Keys to Mentoring Success

Jan 24, 2019

By Lonnie Pacelli

As a young consultant, I thought I had it all together. I was getting great ratings, regular raises and praise from clients. Because I thought I was such hot stuff, I didn’t actively seek out advice from my more experienced colleagues. After all, I figured, I was doing great—what could they possibly teach me?

As I matured, I developed a much stronger appreciation for the wisdom that experience provides. This change of heart didn't happen naturally; I had to get into trouble quite a few times first. Often an experienced colleague helped me get through the tough times and to learn from my mistakes. I found out that I needed (and still need) a mentor to help me be more effective as a leader.

Having a mentor to turn to for advice and counsel is a very effective means of transforming knowledge into wisdom. In a typical mentoring relationship, a mentoree, or person being mentored, has already learned the fundamentals of how to do his or her job. The mentor, or the person doing the mentoring, provides perspective on what to do when things aren't optimal or when difficult situations arise. When the mentor’s experience is transferred to the mentoree, it accelerates the wisdom-building process because the mentoree no longer learns solely through his or her own mistakes.

Key characteristics of successful mentoring relationships:

  • The mentor should not have a direct reporting relationship with the mentoree. The mentoree should feel free to speak about issues that may be plaguing him without fear of retribution from a boss.
  • The mentor must want to be a mentor. Mentoring requires commitment. If the leader doesn't want to be a mentor, he or she is going to view the time spent on the task as an imposition.
  • The mentoree must want to be mentored. He or she needs to see the value in the relationship and have a desire to benefit from the process.

Attributes of a first-class mentor:

  • Be available. Decide how much time you can commit to a mentoring relationship and then honor that commitment. If you’re too busy to mentor, don't do it.
  • Learn to listen. It’s important to gain a clear understanding of a mentoree’s struggles and issues so that you can better help him or her formulate a solution. The best mentor assumes little when talking with the mentoree; she lets the mentoree communicate key struggles and issues, then targets what is most important. True listening also helps build trust between mentor and mentoree.
  • Keep it confidential. Any particulars about the mentoring relationship must remain between the mentor and the mentoree, period. Assume that everything about the relationship is off limits for others and ensure that if anything about the relationship is found out it is because the mentoree has divulged it, not you as the mentor.
  • Tell it straight. Discussions should be constructive, specific and respectful. Honesty will come naturally if you have remembered to listen and to keep your mentoree’s confidences.
  • Evaluate the relationship regularly. Have the courage to sever the mentoring relation if it isn’t working out. If you're having a difficult time connecting, if meetings feel too much like an obligation or if the mentoree stops making an effort, it may be time to call it quits. Some relationships just aren't meant to be, so accept it and move on. Do look at the reasons the relationship didn't work out and look for patterns that you, as a mentor, should address or that you can work on with your own mentor.

About the Author(s)

Lonnie Pacelli has over 20 years of project management experience at both Accenture and Microsoft and is the author of The Project Management Advisor: 18 Major Project Screw-Ups and How to Cut Them off at the Pass. Contact him at: