IEEE's Nita Patel outlines the specific overlapping and critical elements that you must possess to successfully and simultaneously be a leader, mentor and mentee.

Nita Patel, Founder & Chair, IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference

January 17, 2017

3 Min Read
3 Qualities of Leaders, Mentors & Mentees

If given a list of characteristics, can you identify which qualities belong to a leader versus a mentor versus a mentee?

Focus, confidence, integrity, passion, authenticity, persistence, decisiveness, enthusiasm, positive, motivational, respect, curiosity, innovation, honesty, risk-taker, dedicated, engaged, committed, passionate and genuine. How'd you do?

It's not easy to separate these qualities because all of these are important in each of these three roles. There is a distinct overlap and individuals are leaders, mentors and mentees concurrently. In order to be successful, you need to fill all three roles, the person leading, the person advising and the person being advised.

There are three specific overlapping and critical elements that you must possess to successfully accomplish this feat: Communication, Emotional Intelligence and Mission.

Figure 1:

First, communication is the imparting and exchanging of information. As we all know and have experienced, leaders, mentors and mentees all need to communicate clearly. We all know that the ability to explain ideas and concepts so that others understand is critically important but equally important is the ability to listen so that you understand others. Although speaking and listening are the two most basic relationship skills, they're both very difficult to master. A few key elements of communication are important.

To be an effective communicator, understand what and why you want to communicate. In doing so, clarify the goal of the communication by preparing and anticipating the receiver's viewpoint. Additionally, deliver the message with conviction, clarity and confirmation. That is, be sincere in your intent and message and how the essence of the communication relates to the larger goals and vision. Use simple sentences and clear examples to convey this message. Confirm understanding along the way by listening to the reactions both oral and physical.

Second, emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. I translate this as the ability to understand the uniqueness of each individual and having the emotional intelligence to understand yourself. Essentially, there are four competencies:

  • Understanding yourself, or self-awareness

  • Managing yourself, or self-management

  • Understanding others, or social awareness

  • Managing others, or social skills

Empathy is a central element to emotional intelligence and the hallmark of a strong leader and mentor. Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy does not mean you agree with how someone is feeling or even relate to their feelings. Instead, empathy is about the awareness of other people's feelings and your feelings.

Possessing emotional intelligence allows you as the leader, mentor and mentee to understand others' perspectives, anticipate, recognize and meet others' needs, cultivate opportunities through diversity of thought and build trust enabling extra passion, motivation and success.

Finally, mission is knowing where you want to go and why. It's a combination of vision and action. In all three roles, it is important to know the concrete objectives and then use empathy and communication to convey this objective to others in a way that they can understand and act upon. As an individual in any of these three roles, you must define a purpose, the why. Your purpose may be to design the next car or provide support or gain access to an entirely new network. In defining this purpose, you are helping yourself and others define HOW to get there; that is, define a strategy to help us achieve the mission. The right strategy flows from knowing why we exist (purpose), what we believe (values) and where we are going (vision).

Each of us can be leaders, mentors and mentees by cultivating these three qualities, the ability to communicate our mission with an emotional awareness that allows us to embrace the diversity of ideas and personalities. Practicing these skills will definitely accelerate and amplify your individual contribution resulting in your being a world changer.

— Nita Patel, Founder & Chair, IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference

About the Author(s)

Nita Patel

Founder & Chair, IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference

Nita Patel, P.E., is a Systems and Software Engineering Director at L-3 Warrior Systems, and Founder of IEEE Women in Engineering International Leadership Conference (WIE ILC).  She is the past International Chair of IEEE Women in Engineering International, and has served as 2nd Vice President of the IEEE Computer Society BoG, IEEE-USA VP Communications and Board of Governor Member for IEEE Eta Kappa Nu. 

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