4 Traits of a Great Mentor

4 Traits of a Great Mentor

If you’re looking for personal growth, one of the most effective ways to develop personally and professionally is to find yourself a mentor.

Mentors are invaluable because they are at points in their career where you aspire to be in the long term. They give you a sense of long term purpose and help you envision what the future could look like for yourself. 

Think of a mentor as a coach; they are there to help you develop and accomplish your long term career goals, they have deep experience and knowledge of the career path you want, and they volunteer their time to help guide others.

You’ll want to invest heavily in your relationship with a mentor. However, finding a great mentor can be tough because mentors can come in many different forms (professionally and personally) and many times, mentors are people who you don’t have regular interactions with (e.g. a much more senior co-worker). 

First and foremost, your mentor should:

  1. Give honest and constructive feedback
  2. Motivate you to do your best work possible
  3. Is highly skilled in their area of expertise
  4. Want to see you succeed in achieving your career goals

Here’s more detail on each of these.

Give honest and constructive feedback

Great mentors will always tell you when you’re doing something well–and when and how you need to improve. Constructive feedback is the key to an impactful mentorship, as this is what truly helps you learn and grow. You’ll learn more from your failures than you will from your accomplishments and it’s important to identify a mentor who conveys feedback in a way that’s constructive for you. You need a consistent, trustworthy source to let you know where you can improve–and more importantly how to improve for next time.

Even as a senior product manager, I get a lot of constructive feedback from my mentors at work, such as how I communicate a rollout plan, how I use data to make important product decisions, or how a presentation I delivered to the executive team could have gone better. I know that my best mentors are the ones who are taking notes on my work, thinking carefully about how I performed, and, most importantly, telling me how I did and what areas I should focus on improving.

Motivate you to do your best work possible

Mentors are people you look up to. They motivate you to not only work harder, but also to put the time and attention into your work that will ultimately make you successful.

If it weren’t for mentors encouraging me to grow and develop my skills, I would not be able to accomplish what I have thus far in my career. For example, when I was building a plan to revamp our app onboarding process, I faced many obstacles and differing opinions across stakeholders. This made progress extremely difficult, as I had to keep the scope reasonable and stick to a predetermined deadline.

My mentors helped me frame my presentation and proposal in a way that helped me move forward and set scope boundaries, while also ensuring we delivered a product that all stakeholders could fully support. While it may sound manageable, in practice it was extremely difficult and many times I wanted to give up. My mentors kept me motivated throughout the process and ultimately helped me deliver a great result for the company and product.

Highly skilled in their area of expertise

Your mentors should have a track record of success. You can look at their LinkedIn profile and draw inspiration from their career trajectory and growth. You should expect that a great mentor will share their learnings and story with you when you ask them about it.

In the beginning of my career, I had developed relationships with senior directors at both Symantec and RingCentral, who over time, as I delivered value for them by doing great work and helped them accomplish their goals, rewarded me with mentorship. They talked me through their own career stories and how they developed themselves through skill and experience.  

These stories ultimately gave me a North Star that I used to inform my own career path.

Want to see you succeed in your career goals

Your mentors should be your biggest fans. They are the ones cheering you on from the sidelines as you focus and execute on your career goals.  

They have a genuine interest in helping you succeed beyond what’s in it for themselves. You will be able to sense this as you share your progress in your career journey.  

Throughout my early career, I made sure to establish a regular 1:1 meeting cadence with my mentors so I could brief them on how I was doing. If I was doing well, we would discuss why, and if I was struggling, we would discuss what I should be doing to turn it around and get back on track. These conversations may be rare, but when they occur they’re extremely valuable.  

Mentorship relationships are long-lasting. You never know when your paths may cross again in the future, or when a mentor will go out of their way for you unexpectedly.   

And when you reach your career goals, your mentors will be the ones you want to thank!