Recently, I have been reflecting on the concept of mentorship: what it is, what it is not, what the best mentors do, and what they do not do. Personally, I do not subscribe to the idea that one must be declared “mentor” or “mentee” to fill such a role in another’s life, or that these declarations even mean such a relationship exists. In fact, I am of the mindset that we awaken to mentorships, the same way we would to important friendships–through a progressive realization over time–and there are certain behaviors that help us identify who these people are in our lives.
So, what is mentorship?
Mentorship, at its core, is a balanced intellectual and emotional relationship between two or more individuals who are mutually committed to your, and their own, self-actualization in the context of a particular trade, but more importantly, within the broader context of life. While there can be many behaviors that account for this type of relationship, the following fifteen are the ones I believe make or break the best mentors:
1. The best mentors recognize that at any moment during the relationship, he or she can be in either role; the student can be the teacher and the teacher can be the student. In other words, the best mentors are open-minded in their pursuit of truth.
2. The best mentors recognize that being the boss does not make them a mentor; it likely prevents them from being a great one. They know that when the power dynamic is lopsided, the relationship is at a greater risk to fail, and that business objectives may pose a conflict of interest.
3. The best mentors know that personal development does not care about imposed timelines, even when the mentee cares. Some things need more time than what was allotted, and some need less.
4. The best mentors recognize that their input is not a mandate but a recommendation and that they can be wrong.
5. The best mentors know when to get out of your way, and how to step in. The how includes the what and why, and often cannot be done correctly without a history of swimming with you.
6. The best mentors do not say, “why didn’t you come to me?” when their mentee was lost/confused/failing/afraid/spinning/exhausted/sick. Instead, they say, “I want you to know you can count on me. I have your back even if you don’t know what you need. Not knowing should not deter you from engaging. Figuring it out together is what makes this relationship great.”
7. The best mentors learn about your tendencies and triggers. Together you become collectively more self-aware.
8. The best mentors value emotional and physical safety and guide you with compassion. They respect your weaknesses and do not use them as weapons against you.
9. The best mentors directly acknowledge your weaknesses. They guide you to build around them so that you can win.
10. The best mentors recognize that the conditions that led to their success are variables that may or may not necessarily apply to your success.
11. The best mentors help you determine what your real situation is before advising you. They listen and, yes, judge, but they do it with your best interest at heart. They help you figure out what is true, and how to excel in the ways you need.
12. The best mentors are humble and empathetic. They put themselves in your shoes.
13. The best mentors help you stretch outside of your comfort zone. They know that with growth comes pain, and they help you experience that pain in the most efficient way so that you can evolve past it.
14. The best mentors are committed to maintaining the relationship, even if the formalities of the role ends.
15. The best mentors click with you, and you click with them. The caring between you is genuine. They want you to live a happy life.
What does it mean to you?
About the Author
Tara Makhmali recently released her debut novel, MISSWIRED, a work of literary fiction. She is the CEO of CommonSmarts Media and has been a certified PMP for nearly a decade. She has worked for notable companies such as Pearson, FCB Advertising, Bridgewater Associates, and HBO. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Massachusetts in Boston. Above all, she is a curious person who cares for people and progress.