The mentor is a key element in ensuring the success of any organisational mentoring initiative. The relationship is dependent on the mentor becoming a role model for the mentee.

The mentee gains information and forms impressions from the mentor’s experiences, attitudes, values and problem-solving strategies. Thus it is essential for those taking up this role in organisations to understand the qualities needed to be a mentor as well as the benefits to be gained from such involvement.  

Essential qualities

An effective mentor has the following basic qualities: 

* Work knowledge. The mentor has sufficient in-depth knowledge of work processes and procedures and the maturity to share experiences and problem-solving strategies. 

* Organisational knowledge. The mentor has a good sense of the inner workings (office politics, policies and culture) of the organisation.

* Commitment. The mentor is committed to constantly upgrading and keeping abreast of developments in his field of expertise and career.

* Awareness. The mentor understands and has awareness of the different ways and pace in which people learn, develop and progress in their careers.

* Compassion. The mentor exhibits patience and compassion in understanding the frustrations, anxieties, uncertainties, as well as the aspirations of a new employee striving to integrate into the organisation. 

* Confidentiality. The mentor respects the need for confidentiality at all times in the mentoring relationship.

* Boundaries. The mentor sets clear boundaries in the relationship as mentoring effectively takes place outside the direct supervisory line.

* Encouragement. The mentor provide encouragement by affirming and acknowledging the mentee’s accomplishments, progress and significant milestones.


Effective mentors understand that the following actions can stifle thinking and create dependency.

* Instructing mentees. Mentors should never tell mentees how to do their daily work. The mentees’ work problems should not end up with the mentor.

* Providing solutions. Mentees need to think through and put in effort to figure out answers for their own operational issues. Mentees need to learn on the job and their mistakes should be corrected by their direct line managers.

* Making decisions for mentees. Mentees are responsible for their own decisions and mentors are not there to give approval or permission.

* Giving frequent advice. Mentors should give advice only if it is helpful to the mentee’s development.

* Interfering in the mentee’s appraisal. Mentors should not attempt to provide an unfair advantage by interfering in the appraisal process of mentees.

* Criticising mentees. Mentors should not criticise mentees for their mistakes. If this is perceived as negative feedback, it can stifle learning and adversely affect the mentoring relationship.


Although the primary aim of mentoring is to benefit the development of the mentee, there are tangible and direct benefits that a mentor gains from the process.

* Value add. Effective mentors leverage on years of experience and thereby bring value add to their seniority and role in the organisation.

* Personal development. In handling mentees, mentors create opportunities to enhance their own communication, technical and managerial skills.

* Renewed purpose. By committing to the process and taking pride in the accomplishments and progress of their mentees, mentors are able to find renewed purpose and continued relevance in the organisation.