4 Essential Traits of a Highly Effective Mentor

I’ve been helping people discover their true life purpose for many years now. During that time, I’ve developed a real sense of what a mentor needs to do, say, and embody in order to help others embark on and benefit from a transformational journey of self-discovery.

I’m also certain that my approach to mentoring has been influenced and shaped by the lasting, positive and inspirational impact one of my early mentors, Dr. Paul Fairweather, had on my life.

Recently, while thinking with deep gratitude about Paul, I took some time to consider the essence of great mentoring and distilled all my thoughts and experiences down to what I see as the four essentials of successful mentoring:


The main way in which a mentor can best serve their client is by listening compassionately and without judgment. Active listening means capturing the essence of the mentee’s words and emotions and reflecting them back. Not parroting it but rephrasing it briefly. Sometimes it will be emotions, other times ideas that are relevant to the mentoring process. This is one of the most essential skills of the mentor and requires a relaxed focus 100% of the time.

As the mentor maintains their focus, often their body will respond to what the client is saying. The mentor may get a gut feeling about something that was said or perhaps even tear up a bit when the client is describing something sad or even joyful. Or they may tighten up and realize their senses are picking up on the tension the client is experiencing. They may sometimes get inspired to do something different. This happens when the mentor is listening with all of themselves, a process that requires their full presence.

For instance, one time when doing an online session with a relatively new client, that still, small voice in my mind told me to do something active. Specifically, to have the client stand up and shake, to discard some of the tension he was feeling. I showed him what I meant by modeling it – standing and shaking for a few seconds. He joined me and I encouraged him to let a sound come out, which he did. After about 30-45 seconds of this we stopped, sat back down, and continued the session. He reported that it did help him loosen up.

So, the most effective mentoring starts with consistently listening in the most comprehensive way. The mentor should be observing body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and voice characteristics such as pitch, volume, rhythm, and tone.

Albert Mehrabian, a researcher of body language, discovered that communication is 55% nonverbal, 38% vocal, and 7% words only. Having worked with clients for over 45 years, I can attest to the truth of these statistics!


Collaboration is defined as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” The mentor enters into the relationship keeping another fundamental principle in mind: that mentor and client are working cooperatively and collaboratively together. The mentor’s role is already defined once the mentee signs up to be a client. It’s important that the mentor doesn’t polarize themselves by either being too authoritarian or too passive.

The mentor’s role is to provide leadership in the relationship, one that invites the client into an alliance with the clear intention of serving the mentee’s needs and aspirations. I find it important to let the prospective mentee know from the start that it is a collaborative relationship, yet with each of us having clearly defined roles. I find this model to be the most effective way to help the client achieve their goals and know that I am with them on their journey.

Another aspect of the relationship I have with mentorship clients is to provide communication in between sessions through texts or emails. If they are working on a book, I ask to see their progress by sending me the chapter outline or one of the chapters. I respond by offering suggestions for adjustments, or simply a genuinely supportive “way to go!” if I like what I see. Again, all within the context of collaboration.

One of my favorite quotes is, “where two or more are gathered, there I am.”


During my work with my mentor, Dr. Paul Fairweather, which I described in an earlier article, one of the most impactful things he said was that he believed in me. This is another important attribute for every mentor to possess – the ability to support the client and their intentions wholeheartedly through words and actions.

I don’t typically say those exact words to my clients, instead I often demonstrate my support by my enthusiasm for who they are and what they are trying to achieve.

As noted above, often that encouragement is given through non-verbal behavior on my part such as smiling, nodding, and most of all, my complete attention to what they are expressing. On occasion I have even “high fived” a client, which is quite different when it’s an online session, but still works!

In addition, I will provide encouragement through words, such as, “I like it!” or “way to go!” when I hear about some insights or actions the client has taken to further themselves along their stated goals and intentions.

Because I’m also a psychotherapist and shamanic practitioner, there are situations where healing is required and fortunately, I have a lot of tools in what I sometimes describe as my medicine bag.

These tools enable my client and I to go ahead with any healing processes, both within the session and via homework, outside the formal session. There have also been occasions – typically ones where the client is sharing some hardships or self-judgments – where I will say the simple words, “There’s nothing wrong with you” and repeat it a couple of times.

Often it has a tremendous healing impact, although I don’t say it to everyone and the timing of expressing that is critical as well. I explain that usually these self-defeating thoughts and actions are adaptations, ones that served you well in childhood but are not working so great now you’re an adult. From there we can discuss how to heal or overcome these.


I’m very clear from the outset of my work with clients that it is not my intention to impose any spiritual or religious beliefs and practices onto them. I first assess where they are in relationship to what can be called God, Great Spirit, the Great Mystery, the Force. I do believe that it’s important to discover and/or reinforce a spiritual foundation, practices that remind us of another force that’s operating through us and as us.

Often, I work with people who already have a backlog of experience and belief in a Higher Power, however the individual characterizes that Power.

My spiritual awakening began in the 1980s, largely as a result of the birth of my first daughter, Nicole. Witnessing the miracle of her birth, once she had entered the world all I could do for a few minutes was to sit there as the nursing personnel took care of Nicole and her mother and mutter over and over, “there is a God!”

Thus began my awakening and spiritual explorations. My daughter’s very presence in the world served as a continual reminder of the continuity of Life and the existence of an overriding force that was at the very core of existence. Later, I was introduced to shamanism and incorporated these ancient healing practices and alternative ways of healing into my ‘medicine bag’.

Now as an elder of our larger tribe, having been exposed to and experienced many viewpoints, beliefs, and practices that fit in the larger domain of spirituality, I’m completely comfortable working with mentees and helping them explore their spirituality. I can also train people in shamanism and shamanic practices.

It’s important that a mentor is able to provide a forum where the mentee can comfortably explore their spirituality without being judged or limited to any rigid or fundamentalist beliefs or practices. In other words, the mentor should be open to understanding the client’s spiritual path and if so invited, offer them other perspectives.


Although there are other terms such as coaching, affirmation and support, these four guiding principles — listening, collaboration, encouragement, and spirituality – can help you determine whether a particular mentor is right for you.

If you are going through a major life transition, considering making significant changes in your life, or simply need someone to support you with any intentions or goals, I strongly advise that you seek out a mentor who can guide and encourage you during these kinds of pivotal moments.

Are you standing at the threshold of change, yearning for a deeper purpose and direction?

Embrace this pivotal moment and begin a profound exploration of your life’s true purpose with Dr. Steven Farmer as your guide. Learn More.

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