What Do I Look for in a Mentor?

The following is the third in a three-part series on mentorship in nursing and health professions education. As faculty turnover increases due to retirement and other factors, many young professors need help making the transition from clinical practice to a life in academia. Mentorship is key to helping the next generation of educators get acclimated to their new role. Click these links to view part one and part two.

There are multiple approaches to identifying a potentially effective mentor. Some use assessment tools for compatibility, while others base the relationship on demographics, background, and interests. What matters more than the approach are the four key characteristics outlined in the construct LIFT:

  • Likeable: to form the basis of a sustainable relationship
  • Inspiring: to visualize new levels of growth and achievement
  • Faithful: to establish trust and respect
  • Turning: to direct the mentee to new perspectives


Likeability allows the mentoring relationship to develop naturally, free from emotional walls and social barriers. This relationship should find its basis in professional compatibility. In order for this to happen, the mentor must be approachable. The mentee should be able to identify characteristics in the mentor that they desire in their own life. The mentor’s reputation should be one that demonstrates a desire to develop potential in the lives of mentees. There has to be a freedom to engage on both the part of the mentor and the mentee.


Mentors need to inspire mentees to visualize what they can become. This does not mean that there is always a landmark, life-changing experience with each encounter or meeting. It does mean that the mentor can challenge the mentee to take it to the next level. A common question is “how can you grow in this situation?” Another question is “how will you do this differently in the future?” The mentor then makes a note of the mentee’s answer and asks them about it at a later time. Simple follow-up is a demonstration of value, which leads to increased trust and a stronger relationship.


The mentee needs to feel valued. The mentoring relationship must be a priority or the mentee will feel unimportant and the relationship will be unproductive. There must be a balance of rhetoric and practice. The mentor may be excited about the relationship, but lack preparation and follow-through, thus leaving the mentee feeling unimportant. The mentor demonstrates value to the mentee by being on time, preparing for sessions and follow-through, and focusing on the development of the mentee, not touting their own background and experience. Trust is non-negotiable in this relationship. Information exchanged must be held in the strictest confidence; any breach of that confidence will have a negative impact on the relationship and could potentially destroy it.


Turning a mentee to consider different perspectives is vital. Engaging multiple perspectives generates possibilities that can lead to affirmation or a redirect. Often a mentor makes the mistake of thinking that the best strategy is to affirm the mentee on their current path. This can be detrimental to the mentee, resulting in unrealized potential. Mentors should look for a way during each meeting to help the mentee explore a different view — not for the purpose of changing the mentee’s view, but rather to help them better understand the potential for personal growth and development. This process increases understanding on a larger scale, avoiding pigeonholing the mentee’s perspective.

LIFT can be used as a guide for mentees to initially evaluate the potential for a successful relationship, however, both members of the mentorship can apply the principles of this construct to assess the efficacy of the interaction. Using LIFT will help both mentor and mentee ensure that the best possible outcomes are realized.