How to Establish a Mentoring Relationship
I consistently talk to people about the importance of mentoring, how many people long to find a mentor, and how very few organizations really practice the art of “mentoring” or “coaching” well.
Outside of the four books I've written on the subject, I have never pulled back the curtain and personally described what I do in my mentoring community. I have mentored emerging leaders for over thirty years now. Let me share with you what I've learned and what I've found works when I mentor a community of leaders. I will start with how I choose the people I want to mentor.
How I Choose People to Mentor
The best way to summarize what I look for is with the acronym FAITH:
- I look for people who are Faithful. (Faithful to their previous commitments.)
- I look for people who are Available. (They have the time to meet regularly.)
- I look for people with Initiative. (They don’t sit around waiting for action.)
- I look for people who are Teachable. (They will learn willingly from me.)
- I look for people who are Hungry. (They are passionate to grow.)
If I plan to mentor leaders, I look for GIFTS:
- They are Gifted. (They have obvious gifts of communication, planning, etc.)
- They have Influence. (Even without a title, they influence others)
- They are Fruitful. (They produce results in whatever task they do)
- They are Trustworthy. (They can be depended upon to keep commitments)
- They are Serving. (They currently are active, serving in some capacity)
I've found if I can spot even three out of five of these characteristics, I’m likely to have a positive experience with a mentee.
The Commitment I Ask For:
Before I agree to mentor an inquirer, I tell them who fits in my “window” to invest lots of time with, at this point in my life. Obviously, I can’t mentor everyone. So, before I ask someone to “sign on the dotted line”, I clarify what I expect:
- They make every meeting, read every book assigned each month and do every exercise (application) each month. Since 1979, I have regularly met with “mentees” for the purpose of growth. We meet monthly, for three hours, we read and discuss a book, and we commit to an application (an exercise) in response to our discussion.
- They agree to take on an official leadership role or position by the end of our year together. (Most are already serving in this capacity, but I want to make sure they are committed to a place to embody the principles they will learn.)
- They commit to mentor at least one other leader when we are finished. This means they will reproduce the mentoring experience with a group or an individual of their own choosing within the year.
In today’s busy culture, I have found this level of commitment is rare, but doable for people who sincerely want to grow. You and I both know—folks make time for what they really want to do. If a person cannot make or keep this commitment, I still remain friends with them, but they are released from the group.
Questions for Reflection
1. How well do you and your organization practice mentoring?
2. Do you have a mentor? How about some mentees?
3. What single step could improve your mentoring experience?
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