Five Tips for Soliciting a Mentor

Each year I get several guys who email or call and ask if I would consider mentoring them.  The fact that they took the initiative to even ask always makes me want to say “Yes”, however I can only commit to so many people at one time so I frequently have to decline their request.  Because I’ve experienced the impact of mentoring on my own life I believe deeply that every young leader needs someone who will pour into them and coach them in life and leadership. But asking someone to mentor you can be an awkward appeal.  So here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that may make it easier for you to ask AND make it more likely the seasoned leader will agree to your request.

  • Let them know why your have chosen them as a potential mentor.  Sometimes people want to spend time with a leader because of their position, not because of their person.  If someone just wants to hang with me because of my title I’m less likely to say “yes”.  But if they indicate there is something in my character or competencies they aspire to imitate then it let’s me know they have been watching and see something they feel is worthy to learn and emulate.
  • Share your dream.  What do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish with the next season of your life?  What difference do you want to make in the community or in the lives of people around you?  You have to let the potential mentor know why it would be worth their time to invest in you.  Usually when they hear your dream they feel honored to be a part of investing in your future success.  I said yes to someone recently simply because he sold me on the exponential impact he was going to have on leaders all across his state.
  • Share some of the specific things you want to learn from them.  Typically you ask someone because you see specific things you want to learn from them.  Make sure you define those things and then express those things when you make the request.  For example: The way they treat their wife, how they manage their staff, how they deal with conflict, how they manage their personal character, etc.
  • Suggest a time period for the mentoring relationship.  Too often leaders start off in a mentoring relationship without defining the length of the commitment.  This can led to an awkward ending rather than a natural closure to the relationship.  So ask for a 6 month, 8 month or 12 month commitment to the relationship.  Ultimately that’s the mentor’s decision but let them know you’re only looking for a short term not a life long commitment.
  • Finally acknowledge that their time is valuable. Let them know that you’ll always come fully prepared and always do any assignments to the best of your ability. Then let them know that you fully intend on turning around and passing along what you learn to others that will follow you.

On occasion I will have someone I’m mentoring say, “What can I do for you?”  I always tell them the same thing; “The best way you can honor me is to put into practice the things God teaches you through our relationship.”  Asking someone to mentor you is a huge investment on their part, so do all you can to honor them from start to finish.

Ground Rules for Establishing a Mentoring Relationship

Starting a mentoring relationship is exciting but can soon turn awkward if you don’t get it started the right way.  Here area few ground rules to get off to a good start.

  • Confidentiality– Part of mentoring is sharing the fears, sins and scars of your soul. Some lessons of life are born out of deep pain. I will share things with a protege privately that I won’t share publicly. So it’s important that you establish a relationship of trust by committing to mutual confidentiality.
  • Have a Clear Time frame – Most of the time when two people enter into a mentoring relationship they neglect discussing a time frame for the relationship.  So from the very start discuss not only the frequency of your meeting but agree to have a start date and an end date for the mentoring relationship.  The end date doesn’t mean you have to stop the relationship but it provides a natural point to discuss if you will continue on or conclude the mentoring relationship.
  • Two way learning conversations – I always like to make it clear up front that our mentoring relationship is a two way learning relationship not a “teacher – learner” relationship.  Any time I am mentoring someone I realize I have a lot I can learn from them as well, regardless of their age or their lack of experience. So as you start the relationship let them know it’s a mutual learning experience. 
  • Agree upon a Specific Process or Plan – Most mentoring fails because they don’t have a process or plan to follow.  The first meeting or two goes well as they get to know each other but after that neither really knows where to go from there.  So from the beginning discuss what the mentoring time will look like and what development needs you will focus on.
  • Grant Permission to give honest feedback– Generally we are drawn to mentor people that we like and want to be around.  But this strong relational connection can create a hesitation to share the tough honest feedback that is needed in the development process.  So establish a ground rule of tough-honest feedback right up front.  I heard Bill Hybels share one time that he would ask a staff member, “Give me the last 10%”  We can have a tendency to be 90% honest, but it’s that last 10% that can make the biggest difference in someones development. 
  • Periodic evaluation of the mentor relationship – Not all mentoring relationships work.  And that is okay.  That’s why it’s important to evaluate the relationship on occasion to make sure you’re not wasting each others time.  Here are 3 evaluation questions you can ask to help you determine the effectiveness of the relationship:
    • Are you benefiting from our time together? In what ways?
    • Do you want to continue?
    • What do you want to do differently? What would you like to focus on in this next season of our mentoring?

Emotionally Engaged Mentoring

How close are you to those you’re developing? 

It’s easy to look at those under our leadership development efforts as a project rather than a person.  Sometimes leaders feel like training or mentoring others is a burdensome responsibility rather than a privileged relationship. When this is the case the leader fails to fully engage himself in the development process. Development efforts are hurried, made a low priority or given half-hearted effort. But leadership development has its fullest impact when it’s highly relational. Don’t misunderstand, you can develop a leader without being relational, but it won’t have maximum impact.

