For the past ten years I’ve experienced the joy of mentoring a small group of professional artists each week. And once each year for those same ten years, I have mentored a much larger global group of creatives – most of whom work as artistic pastors in contemporary mega-churches. Two years ago, I also began “48 Hours of Solitude” which is a one-on-one mentoring experience for executives, leaders and pastors.
On a recent extended sabbatical nestled in a remote cabin in the stunning Colorado Rockies, upon evaluating the past thirty years of my vocational and pastoral life, it became apparent the one thing that brought me more fulfillment than any other was mentoring. Hands down. It is a win-win scenario. The mentor learns and benefits just as much (or more) as the mentee.
The mantra I have chosen to describe my life calling reflects this passion for mentoring. It is “to influence influencers.” It occurs to me as I write, that it would be hard to find a better definition for mentoring.
I’m sure that upon psychoanalysis, it will be apparent that my passion “to influence influencers” is directly proportional to the dearth of those male influencers in my life. It has been an almost impossible task to find a personal older mentor – and I find that most young men desperately yearn for someone in this capacity.
So, here are seven “real-world” lessons I’ve learned hoping that more of us will accept this challenge to benefit others through this marvelous gift either as influencer or influencee.
1. Be secure in who you are. That is, be comfortable in your own skin. Don’t try to be someone you are not. No matter how famous (or not), mentees need us to be who we are- not who we think they want us to be.
2. Don’t feel like you always must have an answer. If listening is an art, then true listening is genius. Don’t feel as if you must always be a “one-upper” or “name-dropper” to gain respect of your mentees. You will constantly be thinking about your next story or life experience, instead of what they really need – which is a true listener. Over the years, I have found having the answer is not the important thing, it is having a listening ear.
3. Be restless in your journey, but confident in your destination. In other words, don’t get stuck. Always be a learner. Sure, have definable life goals, but throw away that old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Be restless but confident. Be willing to change but prepared with a plan. Your young mentees will then be able to function as reciprocal teachers and guides.
4. Celebrate the joys and the sorrows with equal gusto. Someone once said, it’s not hard to find someone to cry with you in grief, but its tough to find someone who will sincerely rejoice with you in success. A true mentor must be prepared and willing to celebrate a mentee that far surpasses his own ability and accomplishments. And of course, be there in the dark times of suffering as well.
5. Be a voracious reader. In the past, I would only gently suggest that great leaders need to read. But in today’s world of radical discontinuity, it is a must for any mentor who desires to influence influencers. Read deep and wide. The Internet, books and magazines. Read the classic “super-texts” and books of contemporary thought. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read hardback, paperback, online, via audio or Kindle – but READ. I feel it is impossible to be a multi-dimensional mentor with layers without experiencing the joy, knowledge, and discipline of daily reading.
6. Don’t be devastated by rejection. A mentee may one day realize that you are not the one to effectively mentor him. A true mentor can handle this – because effective mentorship for that person is more important than the mentor’s ego. Also, many mentees never stop to say thanks, nor will they remember who “brought them to the dance” – especially when the mentee experiences great success. It hurts. It sucks. But it’s true. It is always important to remember the goal. A mentor must not primarily desire acknowledgment, but rather desire above all else to influence influencers.
7. Don’t be surprised by separation. I once read that many mentoring relationships go through a difficult separation. In our transient society, expect seasonal mentorships. Looking back after thirty years of mentoring, the last ten in a disciplined manner, many of the mentees I felt would be “blood brothers” to the death are now simply casual acquaintances. Life ebbs and flows. That’s just the way it is. BUT, the blood brothers I do have as mentees and friends, and the life lived with every person, separated or not, are worth more than life itself. Because life without relationship, grasshopper, is meaningless.
Finally, have you ever experienced a mentoring/menteeing relationship?
Are you currently in a mentoring relationship?
Would you want something like this?