The name Bill Campbell might not sound as familiar as names like Steve Jobs, Sheryl Sandberg, or Larry Page, but he deserves recognition for how he built up numerous successful people like these through mentorship. Campbell was instrumental in coaching highly influential people to the heights of success. He helped create the famous 1984 Apple ad that ran during the Super Bowl (and even stood up to Apple’s board of directors, who didn’t like it). But that was just the first in a long line of achievements connected to the top minds in Silicon Valley and beyond.
Many top leaders sought his advice and guidance, and Campbell was eager to teach. He even declined payment for his services. While he did receive some compensation in the form of Google stock, he chose to donate it to charity. All he cared about was seeing others grow and using their talents to make the world a better place.
When he passed away in 2016, business leaders worldwide lauded him for being one of the best mentors in history.
People with a mentor like Campbell have a clear advantage over those who don’t. One study found that 97 percent of people working with a mentor found them valuable. A survey from Sun Microsystems discovered that people with mentors were six times more likely to receive a promotion. Yet another survey from Olivet Nazarene University of 3,000 people found mentees were happier at their jobs than those who didn’t have a mentor.
Mentors can help people in business drive impact, grow, and achieve incredible levels of success. But sometimes mentorship programs are hard to come by. Other times, people feel like they don’t need one, seeing it as extra work in their already busy lives. However, if they keep at it, they’ll find the benefits are worth the small sacrifice.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- Answers to, “What is mentorship?”
- Why mentorship programs matter
- What the top qualities in a mentor are
- How to build a great mentor and mentee relationship
What is Mentorship?
Mentorship is when an individual with perspective and experience (the mentor) instructs and guides another person with less experience (the mentee). The mentoring relationship helps the mentee navigate the obstacles and challenges they are likely to face in their job and personal life. With their own experiences in hand, the mentor can help prepare the mentee, leading them to see success and achievement with their career goals.
While this definition of mentorship helps answer the question, “What is mentoring?” it’s important to describe how a mentor operates. Most mentors meet with their mentees regularly, often at least once per month, to discuss what challenges they’re currently facing and reevaluate their long-term career development. A good mentor will be eager to share their wisdom and help a mentee develop their talents. Good mentors also possess essential characteristics of a leader, including showing enthusiasm, setting a clear vision for the future, and having an empathetic personality.
A mentor differs from a business coach because they focus on the individual, while a business coach works with leaders to grow their companies. Mentors love to see the positive professional development of a person. They seek to hone the skills of a leader so that they can then take those skills to help their company. Most mentors will do this for free, while business coaches usually charge.
Top Qualities to Look For in a Mentor
1. Serves as a Strong Role Model
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.John Maxwell
Mentorship is all about modeling. If you can see what someone has done to succeed, it’s much easier to follow the same path. You can read all about how to become a millionaire, but it’s another thing for someone to walk with you and show you the way. Mentoring relationships help establish this trust, giving you the blueprint for future goals.
In this way, a mentor/mentee partnership should follow the principles of rabbinic learning. This teaching goes back centuries, where it was said to be good to be covered in the dust of your rabbi. What that means is that students were to follow their rabbi closely in every respect. Mentors who follow a similar model will have mentees who seek to imitate them and learn from them at all times.
What showing the way looks like:
- Discussing process and not just results.
- Acting as a guide for navigating important meetings.
- Going over goals that will stretch the mentee.
- Reviewing progress regularly and showing what to do to get better.
- Acting as though the student will model them in every way.
2. Provides Radical Candor
The best way to keep superstars happy is to challenge them and make sure they are constantly learning.Kim Scott
Mentoring relationships need to show honesty and transparency. Part of that means the mentor should be straightforward when needed. To do that, they should provide radical candor, an idea first introduced by Kim Scott in her book of the same name. Practicing radical candor means giving direct feedback so that people can improve. Doing so helps others understand what they’ve done wrong or right. It avoids indirect and vague descriptions in favor of a pinpointed response. Sometimes you need to have tough conversations, and mentors who provide radical candor can do so effectively, driving mentees to be better.
However, many people seem to think radical candor is all about criticism and dressing down with the intent of building up. Mentors who only do that may end up alienating their mentees. Praise must be part of the equation. As Kim Scott writes, “We learn more from our mistakes than our successes, more from criticism than from praise. Why, then, is it important to give more praise than criticism? Several reasons. First, it guides people in the right direction. It’s just as important to let people know what to do more of as what to do less of. Second, it encourages people to keep improving. In other words, the best praise does a lot more than just make people feel good. It can actually challenge them directly.”
How a mentor provides radical candor:
- Describes where the mentee is succeeding or falling short.
- Helps clarify goals, making them more specific.
- Holds the mentee accountable for progress or lack thereof.
- Helps the person develop leadership skills.
- Provides praise to boost confidence.
- Challenges mentees to become better and overcome obstacles.
3. Cares for You Holistically
A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.Oprah Winfrey
Whether through a mentorship program at work or through an already established relationship, a mentor shouldn’t only be concerned with a mentee’s career. Mentoring isn’t all about knowledge and facts. The relationship has to mean something. It’s the best way to deliver honest feedback that benefits the mentee. A mentor must care about the whole person if they want to make a difference.
This holistic approach is one of the main things that separates a mentor from a business coach. The mentor cares about the individual. They want to see them succeed both in their professional life as well as their personal life. A success in one area cannot make up for failure in the other.
