By Bernadette Pieters
National Director of Diversity, Regional Director of Human Resources, BDO USA, LLP

That spark—we would see it more often if we just slowed down to look. When we do see the spark, we know. It’s the light of interest and engagement in an employee’s eyes that promises good things to come, if only we would take the time to fan the spark into a flame.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m supposed to find time to fan a spark when I have 107 unread emails, five conflicting high-priority deadlines, two missed flight connections, and only 24 hours in a day? My answer is yes.
Think back over your career. Do you remember one or two leaders who really made an impact on you, cheering you on and pushing you beyond your limits to reveal the potential they saw within you? Now, it’s your turn to be that person to someone else. To do this requires carving precious time out of your packed schedule and making the most of that time.

Recently, as I waited in a New York City diner for one of my spark-in-the-eyes mentees to join me for lunch, I jotted my mentor mantra down on my napkin: “Present, positive, progressive.” In my mind, these three things are essential in a successful mentoring relationship.


It’s happened to all of us. We’re physically present in a conference room or on a call, but we’re not really there. In order to most effectively guide and counsel a mentee, focus on being mentally and emotionally present every time you meet with them, regardless of what else is going on at work. Turn off your Blackberry if you have to—just make sure your mentee can clearly see you’re listening and you honestly care. They will feel more comfortable opening up, which will help you get to the essentials of the mentoring session more quickly.


Mentoring meetings often cover areas for improvement in a mentee’s career, which is normal considering they’re looking for your perspective on how they can succeed. It’s important to remember, however, to make a point of staying positive throughout the mentoring relationship. Instead of waiting for your mentee to ask for your opinion on an issue they’re experiencing, make an effort to reach out to them for no reason other than to wish them a good day, or find something to compliment them on. This sets an example that positivity is key in professional relationships, and only takes a few minutes of your time.


While we want to be careful not to push mentees too much, it is our task to encourage a progressive state of mind within the relationship. Don’t let them settle into contentment with the status quo. It’s ok to remind a mentee once in a while that, while you’re on their side, you’re also there to help them improve, and that doesn’t mean not speaking of the issues.

In reality, mentoring can be as much of a learning experience for the mentor as it is for the mentee. I leave it to you to use the short mentor mantra above—or whatever else works for you—to show your mentees what success can look like.

Bernadette Pieters has more than 14 years of strategic human resources management experience.