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What Makes a Good Mentor?

There is no lack of inspiration for an individual willing to learn. The presence of a mentor, however, can make a significant difference in one's life. But, it is not possible to have just anyone play this role for us. So how do we find an incredible guide who can further our passion? Dr. McClellan gives us five qualities we should look for in a good mentor.
BY Dr. Bennett E. McClellan |   12-08-2015

The concept of a mentor is a popular one. It seems many people feel that a mentor is an essential accessory, like an ATM card, or an iPhone X. The importance of having a role model cannot be overlooked. However, as I prepare to meet my new JSLH mentees, I ask myself, “What makes a good mentor?”

Here are five qualifications to consider.
  1. Competence.
    A mentor needs to have achieved some measure of success in an area where you hope to succeed.  They have gathered enough experience to help you realize what it will take to achieve your goal.  If you wish to climb Mt. Kanchendzonga, find a mentor who has made that climb.  Never mind asking the billionaire entrepreneur who does not own a pair of clampons to mentor you.  Befriend the billionaire, yes.  But be-mentor the climber!
  2. Passion.
    In addition to competence in a field, a mentor needs to feel passion for what they do.  An accomplished musician who no longer loves music would not make a suitable mentor for an aspiring violinist. While a competent piano teacher who loves music, may provide exactly what a young violinist needs to help her reach the next level of musicianship.
  3. Professional objectivity.
    Objectivity enables a mentor to differentiate between the results one would like to see and the results one actually sees.  Find a mentor who can wield either a carrot or a stick for you, depending on what you need to keep progressing.  If your mentor observes that something works for you, you need to hear some praise so you can build on it.   If your mentor suggests something you need to change, you need to make that change.  Do not seek a mentor for whom nothing is ever good enough.
  4. Emotional maturity.
    Effective mentoring requires boundaries and detachment.   Your mentor should not need devotees, fawners, or minions.  Beware of emotionally needy mentors.  Instead, you want a mentor who genuinely enjoys helping others, but who also wants to continue on his or her own journey.  Such mentors are happy to give you what you need from them, and happy to see you move on.
  5. Accessibility.
    Seek a mentor who will give you the time you need when you need mentoring.  A mentor whom you can talk with regularly provides more value than a mentor whose calendar has no regular place for you.
Obviously, there are other things one might seek in a mentor.  Let this list suffice for now.   You do not need the perfect mentor.  Mentoring moments happen each day.  You can find gratitude for what you learn from each person as you make your way to the next milepost.

Dr. Bennett E. McClellan (@DrBennettMcCis Professor & Vice Dean, Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities. He is also Executive Director, Centre for Visual Imagination & Storytelling Arts.


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