Following the Leader: What Makes a Good Mentor?

by Chelsea ODonnell on August 9, 2012

As a 21-year-old college student studying communications at SUNY Fredonia, I have had my fair share of professors both helpful and not so helpful. I’ve found that the teachers who had the most impact on me were those who exhibited passion, respect and effective communication, which are three traits that define any good mentor.

PASSION: If you believe in your message and you are passionate about it, you will consequently evoke passion in others. As Forbes contributor Matt Myatt puts it, leaders “might talk about their ideas, but they do so in a way which also speaks to your emotions and aspirations.” My freshman year I took a philosophy course and, although I had no previous interest in philosophy, my professor was so excited about the material and eager to teach us that he made me want to learn more. He always had fun anecdotes that would relate to the material and examples that were comical without missing the point. It was by far my favorite class that semester.

RESPECT: There should be a certain level of respect between a student and a teacher, but the most revered professors are those who treat communication as a two-way street. I appreciate it when, instead of intimidation, a professor or advisor speaks with me as a peer. I understand that this respect has to be earned, but I believe that when a professor interacts with a student in a non-judgmental manner, it fosters a better learning environment.

EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: A good mentor recognizes that everyone communicates differently. In a mass media class I took my sophomore year, our professor assigned us readings that explained the subject matter in a scholarly fashion. But once we were in class he used examples from relevant media such as YouTube videos, movies, television shows and blogs as well as his own sense of humor. He talked with us and not at us, and that is what made the difference.

When one thinks of a leader the first adjectives that might come to mind are assertive, a “go-getter,” or focused. While those are great attributes, I believe that a good leader is an excellent communicator and that is what sets him/her apart. Without passion there is less incentive to be respectful of those listening to your message, and without that respect effective communication is problematic.

These qualities can be applied to college professors and also to mentors in the workplace. The most effective mentors are the ones who are courteous, enthusiastic and mindful of their interactions.