There is a growing body of evidence that ties higher emotional intelligence with success at work. Mentoring has been recognized as an important function in developing the growth, development and success by many successful people. This includes the likes of Richard Branson, Mary Barra, Suze Orman, Michael Bloomberg and Robert Herjavec. Research on emotional and mentoring has found that the greater the emotional intelligence of the mentor, the higher the trust the mentee has in them. While 76% of people believe that mentoring is important only a small percentage have a mentor. The qualities that we look for in an emotionally intelligent mentor are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. There are a number of ways that we can determine if a potential mentor is high in these areas.

5 Ways to look for emotional intelligence in a mentor.

High degree of self-awareness

In talking to a potential mentor ask about them not only about their successes, but their failures, struggles and what they learned from them. Mentors with a high degree of EI will openly share their feelings, fears and doubts and what they did to overcome them. They will share their vulnerabilities and be able to share with us both their strengths and the areas they are still working to overcome. Beware of someone who appears to have all the answers and is not open to sharing their vulnerabilities. 

Put their egos aside and focus on the needs of the mentee

A high degree of self-confidence and a healthy ego are necessary for success, but when it comes to mentoring the mentor’s ego must take a back stage to the needs of the person being mentored. An emotionally intelligent mentor is secure in their own abilities and doesn’t need their ego stroked. When talking to someone who is secure, they will steer away from taking credit themselves for success and instead heap praise upon others, their teams or their partners. By listening to them you will get the feeling that they get satisfaction from seeing others succeed.

Manage their emotions and keep a degree of detachment

Mentorship that has any depth and quality can become emotionally charged at times. The mentee may be making crucial decisions that will impact the rest of their lives and be looking to their mentor for guidance.   It is during these times that the mentee needs someone who is able to manage their emotions and remain objective. When looking for a mentor find out how they have handled emotionally charged situations in their past and what they have learned about themselves in the process. A positive sign is someone who relates a story of how they were able to control themselves during an emotionally charged situation. That could mean they decided to take a break until they were able to cool off.

Provides guidance to help the mentee to come to their own decisions

Good mentors offer guidance, support, different perspectives but recognize that it is up to the mentee to ultimately make their own decisions. They realize that it is not them that has to live with the consequences of that decision and are careful not to tell the mentee what they should do. As well, they realize that what they would not is not necessarily what is best for the person they are mentoring.  When considering a mentor ask them what you should do in a situation. If they help you probe deeper and further consider them as a potential candidate. If they tell you directly what you should do, move on and look for someone else.

A history of service

Since mentorship is often a free service provided by the mentor, look for someone who genuinely enjoys helping others. The best mentors have a history of giving, to their families, others and their community. These types of people have the ability to look beyond their own needs and feel a sense of responsibility to give back. If not sure of their history in this regard, bring up volunteer activities that you have done, or are planning to do and see how they react. Highly emotionally intelligent mentors will be able to share how it makes them feel to help others.

 Success in overcoming obstacles and barriers, are positive and are moving forward in gratitude.

While they may not be incredibly wealthy or successful in all areas of life, good mentors have had success in overcoming barriers in life. They openly express gratitude and have a positive, optimistic outlook towards the future. They take responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings and feel proud of what they have accomplished to this point. You get the feeling that they are able to relate to your struggles as they have been there themselves. Be careful of anyone that is still going through a difficult situation as they may be looking for someone to commiserate with rather than help you. You need someone who can offer you guidance in support because they have experienced similar struggles, not someone who is stuck themselves.


  • Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, internationally published author and speaker.  To take the EI Quiz go to  His book THE OTHER KIND OF SMART, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success has been published in 4 languages. Harvey writes for FAST COMPANY and has a monthly column with HRPROFESSIONALS MAGAZINE. You can follow him on Twitter @theeiguy.