I’ve been a serial mentor and mentee throughout my career. That’s because mentoring helps me grow. As a mentor, I “walk my talk.” Most of what I recommend to my mentee, I do or try myself whenever possible. When she has a breakthrough, so do I. When she sets a bodacious goal, so do I. As I work with her I draw on my past experience and my everyday challenges and accomplishments.

When I work with a mentor, I’m constantly setting myself up to learn from someone who has the expertise I want to develop or the position I aspire to in the near future. What I want from a mentor is someone who can see the patterns in my behavior that I cannot. I want someone who will give honest and actionable feedback. And I want my mentor to hold me accountable for keeping my word – doing what I say I will do and when it will be done.

Research has shown that both mentees and mentors see tangible career advancement and serious compensation growth — up to $25,000 in additional compensation over their colleagues who are not in mentoring partnerships.

Three elements of a powerful mentoring partnership:

1 . Listening Powerfully

Mentoring dramatically increases your chances of success when you understand the dynamics of effective communication. Both mentoring partners must be willing and able to actively listen with an intention to learn from your interactions.

As a mentor, powerful listening means listening for opportunities to deepen the thinking of your mentoring partner. You listen for victories and successes you can use to frame teachable moments and help your mentee understand what worked and how to repeat it reliably. You listen for a commitment to grow and develop and for patterns of behavior that work and those that don’t.

As a mentee, you are listening for the possibility that what your mentor has to say will make a valuable contribution to your growth and development. You are listening for wisdom and support.

2. Be a Keen Observer

Effective mentoring and coaching occurs because your mentor can see what you cannot. A mentor who is adept at seeing patterns of behavior, results and habits– or the lack thereof can provide the most powerful support to their mentees. For most of us, the critical patterns and some of our most helpful or bad habits are invisible to us. We are busy living our lives, we can’t see what someone watching can – especially when they have more experience than we do. Once your mentor points out the pattern, it is up to you to become the keen observer so you can see it as you do it and make the needed changes.


3. Be Willing to Stretch

Every one of us who aspires higher will only make it if we are willing to stretch beyond our comfort zone, go where we have never gone before. Stretching includes getting training, another degree, doing your best and allowing your mentor to support, advise, guide and question you.

For mentors, being willing to stretch means you walk your talk, pay it forward and be fully committed to the success and advancement of your mentee.

The catch is, most of us resist change as a knee-jerk reaction. No matter how much you want to help another person grow and develop, they can only learn or change if they want to. More than wanting to change, they must cooperate in the changes to make them happen. For mentoring to be successful, mentees must take on learning, growth and change even when the going gets tough and you don’t want to.


Susan Bender Phelps

Susan Bender Phelps runs Odyssey Mentoring & Leadership. She has trained hundreds in the art and science of professional and youth mentoring. She designs and delivers powerful professional mentoring programs for organizations dedicated to the Triple Bottom Line: People, Profits & Planet. Susan has more than 25 years of hands-on business, managemement, and public speaking experience. She is the author of the best-selling book, Aspire Higher, compelling true stories of business and career mentoring success and a contributor to ASPIRE Magazine.