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A Great Mentor's Key Qualities

This article helps to assist mentors gain a better understanding of what success looks like in pair relationships. It is often hard to recognize success in the moment, but there are some markers to look out and strive for. Many of our students will be first generation college students, and with that can come a variety of unique experiences and challenges. And because of that, successes are often small and incremental, and sometimes invisible - i.e. if you help build your mentee's confidence. 

For a PDF version of list below, click here.

Key Qualities:

As one mentor puts it, "I'm here whenever he needs me. When he figures it out, I'll be here to help him."

Patience: Mentoring a young person is hard work. It can take months for your mentee to develop trust in you and trust in the mentoring experience. While change is absolutely possible, change still takes time. A great mentor understands it’s worth the wait. Success in patience looks like not always being in control. 

Unconditional support: When a mentee must make a decision, mentors offer advice and guidance. A great mentor understands the decision is ultimately the mentee’s and will be supportive of the mentee no matter what decision the mentee makes. Success in unconditional support looks like seeing your mentee feel confident in their decisions.

Honesty: When mentors are honest about their own mistakes and failures, they help the mentee understand that even the most successful people make mistakes and learn from them. A great mentor is always honest with his mentee in order to help the mentee make good choices. This includes offering feedback on both negative and positive choices, actions and behaviors. Success in honesty looks like open reflection about past challenges, decisions, and pathways.
Fun: Being fun will motivate your mentee to get to know you. Fun and humor helps mentees be more open to the mentoring experience and can be a catalyst for closeness between the mentor and mentee. Be silly. Tell jokes. Use self-deprecating humor. Success in fun looks like not having to be the serious half all the time.
Consistency: Mentees crave consistency in their lives. Great mentors are consistent whether or not the mentee has learned to be consistent yet. It’s this consistency that leads to mentees building trust in their mentors. Come to every event you say you will, email every week, no matter what. Success in consistency looks like keeping appointments, calling or texting when you say you will, completing lessons every week, especially when your mentee does not. Success looks like modelling the behavior you want to see in your mentee over time.

Key Actions:

Use program staff’s expertise: iMentor believes that mentors shouldn’t have to help their mentees alone. In fact, great mentors are ones who contact their Program Manager whenever they are unsure of what to do. Since 1999, iMentor has developed best practices and strategies that help mentors have the greatest impact on mentees. Success in using staff's expertise looks like advocating for knowledge to build you capacity as mentor throughout your time in the program.
Connects mentees to resources and opportunities: Great mentors go out of their way to connect mentees to people, services, experiences, and other opportunities that will help the mentee towards success. Success in connecting your mentee to opportunities is guiding them to people, places, and things that will help them with their interests, passions, and academic endeavors.
Develops candor by going first: It can be uncomfortable to be candid sometimes. This is true even more so for youth. However, candor leads to trust and trust is a key ingredient to a successful mentorship. Demonstrate the appropriate amount of candor with your mentees by sharing about yourself without waiting to be prompted by your mentee. When you are candid with your mentee, it prompts your mentee to be candid with you and a trusting relationship is built. Success in candor looks like your truest self, without euphamism or avoidance.
Breaks big goals into discreet steps: Mentees don’t always know how to break big goals into smaller achievable steps. A great mentor finds opportunities to celebrate each step towards a goal, no matter how small. This helps mentees have faith that they can get to where they want to be. Success in breaking big goals into steps looks like checking just one task off a list consistently over a long period of time.
Teaches and models resilience: Whether a mentee has already learned to be resilient in the face of adversity or not, a great mentor teaches and models resiliency so that the mentee is continuously inspired to keep keeping on. When mentees fail, help them to bounce back. When you see them bounce back, remind them that they have. Success in resilience looks like continuously approaching a challenge, perhaps in different ways, to try to work through it. Success looks like working through frustration and overcoming obstacles out of everyone's control.
Holds mentee to high expectations:  A great mentor expects their mentee to achieve greatness. Having high expectations is an easy way to assure mentees that they are able to succeed. Success in expectations looks like constantly challenging your mentee in ways they may not think they can triumph; whether it be learning a new skill, joining a new club, meeting new people, or pushing them out of their comfort zone.
Cultivates great conversations by listening and asking questions: The best way to really help a mentee is by learning about who they are, what they fear and what they hope for. Mentees won’t always tell you things they would like to unless you ask them first. The best way to do that is to listen to what’s being said (and what’s not being said) and to get as much information from them as possible by asking questions. Success in listening and asking questions looks like actively steering conversations to new and productive places by inquiring deeper in thought.
Remembers him/herself as a teenager: It’s very easy to forget what it is like to be a teenager. While a mentor may have had a very different childhood than the mentee, a great mentor remembers the universals and uses that memory to put things in perspective as he/she prepares the mentee for adulthood. (Universals include the exploration of identity, the transition from childhood to adulthood, the new development of abstract thinking, the realization that adults are imperfect, emotionality, etc.). Success in remembering oneself as a teenager looks like finding overlapping occurrences and similarities among experiences and using them to help your mentee understand this period of transition, even if to just to give your mentee a sense of comfort about the future.
Holds self to high expectations: A great mentor adopts a “does whatever it takes” perspective. Mentoring is a difficult job. Great mentors understand this and are up to the job because they understand how much the mentees need great mentors. Success in holding oneself to high expectations looks like pushing the comfort zones in your own life by pushing the boundaries of how, who, and what you've learned. Modelling life long learning helps your mentee to understand learning doesn't just happen in school.