Effective Mentoring

March 28, 2014

While the act of mentoring has a long-standing reputation for helping and nurturing the growth of individuals, it is inevitable that some mentors will be more effective than others. Moreover, although effective mentoring characteristics are generally based on the needs of the mentor or mentee, there exists some good "universal" mentoring characteristics, which are applicable in almost all situations.  

Luckily, one does not have to guess what successful characteristics of good mentors are, as many studies exist on the topic.  According to Foster (2001):

Effective mentor characteristics include the ability to build trust, maintain a steady presence in a youth's life, respect the youth's viewpoint, understand the need for "fun," and acquaintance with the mentee's family without becoming too involved.  Another important characteristic is the mentor's willingness to consult with the program staff for help and advice. (p. 10) 

According to this portion of the study, balance is a key element to harnessing the full potential of a mentor-mentee relationship. While a mentor should assume a teaching role at times, it is essential to recognize that a mentor also needs to be the mentees friend and confidant. This friendship aspect is essential to the relationship, as another hallmark of effective mentoring is honesty.

In a study published on the characteristics of successful mentoring relationships by Academic Medicine, Straus, Johnson, Marquez and Feldman (2013) note that "All participants identified honesty as a crucial characteristic for effective mentors: Just being honest and telling someone … you know that this idea is not a good idea or they need to be doing something else." (p. 84).

In many ways, mentoring relationships are not too different from other everyday relationships. While the goal of mentoring is to teach, learn and effectively communicate, characteristics that make any relationship successful, like respect, trust, and honesty are still of paramount importance.



Foster, Lisa K (2001). Effectiveness of mentor programs: A review of the literature from 1995 to 2000. Sacramento: California State Library, California Research Bureau.

Straus, S., Johnson, M., Marquez, C., & Feldman, M. (2013). Characteristics of successful and failed mentoring relationships: A qualitative study across two academic health centers. Academic Medicine, 88(1). Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/Fulltext/2013/01000/Characteristics_of_Successful_and_Failed_Mentoring.27.aspx