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Top 15 Characteristics of a Successful Mentor

Who Makes an Effective Mentor?

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Two white men talking over some work

A Mentor May Ba a Peer With More Experience

Ryan McVay / Getty Images

Gone are the days when assigning an informal buddy to mentor a new employee meant going out to lunch. These buddies generally had no mentor training and they were clueless about their responsibilities. When making every employee successful as soon as possible became the new norm, formal organization needs from a mentor grew. A formal mentor relationship can jump start the learning curve and help a new employee succeed.

These are the characteristics to seek in employees who are asked to or assigned to formally mentor new employees or employees who are new to a department or job. The required characteristics will differ somewhat in an informal mentor relationship that develops casually between two individuals.

Use a Formal Mentor Process

With a formal mentor process, a body of knowledge and other cultural teachings are an expectation of the mentor relationship. You will also find that a small component of the mentor relationship is evaluative in nature. In the sense that your organization is expecting employees who mentor to assess the new employee’s fit within the culture of the organization, the role evaluates the new employee.

With the body of knowledge the mentor must convey, the mentor must also know whether the employee is learning the required information to succeed in his or her new job. If the employee is slow to learn or not learning, the mentor can help the department make adjustments.

Seek an Informal Mentor

Employees are also encouraged to seek an informal mentor for each area of expertise the employee wishes to develop or explore. The person in this mentor role is purely a coach and a teacher with no assessment responsibilities.

Characteristics of a Successful Formal Mentor

The assigned mentor has these characteristics.

  • Wants to mentor another employee and is committed to the employee's growth and development and cultural integration.
  • Has the job content knowledge necessary to effectively teach a new employee significant job knowledge.
  • Familiar with the organization's norms and culture. Can articulate and teach the culture.
  • Demonstrates honesty, integrity, and both respect for and responsibility for stewardship.
  • Demonstrates effective communication skills both verbally and nonverbally.
  • Willing to help develop another employee through guidance, feedback, and occasionally, an insistence on a particular level of performance or appropriate direction.
  • Initiates new ideas and fosters the employee's willingness and ability to make changes in his or her performance based on the constant change occurring in their work environment.
  • Has enough emotional intelligence to be aware of their personal emotions and is sensitive to the emotions and feelings of the employee they are mentoring.
  • Is an individual who would be rated as highly successful in both their job and in navigating the organization's culture by coworkers and managers.
  • Demonstrates success in establishing and maintaining professional networks and relationships, both online and offline.
  • Willing to communicate failures as well as successes to the mentored employee.
  • Able to spend an appropriate amount of time with the mentored employee.
  • Open to spending time with diverse individuals who may not share a common background, values, or goals.
  • Able to initiate conflict to ensure the employee's successful integration into the organization. Willing to acknowledge, as a mentor, that an employee may not succeed in your organization.
  • Able to say when the relationship is not working and back away appropriately without regard to ego issues or the need to assign blame or gossip about the situation.

If you select employees to mentor who have these characteristics, you will ensure the success of your formal mentor relationships. This, in turn, ensures the successful integration of the new employee within your work unit.

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