What to Do When You Mentor Someone


What are the five items that define an effective mentor?

I have been privileged to lead mentoring communities each year since 1979. I have mentored groups of high school students, college students, twenty-somethings, athletic directors and coaches, and mid-life executive leaders.

As I observe the art of mentoring around the country, I’ve noticed that most mentoring initiatives go “south” and eventually for one of two reasons: they are over-programmed or under-programmed. By this I mean they either become too structured and kill the life and excitement out of the relationship, or they provide no structure and they simply turn into chatting about current events and never push anyone to grow. Below, I will summarize what I do to balance these two extremes.

The Focus of a Mentor

Student leaders and staff members engaged in mentoring report the following five items define an effective mentor’s role:

  1. Identify and capitalize on strengths. Spend time talking about and assessing the primary gifts, talents, skill set and knowledge that your mentee possesses.
  2. Inspire and develop character. Spend time talking about, developing and practicing strong ethics, values, and disciplines that provide a moral compass to the mentee.
  3. See and evaluate potential blind spots. Spend time helping them recognize their personal areas where their self-awareness is low and if not checked, could sabotage the mentee.
  4. Clarify areas of focus. Spend time enabling them to say “no” to good activities so they can say “yes” to the best activities that will consume their time.
  5. Close the gap between potential and performance. In the end, the number one job of a mentor should be to equip mentees to reach their fullest potential; to become the best version of themselves.

What the Mentoring Community Does Over the Course of a Year:

1. Once I determined who will be in the group, we participate in a weekend retreat together, to get acquainted and to set an expectation for the year.

2. We meet once a month for discussion, accountability and to support each other.  Our meeting lasts about three hours. Participants are to be punctual. If one person can’t make it they call everyone else and we often simply don’t meet that month.

3. We read one book a month and discuss it in our meetings. I suggest a list of books and allow the group to give me feedback if they wish to add or delete.

4. We discuss a major topic, in which the book compliments, and I offer insights for them reflect upon as they grow in a given area.

5. We agree to apply what we’ve learned in a specific “homework” assignment that corresponds to the topic of the month.

6. We hold each other accountable to practice what we talked about in each meeting. This means we begin each meeting by reflecting on how well we embodied the topic.

7. At the conclusion of the year, we meet again for a special dinner for a time of celebration, reflection and application. Each shares who they will mentor and in what capacity they will lead, going forward.

It is amazing how life-changing this kind of experience is for leaders. Some have told me it is the single most impacting experience they’ve ever had. Most have never been mentored and most want to mentor others, once they know how.

Questions for Reflection

1. How do you currently host your mentoring meetings? What do you focus on?

2. What is one missing element in your current mentoring meetings?

3. From the list above, “The Focus of a Mentor” which do you practice best? Worst?


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