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.