How to Become an Effective Mentor


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Answer this question: Can you name two or three people who had a significant influence on your life?


I was reflecting on attributes of leadership one morning when my niece tagged me in a Throwback Thursday picture on Facebook.  The photo was of the 1968 Panther Valley High School Basketball team.  I recognized my older brother (#22) in the photo, but I also recognized two individuals who had a substantial impact on my life.

The coach of the ‘68 team was a teacher named John Harkins.  Mr. Harkins coached me in football and was my American and English Literature teacher.  This strong, male role model brought a passion to his teaching which ignited in me a love of reading and an appetite for life-long learning.

Playing alongside my brother was #24 Charlie DePuy.  A decade later, Coach DePuy was my JV basketball coach.  He taught me the inner workings of the game, about teamwork and how an athlete conducts himself on and off court. He challenged me to push myself to be better than even I thought possible.

Over the course of my journey, I have been influenced by countless teachers, professors, bosses, and professional colleagues.  When I reflect on those who have made a lasting impression on me, a few common traits emerge:  1) their interest in my development was genuine and sincere; 2) their instruction wasn’t solely technical or skill-based knowledge, but was deeper, more significant; and 3) while they were excellent mentors, they were also models of integrity.  In other words they walked the walk and talked the talk.

A highlight of leadership is watching someone in whom you have invested time achieve success.  I can list my career accomplishments on a resume, but I am much more satisfied when I reflect back on those individuals with whom I worked to become today’s leaders and executives.  It is a huge responsibility, yet I have found nothing is more gratifying than helping someone grow and reach their full potential.

Here are some thoughts on being an effective mentor:

  • See the individual as a person, not an asset or employee. Understand their personal situation, their motivations and their fears.  Care about the whole person, not just their career or what the company hopes to gain from the individual.
  • Asking questions and engaging in dialogue is a better approach than lecturing. Be curious. There is a time when advice, feedback and direction should be imparted, but oftentimes being a better listener is more meaningful to the relationship.
  • Let your guard down. Mentoring isn’t simply about communicating expertise.  It is about sharing your story, your struggles, lessons you’ve learned and mistakes you’ve made. Insight with humility is a powerful tool.
  • Do not be judgmental but be brutally honest. Individuals who have changed me have challenged me. When confronted in a supportive environment, improvements can produce breakthroughs.

If you immediately thought of two or three individuals who impacted you after reading my opening question, what was special about their leadership? Do you have other suggestions for being a better mentor?

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