The truly complete mentor is a single individual who is able to serve as an adviser, guide, developer of talent, coach, opener of doors, advocate, role model, interpreter of organizational or professional rules, protector, rule setter, or boss – and carries on all of these functions on a long term basis.” (William Silen)

The five types of mentors: The coach, the star, the connector, the librarian, and the teammate.” (

There are many (good) definitions of mentor. As an enthusiastic advocate of mentoring young people at critical phases of their life, I love to read great success stories of good mentoring. Speaking with my own mentors is always inspiring too. Although I agree completely with the description of the ‘truly complete mentor’ by William Silen, I would like to add some of my personal description of the characteristics of a good mentor.

I believe a good mentor would be someone who has serious interest in success and well-being of his/her mentee with great care in heart. Because of this special interest and care, the mentor would be well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his mentee, and he knows what to compliment and what to suggest for improvements. The good mentor can put these in perspective of the mentee’s long-term career or life trajectory, so the mentee may accept her advice in proper context. Technical proficiency comes behind the good heart always.

The good mentor would know how to strike a balance between knowing when to push and when to pause, for the benefit of his mentee and not for his own preference or style. The good mentor knows how to respect his mentee no matter how much inexperienced, slow or clumsy she might be at times. There are times when the mentor would greatly inspire, motivate, and empower her mentee, but there also are times to question, provoke or even challenge, yet always with gentle approach. The good mentor knows how to encourage her mentee to try to outgrow his ‘comfort zone’ and learn to take a risk for growth.

The good mentor would know how to actively listen to the mentee’s stories, concerns, and sometimes unspoken frustrations while carefully assessing the circumstance in her mind without prematurely interjecting with her ‘expert’ prescription. Mentees would learn more from their mentors by their examples than their words, like how children learn more from their parents by observing their deeds than words. The mentors need to develop a better sense of empathy so they can truly relate the situation as well as mindset of their mentees. Many senior mentors often fail to recall how they were like in the mentee’s age or career stage,  and tempt to give suggestions that may not fit their readiness.

The good mentor is able to keep open and transparent relationship with his mentee. No hidden agenda or any coercion. The good mentor would welcome doubt and hard questions. Building trust between the two is crucial as in any human interactions. If the mentor would be willing to share many of her previous experiences, both successes and failures, the mentee would likely be able to develop and grow mature from that relationship. The good mentor would view their relationship as dynamic and organic instead of static and prescribed. As the mentee becomes more experienced and established, their relationship may be more enriched with good companionship too.

The good mentor would have a long-term vision about the potential of his mentee as well as the roadmap of their relationship.  Because their relation is based on trust, the mentee would know that her mentor’s vision and relationship building are for the best interest of herself. She would be grateful for this blessed opportunity, and more importantly, there is a better chance that this mentee may become a great mentor for other people.

(ps) A paragraph from the Ken Bain’s “What the Best College Students Do”: “Her greatest passion developed around her music, as that childhood ambition about playing the saxophone continued to mature. Before her freshman year started, she visited the campus at Spelman and met Joe Jennings, a jazz musician and educator who became her mentor and “second father.” Under his careful guidance – he offered “lots of nonjudgmental feedback” – Tia began to flower as a musician, becoming consumed with her desire to play well.”   (150801)

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