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The do’s and don’ts of an effective mentor

May 20, 2015, 8:10 PM UTC
Two businessmen discussing plans on a tablet.
Photograph by Oli Kellett — Getty Images

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Why is it important to have a mentor? is written by Shannon Schuyler, leader of corporate responsibility at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that the term “mentor” comes from the Greek word mentos, meaning “intent, purpose, spirit, and passion,” because that is precisely how I think of a mentor. Someone who understands your intent; supports your commitment to purpose; encourages your spirit; and helps you embrace your passion for the things that matter most.

Mentors offer a fresh perspective while also helping you stay true to your personal goals and values. Above all, they believe in you, and they expect you to believe in yourself. Mentors help you achieve success, however you choose to define it. They help you find the best you.

However, I have found that the best mentors don’t come from a formal program, but instead from the most unlikely of sources. You create a bond with these individuals that is unlike any other professional relationship. Mentors can be older or younger than yourself; from a similar or different background; or from any level within or outside of your organization. They should not be individuals who are assigned to you because they outrank you.

The best mentors I’ve had understand my professional and personal goals, recognize my strengths (and weaknesses ) and offer an objective perspective. I don’t believe that mentors necessarily serve as role models, even though we admire them. The most effective mentors don’t want (or expect) you to become like them. Instead, they challenge you to be honest about your passions and what you aspire to achieve. They offer guidance, but don’t direct your behavior. They share experiences, but enable you to find your own path.

Ultimately, a mentor is someone who helps you accept the fact that you don’t need to become someone else to succeed. All you really need is to better understand yourself.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Why is it important to have a mentor?

Why you’re never too old to have a mentor by Kathy Hopinkah Hannan, national managing partner of corporate responsibility at KPMG.

How men can step up and help women get ahead at work by Gloria Cordes Larson, president of Bentley University.

When it comes to mentors, the more the merrier by Sharon Price John, CEO of Build-A-Bear Workshop.

Are you qualified to be a mentor? by Sarah Watson, chief strategy officer of BBH N.Y.

Is mentoring necessary for career advancement? by Teresa Briggs, vice chairman and west region managing partner at Deloitte.

Do all employees benefit from having a mentor? by Dawn Zier, president and CEO of Nutrisystem.

4 things your boss won’t tell you (but a mentor will) by Penny Herscher CEO of FirstRain.

What qualities make a good (and bad) mentor? by Karen Tegan Padir, president of application development at Progress Software.

Why mentoring is unlike any other professional relationshipby Jenni Luke, CEO of Step Up.

Why you don’t need a mentor to be successful by Beth Brooke-Marciniak, Global Vice Chair of Public Policy at Ernst & Young.

What qualities should you look for in a mentor? by Gay Gaddis, CEO and founder of T3.

4 things to consider before choosing a mentor by Camille Preston, founder of AIM Leadership.

The most important quality a mentor should have by Kathy Bloomgarden, CEO of Ruder Finn.

Why women are more likely to be mentors by Alyse Nelson, CEO and co-founder of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

3 reasons every employee needs a mentor by Sally Blount, Dean of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Why this AOL executive chooses her mentors — wisely by Allie Kline, CMO of AOL, Inc.