What Makes a Great Mentor? – #4

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a great mentor.

Mostly because my mentor for my internship has been absolutely amazing, but also because understanding what makes a good mentor can help me understand how to be a good mentee (is that even a word?) and because in the future if I want to help people, knowing how to do it well is important.

I’ve come up with some DOs and DON’Ts of being a good mentor based on my internship experience, but this list is by no list complete or exclusive to what truly makes a great mentor.

In photography there is something called the “rule of 3rds” that beginners usually learn in their first or second lesson, and this rule is supposed to make the composition of the photo pleasing to the eye.

However, that “rule of 3rds” isn’t really a rule. Or at least, not a rule in the sense of how we use the word “rule.”

Great, and even amateur photographers, break that rule all the time and get beautifully composed pictures as a result. The “rule” is more of a guideline for how to quickly make something look better, but the reason for why learning that rule is so important is because once you know the rule you also know when you should break it.

Just like the “rule of 3rds,” the “rules” below are just guidelines. In some cases it’s important to ignore one based on your knowledge of the mentee or do something that completely contradicts a rule because you believe it’s the best thing to do.

So… Here are the “rules” I came up with:


  • Push your mentee farther than they think they can go
  • Provide feedback on both what they’re doing well (very important), and what they could improve on (also very important)
  • Understand they don’t know as much as you about what you’re teaching them, but don’t let them use that as an excuse for inaction
  • Understand that you can learn as much from them as they from you
  • Engage them in the process even if they might not be knowledgeable enough to contribute yet (eventually they will be)
  • Understand that they are human and might have their own biases and life experience they bring to the table
  • Give them the freedom and trust to work on their own projects, but let them know you’re always available if they need advice
  • Be human

And here are the don’ts which are basically the opposites of the dos in my ways:


  • Push your mentee so far that they end up burning out or reaching their breaking point
  • Only provide negative feedback (unless you know for sure that your mentee is only driven by the stick and not the carrot)
  • Expect your mentee to know everything they need to (there’s a reason why you’re the mentor and they’re the mentee)
  • Ignore your mentee’s advice
  • Disrespect your mentee (this goes for all people in general, but it’s important enough that I put it here)

One thought on “What Makes a Great Mentor? – #4

  • July 20, 2018 at 12:54 pm

    Again, really enjoyed your candid writing style! Have you shared w/ your mentor how impactful they’ve been this summer? The fact that they’ve help to drive your reflection on the do’s and don’ts, as well as your identification of what you need as a mentee (given the mentor do’s) is significant. And yes, I think mentee is a word, or we’ll make it one! 

    I’m impressed that you’re already thinking about how you might interact in a mentor/mentee relationship if the roles reversed. I’d love to hear your thoughts/list on the mentee dos/don’t and or “how to be a good mentee!”

    I appreciate your comparison with the rule of thirds, and that nuance of needing to break a rule/guideline at times – I completely agree that the guidelines are helpful and important, and it’s equally important to know when to flex to the person or situation. Do you have an example of where you’ve seen that with your mentor this summer, or another situation (in your office, or elsewhere)?

    I’d love to share your list of Do’s and Don’ts with my colleagues if you’re comfortable – I love it!

    Thanks so much,


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