What Makes a Good Mentor?

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A big part of my job is talking to potential Generation Hope Sponsors, and one of the concerns I often hear expressed is whether or not they are “qualified” to be a Sponsor. I hear questions like, “I’m not a parent, can I be a good Sponsor?” “I wasn’t a teen mom, can I be a good Sponsor?” “I’m not in the education field, can I be a good Sponsor?” When I get these questions, I always answer the same way: at the end of the day, the most important quality in a Sponsor is a big heart. Sure, it’s cool if you can talk about parenting with your Scholar or if you work in a field they’re interested in, but that’s not where the most valuable mentoring takes place.

Think back to the mentors who have made a big difference in your life. Who were those people? If you’re anything like me, they aren’t necessarily the people who have had the same experiences as you or even people who knew a lot about your career or area of interest. When I think about the most important adults in my life, it’s quite a diverse group, but they do have a common thread: they cared. A lot. They cared about me as an individual, took an interest in my life, were willing to give me tough love when necessary, and refused to let me give up on myself. All of their expertise was nice, but much less crucial than their belief in me and their insistence that I believe in myself.

When I see our most successful Scholar-Sponsor relationships, the same theme emerges. Effective mentors care. They are good listeners, and they usually do more listening than talking. They’re willing to tell the truth, even when it isn’t easy to hear. They’re reliable: they do what they say they will do, and they make promises they can keep. They don’t try to be everything or claim to be perfect and they don’t promise that they know everything. And they genuinely enjoy their mentees and want to spend time with them! 

So, in short, what makes a good mentor? I’m sticking with my original answer: a big heart.

P.S. want to learn more about mentoring best practices? Check out this great resource from the National Mentoring Partnership:

-Caroline Griswold, Program Manager