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Whether you’re a student seeking guidance or have just started a new job, it’s important to find a quality mentor. In some cases, one will automatically be provided for you, such as when you start a new job or join an organization. Other times you may need to seek one out on your own. But what makes a good mentor? What should you look for? To some extent, this will depend on your purpose for seeking out the mentor, but there are some essential qualities a good mentor should possess.  

A Willingness to Share

First and foremost a mentor should be someone who has the expertise or skills you wish to learn and a desire to share that knowledge with you. A great mentor will understand that learning is a process, remember what it was like for them when they first started out, and accept you where you are. A positive mentoring relationship will require a time commitment and someone who is eager to share what they know over the long-haul. If a person is not willing to share their knowledge without expectation of a return favor or can’t give the mentee the time and attention needed for them to be successful, then it will not be a positive and rewarding experience for either the mentee or the mentor. 

Approachability & Positive Outlook

A mentee needs someone in their corner who can cheer them on when things get difficult. A mentor needs to demonstrate compassion and sincerity. You want someone who you feel comfortable going to for advice or assistance when you need it. If your mentor makes it seem as if you are interrupting every time you need something, it is unlikely you will feel comfortable seeking them out when needed. If a mentor has a negative attitude, the mentee may be fearful of making mistakes or failing. Mistakes and failure are part of the learning process and require feedback and correction, but not in a way that makes the mentee lose their desire to learn. Great mentors want you to succeed and help you keep your mistakes in perspective.

Constructive Feedback

The backbone of a solid mentoring relationship is constructive feedback. Great mentors are excellent communicators who are able to provide a candid assessment in a respectful manner. They don’t sugar coat it; they give it to you straight – good or bad. They provide the mentee with actionable feedback that helps the mentee improve. They point out the positives as well as the negatives and aren’t afraid of being honest. They must be willing to debate, discuss, and challenge their mentee thoughtfully. A good mentor will help a mentee think through their decision-making process and the outcome of the decisions made. 

Role Models of Continued Learning

Just because someone is a mentor, doesn’t mean they know everything or that they should rest on their laurels. A great mentor will be a role model to their mentee of someone who continues to expand their knowledge and skills in the field. Mentors should demonstrate curiosity and seek out opportunities for continued learning. Great mentors remain relevant in their field. Trends and issues change in any industry and if you don’t stay on top of them, you may just find yourself behind the eight-ball. 

Having a great mentor can go a long way in helping you to achieve your goals. Look for someone who wants to share their expertise, is positive and approachable, offers honest constructive feedback, and values on-going education. If you’re struggling to find one on your own, ask a trusted colleague or professional to point you in the right direction. A good mentor can be the difference between giving up and burning out or growth and success.