Paul starts his second letter to Timothy by saying , “To Timothy, my dearly beloved son” (2 Timothy 1:2).  The words “beloved son” reveals the depth of their relationship. Paul wasn’t his father but the dynamics of their relationship made it feel that way. I’ll admit that getting close to those you train is dangerous. You can be easily hurt, let down or taken for granted. I had a professor in seminary who was very aloof. When I asked someone why, they told me that years earlier he had gotten close to a student he was mentoring and the student somehow betrayed him. So consciously or unconsciously he decided to keep a distance between himself and those he trained.

If you are training masses of people obviously you won’t be close to all of them, but each of us should have one or two people that we’re giving ourselves fully too. When you are engaged in leadership development on an emotional level it does several things…

  • It gives your trainee a greater level of confidence. They know and sense that you believe in them. You’re not just saying words, but you’re conveying with your eyes and spirit that you believe they have what it takes to lead. Your confidence in them give them confidence in God’s work in their life.
  • It gives you as the trainer greater credibility. Because you take the time to listen, relate and be vulnerable yourself, the level of trust grows exponentially.  As trust and credibility increase so does your influence in their life.
  • It heightens their level of commitment.When Paul sent Timothy to the church in Philippi, he said, “I have sent unto you my beloved son Timothy because I don’t have anyone else who is like-minded as I am, who really has you at his heart” (Philippians 2:19-20).  Because Paul loved the people at Philippi deeply so did Timothy.

What are other benefits of emotionally engaged mentoring?

The Leadership Development Magic Bullet

It seems that everyone is struggling with the challenge of developing leaders and in the process they’re desperately looking for “what works”.  So the questions abound:  What’s the best curriculum, best delivery system or best tool for leadership development?  Despite the fact leadership development is getting more and more attention  few are making progress with this challenge.  So what’s the magic bullet?

While there is nothing wrong with those questions, we’re still overlooking the core ingredient for leadership development.  The magic bullet is YOU.  You can develop a leader with lousy curriculum.  You can train someone without a fancy tool.  And the best delivery system will always be a leader passing on what he has learned to a potential leader.

A Commonly Neglected Ingredient in Mentoring

As I was reading through 2 Timothy 1 it struck me that Paul told Timothy, ” I constantly remember you in my prayers.”  I don’t think he was simply praying, “God bless Timothy”.  Paul understood that Timothy was young and facing some pretty intense ministry pressure in Ephesus.  So undoubtedly he was praying for God to deepen Timothy’s courage, increase his leadership insights, expand his influence, and whatever else Timothy needed to exercise effective spiritual leadership.

When mentoring a young leader I’m looking for God to use the ink of my experiences to write leadership wisdom on their heart.  But it’s not enough to simply instruct, be a role model and share our experience with young leaders.  We must pray for them and seek to understand the specifics of what God is doing in their lives.  Mentoring is not a two way process…it is a three way process that includes God. It‘s GOD using YOU to shape THEM. Young leaders are susceptible to pride, the lure of power, foolish mistakes and giving up when discouraged. So it’s through prayer that God can give you a deeper understanding into their developmental needs.  If I look at mentoring simply as a two way relationship, then I may miss the dynamics of how God wants to use me in their life.

As you meet with the young leaders you are mentoring don’t neglect asking them, “What’s God doing in your life and how can I pray for you?”

What To Do When a Mentee Talks too Much

Yesterday I told about a mentoring meeting I observed where a young lady was talking way too much.  In that post I gave a few tips for mentees to makes sure they’re making the best use of their time with their mentor. 

As I sat there and listened to thier exchange the question hit me: How do you handle it when your mentee talks too much?  First let me start with what the older lady in yesterdays story did well.

  • She listened well.
  • She restated things that she was hearing. This reflected that she was hearing what was being said.  (A very good listening technique).
  • She maintained eye contact and emotional engagement in the conversation. (She deserves a badge of honor for this one)
  • She threw in biblical principles when she could catch the young lady taking a breath. (Which wasn’t very often)

But here’s a few things she could’ve done to enhance the productiveness of her discipleship efforts.

  1. When they talk too much it may be an indication they have misunderstood the purpose of your meeting.  So before you start clarify why you are there and what you hope to accomplish in the time together.
  2. When the mentee goes on and on telling a story, interrupt by asking a thinking question.  For example:  “Why do you think God allowed that to happen in your life?”  or “If you had a chance to re-live that moment what would you do differently?”  The goal is not for them to tell their story.  The goal is for you to help them learn from their experiences.
  3. When the mentee goes from one subject to another without stopping…say, “Before you move on let me ask you a few questions about what you were just saying…”
  4. When the mentee keeps talking incessantly be more directive.  Tell them what you’re looking for as you ask a specific question.  Tell them your time together is valuable and they don’t need to give too much detail in their stories.  As the mentor your responsibility is to steer the conversation toward a growth objective.   Sometimes we try to be nice by allowing them to keep talking but if they talk too much they lose the opportunity to learn.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for them is to interrupt and provide purpose and direction to the conversation. 

What are other things you have found helpful when a mentee talks too much?