15 Characteristics of a Successful Mentor

A business mentor working with a young employee on understanding a project in a conference room.
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Gone are the days when assigning an informal buddy to mentor a new employee meant going out to lunch and teaching the employee a few lessons about succeeding in the workplace. These buddies generally had no mentor training, and they were clueless about their overall responsibility in welcoming the new employee.

Helping the new employee integrate seamlessly and quickly into the new workplace was well outside of their job description. Nor was it the organization's expectation that the mentorship was an integral component in a new employee welcome. This situation has changed for the better.

Helping New Employees Succeed

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. These required characteristics will differ somewhat in an informal mentor relationship that develops casually between two individuals or a higher level employee and the new employee — both types of mentoring start with these needs and these characteristics.

Use a Formal Mentor Process

With a formal mentor process, the transmission of 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 Successful Formal Mentors

  1. They want to mentor another employee and is committed to the employee's growth and development and cultural integration.
  2. They have the job content knowledge necessary to effectively teach a new employee significant job knowledge.
  3. They are familiar with the organization's norms and culture. Can articulate and teach the culture.
  4. They demonstrate honesty, integrity, and respect for and responsibility for stewardship.
  5. They demonstrate effective communication skills, both verbally and nonverbally.
  6. They are willing to help develop another employee through guidance, feedback, and occasionally, an insistence on a particular level of performance or appropriate direction.
  7. They initiate new ideas and foster the employee's willingness and ability to make changes in his or her performance based on the constant change occurring in their work environment.
  8. They have enough emotional intelligence to be aware of their personal emotions and is sensitive to the emotions and feelings of the employee they are mentoring.
  9. They are an individual who would be rated as highly successful in both their job and in navigating the organization's culture by coworkers and managers.
  10. They demonstrate success in establishing and maintaining professional networks and relationships, both online and offline.
  11. They are willing to communicate failures as well as successes to the mentored employee.
  12. They can spend an appropriate amount of time with the mentored employee.
  13. They are open to spending time with diverse individuals who may not share a common background, values, or goals.
  14. They can 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.
  15. They can 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 who have these characteristics to mentor, you will ensure the success of your formal mentor relationships. The new employees benefit from each of these characteristics that the employee providing mentorship brings to the table. It, in turn, will ensure the successful integration of the new employee within your work unit.