Mentors can play a valuable role in anyone’s career. The best ones are wise, patient, and deeply knowledgeable about their industries. They’re also willing to be brutally honest, as Belmont University’s Jeff Cornwall points out. You shouldn’t depend on formal mentoring programs to find these gems, he says. “It is more like a friendship that naturally kindles and then grows in intensity over time.” His explanation of what makes a great mentor for an entrepreneur is spot on, but it’s a bit too fuzzy for a worker who’s really floundering. To his broad portrait, I would like to add a few more-specific traits to look for.
- A healthy network. The best mentors know all the key players in their own industry well — and have feelers in many more. They have strong relationships with senior leadership at their own organization. Even more important: They’re willing to share their contacts when appropriate.
- The ability to listen. Mentors give advice — that’s why you have them — but a good one takes the time to hear your concerns before giving their take. A bad one filters everyone through their own goals.
- A willingness to let go. The best mentors don’t make their support contingent on you staying with a particular organization. Before you spend too much time cultivating a relationship with a mentor, probe to find out where their other mentees (yuck, what a word!) have gone. Do they keep in touch through job changes? The ideal mentor will even actively help you look for a new job when you’ve outgrown working for them.
What do you think is the most important trait of a good mentor?
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