September 2, 2015

How to Be a Great Workplace Mentor


When looking back at their professional history, most people can certainly remember key individuals that they have met at along the way who played vital roles in their careers.

Whether it was a boss or manager at one of your earlier jobs, a family member or a college professor, there was someone there to help you navigate as you began climbing the proverbial career ladder.

Now that you have reached some type of professional plateau, perhaps it’s time for you to take on that role. Maybe it’s time for you to become a mentor to someone else.

Perhaps you have already envisioned yourself in this type of role or have already started acting as someone’s guide and advisor at your workplace but you aren’t sure what this mentoring role actually entails.

What does it take to become a great mentor? These are some of the essentials traits you will want to embody if you plan on taking someone under your wing in the workplace.

Be Willing to Share What You Know

During your career, you’ve probably run into many knowledgeable people. But how many of them were completely open to sharing what they know? There are many people out there who view their knowledge as a commodity that they worked hard to earn – something that they are not obligated to share with others.

Believe it or not, this is probably the thinking of a majority of senior-level professionals. They put in the work to learn all these things, and they aren’t going to be giving handouts to anyone.

Obviously, those types of people will never make good mentors, regardless of how skilled and knowledgeable they are. A mentor is someone who is not only an obvious expert in their field but a teacher as well. Mentors must not only be willing to share what they know, they need to be able to effectively teach and groom their mentees.

This requires time and patience above all else. It also requires you to be very clear when communicating what you know and an ability to recognize whether your mentees are truly “getting it.”

If you notice that you’re getting blank stares, stop and make sure that the person you are mentoring understands what you are trying to teach them before moving on to the next thing.

A mentor needs to have the ability to be patient and to communicate very intricate and complex ideas at whatever pace is needed for their mentee to understand what they are trying to explain to them.

Be Approachable

Most people with advanced job knowledge are often looked at by others as almost mythical creatures. This is why the general consensus among younger workers is that these people are usually fairly unapproachable.

A mentor needs to shatter that image and immediately present his or herself as someone who is available and approachable for anyone who is interested in learning from them. Your mentee has to feel comfortable about asking for your advice when necessary.

A big part of this is your personality and the way you interact with people at your workplace, which is yet another reason why not everyone with great knowledge is necessarily cut out to be a mentor. Don’t lock yourself in your big office all day. Corporate leaders tend to distance themselves from their staff, sometimes inadvertently even. If you want to come off as approachable, you need to mingle with your team as much as possible.

Talk to them in person whenever possible instead of by email. Have lunch and coffee with the team and make yourself a permanent fixture in the office to avoid being viewed as a distanced “corporate hermit.”

Be Honest

When mentoring someone, it’s important to be as straightforward and honest with them as possible at all times. This relationship needs to resemble a partnership more than a working relationship in which you have a senior role and the mentee has a junior role.

It’s very important to be direct when giving criticism. There is no need to sugarcoat anything in this type of a relationship, because beating around the bush doesn’t do either of you any good. It’s all about facilitating open and honest dialog at all times.

When you are providing criticism, it should always be constructive, but that doesn’t mean that it needs to be positive every time. Tell your mentee what they need to hear, not what they might want to hear.

You are trying to guide your mentor to a point at which they will no longer need your input in order to make the right business decisions, and the only way to do that is by being brutally honest and being comfortable enough to tell the mentee directly what they may or may not have been doing correctly.

Stay Objective

While you want the relationship to be open and honest, you need to know that a mentoring relationship and a friendship are not the same. It’s not about socializing with them and friending them on Facebook, it’s about being a role model in the workplace and helping them get to where they want to be professionally.

Stay objective and fair at all times when working with your mentee. Do not show any favoritism towards him or her, but at the same time, be sure not to hold your mentee to standards that differ from the ones you hold other colleagues to.

Your mentorship should not have any influence on their career trajectory that isn’t based solely on their performance.

Keep Learning

The best mentors are the ones who never stop investing in their own learning while teaching others. It’s a very fast-moving business world today and there’s a very thin line between being an expert and a dinosaur. Keep learning about your industry and staying atop all of the latest trends.

The knowledge you have obtained over the years needs to be adapted to today’s world, because what worked for you a decade ago might no longer work today. That’s why continuing to learn and hone your expertise is an absolutely essential part of being a great mentor.


One of the most important things to remember about being a mentor is that just because you have taken on that role, doesn’t mean that you need to stop being a mentee yourself.

No matter who you are and what your level of experience is, there is always going to be someone who knows more, who has seen more and who will be able to teach you something new.

Seek out mentors of your own and continue to improve upon yourself so that you can make an even greater and more meaningful impact on the careers of the people you are mentoring currently and will be mentor in the future.