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Attributes of a Best-in-Class Mentor

He is available, listens well, keeps confidences and has the courage to end the relationship if it is not working.

By Lonnie Pacelli

As a young consultant I really thought I had it all together. I was getting great ratings, great raises and wonderful accolades from clients. Because I thought I was such hot stuff, I was not active in seeking out advice from more experienced colleagues. After all, what could they teach me?

As I matured, I developed a stronger appreciation for the wisdom my more experienced colleagues could impart. This appreciation came didn’t happen naturally; I had to get my butt chewed off a bunch of times to realize that a wiser and more experienced colleague could help me get through the tough times and I could learn from my mistakes. I also needed a wiser colleague to hold a mirror up to my face to help me see my weaknesses. I needed (and still need) a mentor to help me become a more effective leader.

Having a mentor to turn to for advice and counsel is a very effective means of transforming knowledge into wisdom. Before I go any further, here is a definition of wisdom:

Knowledge + Experience = Wisdom

Knowledge into wisdom
In a mentoring relationship, a mentoree brings a lot of knowledge to the table. He has learned the fundamentals of his job and can probably do the basics well. The mentor provides experience and perspective on what to do when things aren’t going on as planned. When the experience from the mentor is transferred to the mentoree, it accelerates the wisdom-building process because the mentoree now doesn’t have to learn solely through his own mistakes.

For mentoring relationships to work well, I’ve found several items to be very important:

  • The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the mentoree. The mentoree can feel free to speak about issues which may be plaguing him without fear of retribution from a boss.
  • The mentor must want to be a mentor. Mentoring is an incredibly important responsibility. If the mentor does not want this responsibility, he will view the time spent mentoring as a nuisance.
  • Likewise, the mentoree should have a desire for a mentor. The mentoree needs to see the value in the relationship and have a desire to benefit from the relationship. If not, both parties will just go through the motions until their time is over.

Becoming best in class
Here are five attributes to help become a best-in-class mentor:

  • Be available for your mentoree. You need to define how much time you can spend in a mentoring relationship and commit the time to do it.
  • Make listening a priority. A mentor who listens will understand the struggles and issues a mentoree experiences and can better help him with a solution. The best listening mentor assumes little when talking with the mentoree; he lets the mentoree communicate his struggles and issues and targets what is most important. Just as important, a listening mentor builds trust with the mentoree.
  • Keep confidences. Any particulars about the mentoring relationship are between the mentor and the mentoree.
  • Tell it straight. Mentoring relationships in which the mentor and mentoree can have direct and constructive discussions are highly beneficial to the mentoree’s growth. Telling it straight means having discussions that are constructive, respectful, and specific.
  • Have the courage to stop if the relationship isn’t working. If you’re having a difficult time connecting on common interests, if meetings with the mentoree feel like more of an obligation than something you look forward to, it may be time to call it quits. Examine the reasons the relationship didn’t work out and look for patterns you as a mentor should address that you can perhaps work on with your mentor.

Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Lonnie Pacelli has over 20 years of experience at both Accenture and Microsoft and is the creator of Leading on the Edge™ Action Guides ( He is also the author of The Project Management Advisor—18 Major Project Screw-Ups and How to Cut them off at the Pass. You can reach Pacelli at:


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