7 Qualities Every Mentor Should Look for in a Protégé

Keith Krach
November 2, 2016

Plenty of articles have been written about the qualities that a good mentor must possess. Business professionals who are asked to become mentors tend to have certain qualities in common, including ample industry experience, a willingness to give honest feedback, and genuine interest in teaching and learning about their protégés.

It is important for entrepreneurs to find mentors who have the qualities that will best suit their professional goals. However, the mentor-mentee relationship must be functional for both parties in order to be beneficial to either. To find a protégé who has the true potential to benefit from the mentoring process, look for entrepreneurs who have the following seven qualities.

1. They ask the right questions.

A good mentee shows curiosity and initiative by asking questions that show forethought and a commitment to learning. The role of a mentor is not to take direct control of a mentee’s business through guidance based on personal opinions. Rather, it is to guide the mentee to adopt tactics that enable him or her to solve business problems independently.

The kind of person who makes an excellent protégé does not show up to meetings with pleas that entreat a mentor to singlehandedly resolve the mentee’s professional difficulties. Instead, a capable mentor makes inquiries to help the protégé learn how to think differently and develop problem-solving capabilities that will prove useful into the future.

2. They’re confident and embrace advice.

The best efforts of a talented mentor can be squandered on a protégé who isn’t coachable. The kind of entrepreneurs who business professionals should consider mentoring are those who are open to advice, but are able to withstand feedback that is difficult to hear.

Excellent candidates for mentorship will not only have personal confidence, but will believe strongly enough in their professional vision that they will be able to use difficult advice to an advantage. This trait will also allow them to welcome both advice that aligns with personal opinions, as well as advice that opposes their personal views, but is valuable.

3. They respect your time and stay flexible.

A good mentoring relationship is based on mutual respect and requires that a protégé show deference for a mentor’s time. This means always scheduling appointments in advance, rather than asking to meet spontaneously, as well as arriving promptly any time the two of you have arranged to meet.

Additionally, great mentees respect boundaries and don’t take advantage of the professional relationship by initiating too many unprompted emails or phone calls. An excellent protégé will understand the need for flexibility and learn to work around the schedule of his or her mentor. This will keep the relationship beneficial and positive for both parties.

4. They understand their responsibilities in the relationship.

As a mentor, you should take the initial lead and set the tone for what the relationship between you and your protégé will be like. However, once the precedent for the mentoring relationship is set, a great mentee will drive the process forward on his or her own.

It is the responsibility of the protégé to take initiative and seek help when needed, rather than relying on you to routinely check in. The right mentee also knows to come to each meeting prepared with questions that will help them work toward their professional goals.

5. They take advantage of opportunities.

The best protégés understand that any introduction to a networking connection, invitation to a business event, or opening for an interview that you offer to them is a chance for professional growth. The kind of people who make the best mentees will not hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities that you present them with and will show appreciation when it’s due.

6. They view the mentoring relationship realistically.

A great candidate for mentorship does not sign up for the process expecting the relationship to change his or her entire career right away, and he or she does not expect to see results instantaneously. The ideal mentee understands that the effects of mentoring may not be immediate, and puts in the time and effort it takes to foster a mutually beneficial relationship.

Additionally, he or she maintains a realistic expectations about the goals of your partnership. As a mentor, your goal is to direct, inspire, and encourage an entrepreneur to pursue professional goals, rather than have direct involvement in the management or success of a protégé’s company.

7. They teach their mentors something in return.

The people who become mentees are often young entrepreneurs with keen insight into startup trends that may be beneficial to the experienced business professional. They tend to be highly creative, highly motivated, and more likely to have an open-minded attitude that makes them adaptable to change.

An excellent mentee will help you learn more about business areas from a startup leader’s perspective that you may have lost sight of in a more established, corporate setting. He or she will be enthusiastic about showing you innovative concepts from his or her own experience and will recognize that mentoring is a two-way street.

Keith Krach

Keith Krach is Chairman of DocuSign, The Global Standard for Digital Transaction Management.