The Fortune 500 Insider Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Cindy Robbins, executive vice president of Global Employee Success at Salesforce, has answered the question: What are three qualities that make a good mentor?
I believe that having a mentor is key to a successful career, regardless of your background or level. This has certainly been my own experience, and I’ve seen many of my peers and team members thrive as a result of a quality mentoring relationship.
I’ve been fortunate to have an incredible mentor: George Hu, former COO of Salesforce and now founder of Peer. When I reflect on our relationship, I think there are three qualities that have made our mentoring relationship so successful:
A good mentor is honest and direct, and a good mentee accepts that this honesty is coming from a good place. It’s important to note that honesty is only possible where there is trust. You have to have trust in the relationship in order for the mentor to feel comfortable with being honest and for the mentee to be able to get beyond the initial discomfort of having weaknesses exposed. Only then will the mentee be able to incorporate the mentor’s guidance, change how he or she is operating, and grow. When George decided to take me on as a mentee, and simultaneously, when I decided to accept his mentorship, we were both starting from a place of truth. We were honest about our ability to put in the time and to trust one another—two qualities I believe are most important for a successful mentorship.
See also: How to Know You’ve Found a Great Mentor
Guiding vs. telling
A good mentor provides guidance to help the mentee make the best possible decision on his or her own. When someone comes to you and asks for your mentorship, I think it’s easy to find yourself trying to solve his or her problem by sharing how you would handle a situation, but that doesn’t really help the mentee improve. George had a great way of guiding me by asking me key questions that allowed me to arrive at the solutions. This helped me hone my critical thinking skills and build confidence in my abilities.
A good mentor challenges you to think bigger. Whenever I arrived at a solution, George would always push me to think beyond the obvious and take it further to really innovate. He taught me that leading is not just solving for the immediate need, but also anticipating the future. This big–picture thinking is what is expected of leaders and crucial to anyone wanting to move into a leadership position. By pushing me to think bigger, George helped me develop the skills I needed to succeed in the role I have today.
Overall, a good mentor will be your biggest champion and your toughest critic. A mentor is not a manager—a mentor is a trusted advisor who helps you work through challenges, develop innovative solutions, and ultimately elevate your career. I think finding a mentor or accepting to be a mentor or mentee has to be an honest decision. You need to have the time and it needs to be the right person. Sometimes it just happens organically, but it needs to start from a place of truth.