Effective Mentoring Relationships

We all know the saying, “You are only as good as your weakest link,” or “People are a company’s most valuable resource.” When highly successful companies are evaluated, they typically have a few things in common; a relatively low turnover when compared to their industry peers, highly engaged employees, and a deep talent bench of high potential employees ready to take on more responsibility. More times than not, these factors are due to an effective mentoring program.

Effective mentoring programs benefit organizations in many ways. They:

  • Build bench strength
  • Help to create a culture of development
  • Drive employee engagement and retention
  • Foster productivity and performance
  • Increase cross-functional communication

The key ingredient to a successful mentor program is to ensure that that the right people are identified as mentors. So, what makes a good mentor?

There are a lot of opinions as to what makes a good mentor; however, I believe I have found one of the best summaries:

Many people feel that being a mentor requires special skills, but mentors are simply people who have the qualities of good role models.

Mentors listen. They maintain eye contact and give mentees their full attention.
Mentors guide. Mentors are there to help their mentees find life direction, never to push them. Ask open ended questions. It is a great way to get your mentee to think through situations themselves. Share your wisdom without making decisions for your mentee. That is their job.
Mentors are practical. They give insights about keeping on task and setting goals and priorities.
Mentors educate. Mentors educate about life and their own careers.
Mentors provide insight. Mentors use their personal experience to help their mentees avoid mistakes and learn from good decisions. Be open to sharing your mistakes and failures as well as your successes as these are often where our biggest lessons are learned.
Mentors are accessible. Mentors are available as a resource and a sounding board. Allow them to explore their thoughts and ideas openly with you. This will often help them unravel their thinking and gain insights.
Mentors provide helpful feedback. When necessary, mentors point out areas that need improvement, always focusing on the mentee’s behavior, never his/her character. Always ask permission to give feedback before doing so. Giving unwanted feedback can be detrimental to the relationship. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate successes as well.
Mentors are supportive. No matter how painful the mentee’s experience, mentors continue to encourage them to learn and improve.
Mentors are specific. Mentors give specific advice on what was done well or could be corrected, what was achieved and the benefits of various actions.
Mentors care. Mentors care about their mentees’ progress in school and career planning, as well as their personal development. Get to know their hopes and dreams so that you can help them in a way that meets their personal best interest.
Mentors succeed. Mentors not only are successful themselves, but they also foster success in others. This doesn’t mean you have to have all of the answers. The best answers will come from their own thinking and research with your help to support them.
Mentors are admirable. Mentors are usually well respected in their organizations and in the community. Be a positive role model. A mentee can learn a lot from their mentor simply by watching how their mentors act in certain situations.

Courtesy: The Connecticut Mentoring Partnership and the Business and Legal Reports, Inc. — Best Practices in Human Resources, Issue 653, September 30, 1999.

Effective Mentoring Activities

Skills Development

  • Suggest that your mentee choose one to three objectives, preferably skills, to work on with you.
  • Invite your mentee to some of your key meetings or have him/her observe you as you work.
  • Observe your mentee giving a presentation.  Get permission to offer your feedback privately.

Knowledge Sharing

  • Share a difficult decision you made recently and discuss what inputs you considered when making the decision and its outcome.  Ask your mentee what he/she might have done differently.
  • Ask for your mentee’s advice about a project or problem on which you are working.
  • Explain some of the “unwritten rules” you have learned about being successful at the organization.


  • Introduce your mentee to at least two people who could be helpful to him/her.
  • Link up with other mentoring pairs for lunch or another activity.
  • Occasionally call your mentee unexpectedly, just to check in.
  • Do volunteer work together.

Career Advice

  • Offer to tell your career story in some detail.  How did you start your career?  What changes did you make along the way?  Include high and low points and how these learning experiences helped you.
  • With your mentee’s permission, review your mentee’s development plan. Provide specific suggestions for and examples of any changes you recommend.
  • Help your mentee research several career paths he/she might take within or outside of the organization.

By Sue Stenbo | Creative HR Solutions

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