While facing a moral dilemma recently, I couldn't help but be reminded that no matter how much I've grown personally and professionally, I still rely on certain people to help navigate the unchartered territory I sometimes face. During these uncertain times, I find myself lacking confidence and courage, and the fear of meeting resistance, while standing up for what I believe, often cripples me from moving forward. I could easily give up and back down, however, like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, I have been extremely fortunate to meet people in my walk of life who have helped me overcome my fears and obstacles. These people have become my mentors.
The impact my mentors have had on my life has been tremendous and has transformed me into the leader I am today. Thus, I believe everyone should seek out a mentor to turn to, especially when faced with dilemmas in life. These mentors are so influential because they're trusted, honest, incredible listeners, they build courage, provide knowledge, and hold us accountable. All of these factors contribute to their success in growing people, like myself, along the way.
7 Qualities of a Mentor
They can be trusted!
A mentor is defined as a trusted counselor or guide (“Mentor,” n.d.). The word that stands out to me in this definition is trusted. Any individual can provide counsel or guidance; however, trusting in that person differentiates a mentor from just anyone you encounter. I'd consider my mentors as those I feel connected to and can trust with private information I share. There have been times that I’ve shared dilemmas involving my husband, kids, coworkers, or boss. Without the security of knowing what I've conveyed would stay between the two of us, I would have been hesitant to seek their advice.
They are honest!
Honesty is another outstanding quality of a mentor. Mentors should be candid in their feedback and sometimes say things that might be difficult for the mentee to hear. They aren't "yes men" or people who always agree to avoid conflict. My mentors have pointed out what Maxwell (2018) refers to as my blind spots or the things I don't see about myself (p. 156). It hasn't always been easy to hear either. Maxwell asks the question: “What is it like to be on the other side of the table from me?” He explains that what he hears sometimes isn’t always comfortable, but if taken with the right attitude, the feedback can be used to self-correct (p. 156). This feedback is vital because if people in our inner circle always agree with us or tell us what we want to hear, we’d be far less likely to see the need to make changes to ourselves.
They are incredible listeners!
I’ve found myself in several conversations with my mentor where I am doing all the talking as they listened intently to everything I was saying without interruption. What I've realized is that my mentors are amazing listeners. As I'm talking through my dilemma, they gather all the information I'm presenting to help me come up with a solution. Greenleaf (2008) talks about the importance of listening and how solutions can be brought to light by participating in the simple act of listening (pp. 18–19). I’ve experienced this on several occasions, as my mentors have said, "Carrie, you know what the solution is, you said it yourself."
They help build courage!
Mentors provide an incredible source of courage, especially when you're facing a terrifying situation. I recently needed to engage in a conversation with my employer about interactions that I didn't believe were appropriately handled and felt harmed the organization's future. Several ethical issues needed to be addressed, and I feared they would be faced with some level of resistance. For the first time in a long time, I was honestly frightened about my future with the organization and the outcome of this conversation. After talking with several of my mentors about the situation, they built up my courage and confidence by validating my concerns. They’re uplifting words about me as a person, their reminders of what I've accomplished in the past, and their promise of support regardless of the outcome gave me the courage and confidence I needed to move forward. Luckily, the conversation went well. However, I believe I would have succumbed to moral muteness without the encouragement and gentle nudging of my mentors (Cafferky, 2015, p. 357).
They provide knowledge!
A mentor is also an excellent source of knowledge on things you have yet to experience and learn. I attended a workshop several years ago at our consultant’s office, and they spoke about the importance of mentors in the workplace and how their company assigns one to each new hire. This mentor was not a supervisor but rather someone who served in this employee's position once during their career and could provide insight and knowledge to the new team member. This mentor could help their mentee navigate the organization's people, the policies, and give tips on things they didn't want to go to their supervisor about. This company felt that integrating mentors into the onboarding process led to increased employee retention, morale, and assisted in leadership development within the firm.
They hold us accountable!
I have found that when I say out loud to someone that I'm going to do something, the chances are greater that I'm going to follow through than they would be if I kept the idea to myself. I have found this to be especially true when I talk through my goals with my mentors. They not only encourage me to pursue these aspirations and keep me on task, by following up, but because of the respect I have for them, I feel I owe it to them to see my initiative through to completion.
They provide a different perspective!
Recently while following events in the news, I realized I live a very sheltered life. Besides rooming with an African American student from the Bronx during my freshman year in college, most of my interactions have been with people of the same race and upbringing. Although I would not consider myself racist, the lack of diversity in my life has led me to be very naïve, have biases, and not understand what is transpiring in recent events. I have been very fortunate to be introduced to a wonderful woman in my cohort who has enlightened me about this. She has been honest with me about her feelings about these events and the impact it has had on her family. Our interactions have allowed me to empathize with her, and I realize I have a lot of room to grow. I feel comfortable asking her about anything, and I don't feel judged when doing so. The impact she’s had on me has been tremendous and has changed how I want to live my life going forward.
Who are Your Mentors?
Now you may be wondering, where can I find someone to mentor me? They can be anywhere and from any walk you’ve been on in life! You may even find you have had a mentor and didn't even realize it. Here's a list of the individuals who have mentored or continue to mentor me to help you think about possibilities.
- Students who were ahead of me in school gave me tips on professors and how to study for exams.
- My mom provides me guidance as a parent.
- A woman I met in coaching guides me on issues I have with my boss since she knows him and works for someone cut from the same cloth.
- Our company's insurance broker, who I found to be a Christian, has grown to be my friend and mentor and has given me guidance on building my faith and issues I face in the workplace and with my family.
- A coworker taught me how to interact with fellow employees and made me aware of their quirks.
- A small group leader at my church prays for me, helps me when issues within the group I lead transpire, and builds me back up when my energy tank runs low.
- A friend who has a different ethnic background than me has opened my eyes to see things differently and is open to answering my questions.
After reading this list, I hope that someone in your life came to mind. If not, I encourage you to think about who has helped you through some of your toughest personal and professional situations. Make it a goal to identify at least one mentor in your life within the next week, and I promise that you’ll soon reap the benefits and begin to experience the personal growth mentors have the ability to nurture.
Can You be Someone’s Mentor?
Lastly, have you ever considered being a mentor yourself? If so, I’d strongly encourage you to begin seeking out individuals whom you believe you could transform by serving as their mentor. As leaders, we are called to serve others, and acting as a mentor is doing just that. Like George Washington, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr., we’ve all experienced transformations that can be used to create a positive change in others (Maxwell, 2018, pp.148-149). Now, take some time to consider who you could positively influence. Some suggestions that come to mind are a new coworker or someone new to a committee you both serve. Another is a teen or young adult without a good role model growing up, or lastly, a person new to your religious affiliation. The possibilities are endless, and I’m confident there is a mentee just waiting for your guidance. As long as you are trustworthy, honest, a good listener, can build confidence, hold people accountable, and you're willing to share your knowledge and perspective, you’re well on your way to providing a lifetime of positive transformation for that lucky individual.
Best of luck to all of you future mentors and mentees!
Cafferky, M.E. (2015). Business ethics in biblical perspective. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press
Greenleaf, R. K. (2008). The servant as leader. Westfield, IN: The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership.
Maxwell, J. C. (2018). Developing the leader within you 2.0 Nashville, TN: HarperCollins.
Mentor. (n.d.). In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved from https://merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mentor