How To Maximize A Mentoring Session


Participating in a mentoring session is like mining for gold. Rich nuggets of truth await the person who knows how to make the most of the time.

In this post I share seven steps you can take to maximize your next mentoring session.

1.  Go prepared.

Preparation is your best insurance for maximizing your mentoring session.

  • Prepare physically: Get your rest before showing up. Coming with your batteries charged will help you be alert, engaging, and sharper for dialogue.  Besides, who wants to be yawning in the face of their mentor?
  • Prepare mentally: Determine what questions you are going to ask. When I joined a group of pastors for a small group mentoring session with Bill Hybels, I had four issues that I wanted to address. When I sat one-on-one with Dr. Peter Teague from Lancaster Bible College, I jotted down six questions that I hoped he would answer.
  • Prepare spiritually: Ask God for his blessing on your time. Remember the admonition of James: "You do not have because you do not ask." (James 4:2)

2. Put on your learning hat.

You are the learner. Your mentor is the teacher. Ask a question, listen closely, and then probe deeper with a follow-up question. If you are in a group setting, engage the process. Glean insight from the interaction of others, but make sure you ask your questions. This is no time to be shy. This is also no time to talk about yourself, unless asked. You are there to learn, not teach!

3. Take great notes.

Don't rely on your memory. Take notes. For me, pen and paper works best. I type well, but it is far easier for me to jot notes, reduplicate a drawing, and write down a follow-up question in the margin. I don't record learnings on my iPhone because I don't want to give any connotation that I am checking emails or text messages.

4. Do a "Learning Download" soon after your session.

Mentoring conversations, like the ball in a pinball machine, can bounce wildly from one topic to another. While the conversation is fresh, I review all my notes and rewrite them in a more orderly fashion. I am looking for key learnings, books that have been referenced, or a person with whom I need to connect. This is time-consuming, but it accomplishes threethings:

  1. It helps me to review and clarify what I have learned. This includes deciphering my cryptic notes and shorthand before I forget what they meant.
  2. It helps to reinforce and assimilate what I have learned. Repeating the content presses it into my memory.
  3. It helps me to think through implications and applications for my life and work.

You can click here for my Learning Download (pdf) from my group mentoring session with Bill Hybels. I compiled this on my plane ride home.

5. Identify action items.

There are two extremes to avoid at this point: (1) Doing nothing! The old adage, "If you fail to plan you plan to fail holds true." Unless you are intentional about taking action on what you learned, nothing will happen. (2) Trying to do everything. Be aggressive in your efforts, but be realistic.

Carefully review your Learning Download, looking for ways to implement what you have learned. Identify action steps to take on lessons you have learned. Assign each item a "due date."

Here are three examples from my time with Bill Hybels:

  1. Learning: Only hire "fantastic staff." Action: Review hiring process with Executive Pastor. Press harder, dig deeper in our current hire for Small Groups Pastor. Date due: March 23
  2. Learning: Shoot bullets and then cannonballs. Action: Share this learning with our Leadership Team as it relates to evangelism. Ask: What "evangelistic bullets" can we shoot? Brainstorm. Plan them into our calendar. Date due: Introduce this at April 4 meeting.
  3. Learning: Staying Connected Action: Forward the post "10 Assessment Questions Every Leader Must Ask" to our Leadership Team. Ask them to respond to questions 2 and 10 as it relates to me. Date due: April 4

6. Say "Thanks"

Mentoring is a huge gift of time and expertise. Anyone who spends time with you is doing so at his/her own expense. The lessons you glean will save you from learning the hard way. They also help you to go farther faster. Taking time to say "Thanks" with a hand-written card is essential. Including a gift card as a token of gratitude is a nice addition to the word of thanks.

7. Share your learnings.

Passing on the lessons you have learned to others is both good stewardship and a way of taking on the role of a mentor yourself. There are many ways to do this.  You can share individual-specific lessons with key constituents, pass on your Learning Download to your immediate leadership team, or if appropriate, give it to a larger group within your organization.

When you share learnings:

  1. You model life-long learning.
  2. You provide a pattern and a tool (Learning Download) for your team to follow.
  3. You help to create a learning organization, a key characteristic of effective organizations.

Leaders get better as they participate in, glean from, and act on lessons learned through the mentoring process. You can maximize your next mentoring session by following the seven steps. Get started today. Identify a person from whom you would like to learn:

Prospective mentor: _______________________________________

Take the time to set-up a mentoring session today.