exhaust team members and undermine a project. A well researched “resourcing plan” can help ensure that the human side of the change is addressed as well as the technical needs.

Those affected by the project need clarity about their respective tasks and the overall effort. These rules, including the decision-making process, should be spelled out up front to avoid conflicts later. Employees also need time and practice to learn new skills, change the way they think and behave, forge new connections, and assimilate new working processes. People need to be able to talk about the change until it becomes the norm. Project leaders must help coworkers make these adjustments.

Major change always entails significant risks. Initial plans are inevitably based on limited information; project leaders must recognize the risks, anticipate problems, take steps to minimize them, and make plans for dealing with those that do occur. Companies often focus on technical risks while downplaying the ways people actually behave.


Change teams must have the skills needed to execute project plans. Leaders must consider the optimum team size and what each member brings to a project. It is easier to obtain needed resources at the start of a project than halfway through. A slim budget may look appealing, but it will hinder results. After management approves team member selections, leaders must win those employees over. It helps to consider why individual candidates might be reluctant: perhaps they prefer their current assignment, worry about the impact on their career, or wonder what will happen once the project is completed.

Good leaders can help reduce team members’ fears. A good leader must be organized, able to see what is missing, have strong interpersonal skills, and know how to solve problems. They must be honest, weather challenges gracefully, and know themselves well enough to recruit team members who can supply the skills they lack. The initial team meeting should establish how the leader will manage the project and expectations concerning team members’ behavior. Humor must be incorporated to offset stress and keep people from breaking down.

If a leader is thinking about hiring a consultant to help on a project, the consultant must be chosen carefully. Project leaders must see past consultants’ personas to assess how much they actually know that relates to the project at hand, and whether they will do the work themselves or enlist less experienced staff.