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. Val DiFebo, CEO of Deutsch New York, has answered the question: What are three qualities that make a good mentor?
While having a mentor is one of the most valuable things you can do in your career, being one can also be a hugely rewarding experience. To get the most out of it, both for you and your mentee, it’s important to remember that mentorship involves more than just giving career advice. When someone asks you to be their mentor, what they’re really asking is: Will you champion me and actively help me grow and succeed? Mentees want someone to believe in them and be willing to make a personal investment in their professional success. Though many people think of it in more abstract terms, to me, being a mentor is a project with tangible results: the success of your mentee.
As someone who has mentored people at all levels and had the good fortune of being mentored by some incredibly smart and generous people during the course of my career, I feel these are the three qualities the best mentors consistently possess:
Anyone can sit and chat with someone about a job. But without real listening skills, that conversation won’t be very helpful to your mentee. Good mentors take the time to listen to and engage with their mentees. Find out what makes them tick. Dig deeper to find out where the mentees see themselves in the future, what their more immediate goals are, how their passions align with their careers, and how their jobs fit into the rest of their lives. What are their talents? What are their limitations? Read between the lines to identify what they haven’t shared. Without making a concerted effort to get a full picture of your mentee, you can never be a truly effective mentor. And that begins with listening, not talking.
See also: What to Look for in a Mentor
Understanding the ask
It’s critically important to understand what your mentee is hoping to get out of the relationship. Why does this individual want you as their mentor? What are they hoping you can bring to the table and how, specifically, can you be an asset to them? Forming a foundational understanding of your mentee and their goals is key in discerning your role in their development. If they aren’t clearly framing up their ask to you, make sure you push them to define it. This understanding is most valuable when guiding them toward new perspectives.
While your mentee may come to you with questions about one facet of their career, your intimate knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses coupled with a crystal–clear understanding of how they are looking to you for help will enable you to guide them in a new direction, consider a different solution, or spark an idea that would never have occurred to them.
Listening and sharing knowledge are important facets of any mentoring relationship, but what sets really great mentors apart is their willingness to actually do things for their mentees. Good mentors should believe in their mentees enough to take risks for them. That means introducing them to people who could be helpful to their careers, passing on their resumes to your contact at a company they’re interested in, letting them shadow or attend meetings with you, or pointing them toward a conference or program that could enrich their careers. Keeping an eye out for tangible opportunities that you can initiate on behalf of your mentees, and then taking action to connect them, is the truest sign of a dedicated, valuable mentor.
When all of these qualities come together, a mentoring relationship becomes incredibly valuable for the mentee and personally rewarding for the mentor. Those on both sides of the mentoring relationship should remember, however, that no mentor can be all things at all times to a mentee. It’s important to build a roster of mentors, each of who are specially equipped to help with a different goal or challenge. Some mentors might be great at giving strategic advice for climbing the ranks, while others excel at helping balance work and life. Identify your needs, then seek out a relationship with those who seem to be excelling in that area. You’re never too old or important to be mentored. Having a trusted, well–rounded team to turn to for perspective is valuable at any stage of a career.
Read all responses to the Fortune 500 Insider question: What are three qualities that make a good mentor?
How to Know You’ve Found a Great Mentor by Enrique Conterno, president of Lilly Diabetes.