When mentors take a holistic view of the mentor/mentee relationship, they often form strong bonds. That’s why so many mentors and mentees end up becoming friends. Audrey Hepburn helped to mentor Elizabeth Taylor, and the two stayed close friends until Hepburn’s death. Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg had a similar relationship. The same goes for Steven Spielberg and J.J. Abrams. When a mentor and mentee connect, it often results in a lifetime friendship.
How a mentor cares holistically:
- Believes in calling someone to something higher.
- Sees their true potential.
- Increases the mentee’s self-awareness.
- Helps develop skills that benefit them both personally and professionally.
- Is there for them during difficult times in their lives.
- Shares honest and supportive feedback.
4. Acts as a Great Coach and Motivator
A good coach can change a game. A great coach can change a life.John Wooden
Coaching can be another form of mentorship which can make a difference in someone’s life. Coaches push people to grow, taking them outside their comfort zone to learn valuable lessons and gain worthwhile skills. Even if a mentor is part of a mentoring program, they can act as a coach to teach and demonstrate face-to-face.
Coaching does more than push people to excel. Coaches can act as a main motivator. As Brian Cagnee notes, “Coaches are aware of how to ignite passion and motivate people. They have an energy that is contagious and knows exactly how to get their team excited.” Throughout life’s ups and downs, people can sometimes become deflated and lethargic. A coach knows the best way to get them back on their feet and moving again.
The world of sports has plenty of examples of coaches who have played an influential role in the lives of athletes. Dean Smith was the head basketball coach for the University of North Carolina for more than three decades and became a mentor to many players on the team. Some of those players include John Thompson, Jr., who would himself become a successful basketball coach at Georgetown University, and most famous of all, Michael Jordan. Smith notably worked with Jordan to improve his game, giving advice on what he needed to work on during the summer. After Smith’s death in 2015, Jordan released a statement saying, “He was more than a coach— he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life.”
How a coach motivates people:
- Provides a level of discomfort.
- Gives words of encouragement and excitement.
- Shares feedback designed to improve skills and fix weaknesses.
- Communicates constructive criticism about what people need to work on.
- Lifts their team members up when they need it most.
5. Surrounds Themselves with Successful People
Behind every great leader, at the base of every great tale of success, you will find an indispensable circle of trusted advisors, mentors, and colleagues.Unknown
So how do you know that a mentor is good at what they do? One way to tell is by who they surround themselves with. Are they surrounded by other successful people who vouch for their talents? Then that’s a good sign that they know what they’re doing. Those are the people who have received positive influences from their mentors.
Just take a look at the fruit mentors are bearing. Is it bitter or is it sweet? Do the people around them thrive or fail? Take a close look and you’ll see that the people surrounding a mentor are a direct reflection of how effective they are. Of course, every prospective mentor will tout that they know how to help others, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding.
Study the mentees to see what type of people they are. If they’re successful, kind, emotionally intelligent, and provide service to others, they likely learned these things from their mentor. If, on the other hand, the mentor is more interested in making money, they will produce self-centered, uncharitable, and prideful mentees.
Additionally, a good mentor will promote the idea of servant leadership. They’ll teach that serving others is the highest calling they can have. Their mentees will devote themselves to making others better. In a sense, the best mentors create future mentors.
Signs that a mentor is a good influence:
- Their mentees dedicate their lives to helping others.
- They don’t take credit for others’ successes.
- Their mentees are successful in their personal and professional lives.
- They sacrifice their time and effort for the improvement of others.
How to Develop a Strong Relationship with Your Mentor
If your company has a mentorship program, starting a relationship with your mentor is easy, but building it into a strong one takes work. Mentoring programs pair people up, but after that, it’s up to both parties to work together. You can’t rely on the mentorship program to do the heavy lifting. With that in mind, here’s how you can develop a strong relationship with your mentor.
- Remain open to constructive criticism. All mentees need to have their guard down when receiving criticism. Avoid being defensive. Receiving encouragement and constructive criticism helps build people up in the long-term.
- Foster a growth mindset. Don’t adopt a perfectionist mentality. As you work with a mentor, they’ll push you outside your comfort zone. Failure is a very real possibility. With a growth mindset, you can learn from your mistakes and keep pushing forward.
- Be honest and transparent. A mentor can only help you as much as you allow them to. Be honest about your struggles and what you need to work on. Tell them when you feel like they’re pushing too hard. Without honesty, you won’t see much growth.
- Respect their time. Never take your mentor for granted. Show them respect by making any changes you need to and working hard. Even if they’re part of a mentorship program, they’re sacrificing their time to help you.
- Show them gratitude and appreciation. Be humble at all times. Honor them and show how much you appreciate what they’re doing for you.
Ways to Thrive in Mentorship
As the saying goes, it is better to give than receive. Mentorship helps not only the student but the teacher grow as well, meaning mentors have just as much to gain by learning through mentoring as mentees do. As a result, it helps both parties develop valuable skills.
Mentorship also creates an infinite cycle of great leadership. As mentors train up a new generation, that generation becomes mentors as well.
No matter where you’re at in your career, always have a mentor. Once you know how to find a mentor, you can stick with them as you advance in life. Then you can give back and help those around you, becoming a mentor yourself. As long as you do this, you will be able to meet life’s challenges as a leader and constantly grow as a person.