The 5 key habits of a highly successful mentor

Great mentors are one key to every successful career path, my own included.

Early in my career, I worked in the Canadian joint venture of DICKEY-john and FOSS, respectively U.S. and Danish electronic instrumentation companies. Although there were no women in leadership, fortunately I had a great mentor who led the Canadian business.  He provided me with opportunities to represent the company at conferences and industry events, didn’t hesitate to introduce me to leaders in the business sectors we served, and ensured my efforts were rewarded with larger roles and compensation. Now I carry on that experience with professional coaching and mentoring to emerging technology leaders.

Last year when I met Cheryl Cook, vice president, global channel and alliances, Dell Inc. at the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network conference, I was impressed with her authenticity, how she spoke about her experiences of being a woman leader in a technology business. She extends her leadership to mentoring emerging leaders, sharing these five tips on how to be a good mentor. Given her career success, she’s a mentor worth listening to.

Here’s the five lessons I learned from Cook on how to be a successful mentor:

1. Be authentic

When making the decision to become a mentor, it’s important to be authentic with your mentee. What makes us unique is being ourselves, allowing both our knowledge and personality to come through with the person you’re coaching. The other point of authenticity is taking your role as a mentor just as seriously as you take your job. These two roles parallel each other in that you are stepping in with the purpose of helping someone accomplish their goals and to identify the steps they need to take to get there. How successful you are in your career is determined by the amount of time and effort you put into your job, just as how successful you are as a mentor will be determined by how much time and effort you put into guiding your mentee. Be yourself and be present.

2. Be a good role model

If you decide to become a mentor to a young woman, it is important to be a good role model. This doesn’t mean I just talk about helping people on their career path; it means that I too take action. Volunteering or being part of an organization that gives back to the community are great examples of taking action. For example, I’m involved in an internal resource group at Dell, the Women in Search of Excellence (WISE) group whose interest aligns with women’s issues, rooted in accelerating the role of women in the workforce. This type of resource is ideal to provide women with access to good role models.

3. Share your knowledge and past experiences – good or bad

One of the main reasons people become mentors is to help someone benefit from your experiences, good and bad. Sharing the knowledge you’ve learned along the way is a great way to help your mentee, but sharing your own personal experience with her is even better. I love to share my experiences, both the good and the bad, because it’s something people can learn from.

I always share how I got to where I am today, including the disappointments I endured along the way. It’s important to share your experiences because when you tell someone how you succeeded, they believe they too can succeed and when you describe how you failed, they realize that it’s okay to fail and that it often leads to a much bigger success. It’s all a part of our personal and professional growth experiences.

4. Give feedback

Giving feedback to your mentee, both kudos and constructive criticism, is a very rewarding experience for both parties. It can help them improve in an area they have been struggling with, or highlight where they have been successful so they can duplicate their actions to be more successful in the future. It’s important to have their peers look at all of the progress your mentee has (or hasn’t) made by keeping feedback simple, specific and actionable. I have always welcomed any and all kinds of feedback from my peers, colleagues and leaders to ensure that I continue to strive to be the best that I can be.

5. Encourage your mentee

It’s important to encourage your mentee to take that next big step and get them out of their comfort zone, while letting them know it is okay to be scared to pursue something new. By encouraging your mentee to challenge themselves to do something out of their comfort zone every day, it will help her develop confidence that she never knew she had and could lead to a greater career opportunity. When did I step outside of my comfort zone? Taking on the role of Dell Channel Chief was a daunting challenge that I addressed head on. I’m proud to say that our channel partner program has grown to be well over 40 per cent of Dell’s global revenue, so clearly the risk I took had paid off. It was one of the biggest leaps of faith I’ve taken and one of the best decisions I have ever made in my career.

Based on her growing success in leading the Channel at Dell, it’s clear that Cheryl Cook has taken on great challenges worth emulating. And I suspect there are some mentors who have encouraged her forward, too.   If you have a great mentoring tip or experience, I invite you to share it in the comments.

Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester is a Leadership Coach, Brand Communications consultant and W100 Business Owner. A perpetual idea generator, entrepreneurship cheerleader, and wanna-be geek, her clients include Novell, PlateSpin, Mozilla, HP, Tenscores & Polar. She writes about Leadership, Communications, Entrepreneurship and Women in technology.

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