The Fine Art of Mentoring
You'll go farther faster with a mentor.
In this post I define mentoring and share five benefits that come to those who have one. I also explore why, in spite of these benefits, some people avoid mentors.
What Is A Mentor?
In his book, The Fine Art of Mentoring, Ted Engstrom provides some helpful historical background to the concept.
The term "mentor," a catchword surfacing in discussions about leadership development today, arises from an unlikely source. It first appeared in Greek mythology when Ulysses asked a wise man name Mentor in Homer's Odyssey to care for his son, Telemachus, while Ulysses was fighting in the Trojan War. Mentor taught the boy 'not only in book learning but also in the wiles of the world.' . . . The fabled Mentor must have done his job well, because Telemachus grew up to be an enterprising lad who gallantly helped his father recover his kingdom.1
Mentors are wise folks who help us go farther and faster than we could by traveling alone. The Bible is full of mentoring relationships: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, Solomon and David, and Paul and Timothy to name a few.
Here are four ways I have seen the concept defined or explained:
- Mentoring is brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on, and a kick in the pants. John Crosby, The Uncommon Individual Foundation
- Mentoring is passing on to others what God has given to you. Ted Engstrom, The Fine Art of Mentoring
- A mentor is someone who helps you find your unique voice for kingdom service. Keith R. Anderson & Randy D. Reese, Spiritual Mentoring
- A mentor is someone who develops me. John Maxwell
While these descriptions vary, they point out key facets of mentoring: (1) Mentoring is relational, (2) Mentors invest in their mentees by passing on critical information and skills, (3) Mentors help mentees find their voice for kingdom service.In the end, mentoring is transformational.
5 Benefits Of Having A Mentor
Those who do the hard work of engaging in the mentoring process will reap huge benefits. I use the term "hard work" purposefully. Mentees must seek out their mentor--not an easy task. They must assume the role of student. They must listen. They must be willing to receive constructive criticism.
There are no short-cuts to this process. It is profitable but prolonged, joyful but grueling, helpful but hard. Those who endure the process earn the prize:
1. Mentors will impart wisdom
God admonishes us to be wisdom chasers. He says, "Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding."2 Mentors impart wisdom. The help us understand life and how it works. They do this by sharing life lessons, by revealing key learnings, by probing the inner recesses of our hearts, and by prodding us to dig deeper and try harder. When we walk with them, we too become wise (Proverbs 13:20).
2. Mentors will help you go farther faster
Recently, I sat down with Bill Hybels and a small group of pastors for a mentoring session. The three-hour session was free, but I had to invest the time and money to get to Chicago. As I did a preliminary cost-benefits analysis, I did not intend to participate. The flight and hotel were not cheap, I had a ton of work on my plate, and I didn't have time! But at the prodding of a friend, I attended the session. Retrospectively, I would have invested three times what I "paid" for what I gained in those three hours.
Rubbing shoulders with that world-class leader, I received some key insight for my own life and a fire-hose of fresh ideas for our church. This is helping me go farther faster. Such is the benefit of mentoring.
3. Mentors will tell you the truth
In the late 80's and early 90's I was engaged in doctoral research. I was reading a few thousand pages, thinking very carefully, writing a ton, and formulating a strategic plan for the church I was serving at the time. I had just put my heart-and-soul into a paper and was eagerly looking forward to some well-deserved kudos from my professor, Dr. Roberta Hestenes. Dr. Hestenes was an expert on the subject I had just written about. She reviewed my paper and my strategic plan. Her note was concise and not particularly encouraging, but it was true. I had greatly underestimated the time it would take for my plan to come to fruition. She saw that immediately and told me so.
I wanted a pat on the back, but she gave me the truth because that is what I needed to get better. I will never forget that encounter.
4. Mentors will believe in you
While mentors may say the hard words from time-to-time, they are investing time in you because they believe in you. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can." Mentors help us get where we want to go. Like Barnabas, they believe the best.
When Paul became a follower of Christ, people avoided him like the plague. Why not? He had been a persecutor of Christian. Barnabas was different. He believed in Paul.
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. Acts 9:26-27
Mentors are important because they see in us what others do not. Then they help draw it out.
5. Mentors will help you find your unique voice
Great mentors don't try to reproduce a carbon copy of themselves in their mentees. They are not on an ego trip. They recognize that God has given you a voice, a unique role to play in his kingdom. Mentors help you find that voice. Their desire is to help shape you into what God wants you to become.
Why Don't We Seek Mentors?
There are so many benefits to being mentored one would think that leaders would search for them like Cortez's treasure. That is not the case. Why is it that we don't always seek mentoring relationships?
- We don't seek mentors because we are too busy. The mistaken assumption here is "I don't have time." The fact is that you don't have time not to be mentored. Make the time.
- We don't seek mentors because we are too insecure. If you are afraid of having weaknesses revealed you will get stuck in the rut of your own weaknesses. To embrace the opportunity for improvement is to welcome criticism. Put out the welcome mat!
- We don't seek mentors because we are too proud. Proud people have an attitude that says, "You can't teach me." Humble people know they can learn from anyone. Emerson said, “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
- We don't seek mentors because we are too afraid to ask. Some people are afraid of having their request to be mentored denied. I have two thoughts about this: (1) Don't say someone's "No" for them. The person you are thinking about might be delighted to be asked. (2) Trust God's providence. God is sovereign. He will provide someone for you, but you must ask. If you get turned down, go ask someone else. Push past your fear. Get the help you need.
Get Ahead With A Mentor Today
In the article, "Get Ahead With a Mentor Who Scares You," Jodi Glickman writes, "Go out and find the most qualified or talented mentor, coach, or manager you can, and subject yourself to everything they can throw at you."3 That's great advice. Act on it. Here are three steps you can take today:
- Name one area where you want to improve.
- Name three people within your sphere of relationships who might be able to help you improve.
- Give one of them a call today. Invite that person to lunch. Prepare five questions you want to ask.
Mentors will help you go farther faster. Take a step to get connected with a mentor today!
1 Ted Engstrom, The Fine Art of Mentoring: Passing On To Others What God Has Given To You. (TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, Publishers, Inc., 1989), pages 3-4. 2 Proverbs 4:7 NIV 3 Jodi Glickman, "Get Ahead With a Mentor Who Scares You." Harvard Business Review. March 19, 2012.