Characteristics of a great mentor

Bertil Muth on January 03, 2019

If you have or had a mentor, in person, here on dev.to, wherever: what were some things about that person that you really liked/admired/helped you progress?

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I feel like the same kind of things I've seen in great managers also apply to great mentors.

  • Is at least one step ahead of me technically - I've had mentors that aren't technical experts in our field but as long as they are one step ahead of me I'm going to be able to learn from their process.

  • Genuinely is interested in where I'm at - Isn't using it to push their own agenda or is being forced to do it.

  • Has the time - Getting cancelled on a few days before a scheduled coffee meetup because work just gets in the way is disheartening.

  • Clicks with me - So much of the relationship is based on some kind of spark.

 

I'd take

* Has the time - Getting cancelled on a few days before a scheduled coffee meetup because work just gets in the way is disheartening

And sub in, "is available: being able to send an email/SMS/Slack message and know that I'm going to get some sort of reply is a great stress-reliever". Just knowing someone's out there that I can rely on has been a great way to keep me off the panic-ledge.

 

Fun fact: the same things that make a good mentor are the same things that make a good peer.

Eventually, you reach a point(s) in your career where you've outstripped the ability of community forums, Google results, etc. to provide you your answers. You're effectively on your own with forging a given path. So, just having someone you can bounce ideas off of is rather useful.

One of the best things a mentor (or peer) can do is provide a forum for discussing ideas. A place where you can say, "ok, I think I'm missing something blindingly simple, here, can you see what I'm missing" and not have to worry about whether they think you're being an idiot. And a mentor (or peer) doesn't even have to deep expertise in the particulars of what you're seeking assistance with. Mostly, they just need to know how to ask you the right questions so that you figure out the problem yourself.

 

They understand your limitations but at the same time find way to push you to do more without getting burned out. They keep in touch with you so that you know someone is there to help you learn something you could have trouble learning on your own but avoid spoon-feeding

 

The number one thing: your mentor should encourage you to be honest. The most valuable mentors I've had were the ones I knew I could be vulnerable with.

 

They should ask you questions and investigate your situation, rather than just being there to answer questions. Proactivity like there helps.

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