News & Press

11 Traits of Powerful Mentors

Paul Stein, SFC Executive DirectorBy Paul Stein, Executive Director


Modeling Mentoring

In our ongoing effort to become better at what we do, the members of the Schools for Children administrative team took time to reflect on the mentors who had had the greatest impact on our professional lives. Each of us described a mentor, usually a supervisor, who made a lasting impression.


Comparing notes, commonalities emerged. When explicitly stated, we realized these traits could help us become better mentors ourselves. The 11 traits, that characterize the mentors who had a powerful impact on our team members, are listed below. Collectively, our favored mentors were strong leaders with whom we truly wanted to work.


Our mentors …


… knew us well, and they helped us know ourselves. They understood our goals, strengths and weaknesses. They opened our eyes and helped us reevaluate situations and look at them with newfound insight.


… were empathic. They cared about us, and always asked how we were doing. In the process, they modeled compassion, how to read people and their body language, and how to be good listeners.


… were supportive. They valued and supported our work and our ideas, helping us build confidence.


… were intuitive. They knew when to step forward and when not to, when to intervene and when to remain watchful, when to be directive and when to encourage us to develop our own goals and initiatives.


… were value- and goal-driven. They encouraged us to articulate a solid foundation, philosophy and set of values which would serve as guideposts. These, in turn, would help us set goals and make decisions that would keep our work focused on our mission and on what’s most important.


… were intentional. They were very intentional in all their actions, each plan being executed after careful consideration of individual stakeholder perspectives and the organization’s core values and goals (for instance, by viewing actions through an equity lens).


… conveyed clear expectations. They clearly stated what they needed from their staff, explaining their reasoning yet not necessarily looking for agreement. They were direct, to the point and very much a “straight shooter.”


… offered helpful bits of learned wisdom. They offered useful practices, stories of lessons learned and phrases that years later provided helpful, mindful guidance.


… were humorous. By having a sense of humor in the context of serious work responsibilities, they helped lighten the load and kept things in perspective.


… were authentic. They were consistent about who they were and always true to their word.


… were bold. They bravely took on whatever needed to get done, even if it meant shaking up a well-entrenched system.


Perhaps most importantly, our mentors modeled what it means to be a powerful and effective mentor. In so doing, they give us a gift that we can use in our careers – and in life.