7 Characteristics of Effective Mentorship

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?

Your thoughts?

55 thoughts on “7 Characteristics of Effective Mentorship

  1. Hey R,
    I read this last week on a trip, but didn’t get a chance to comment….thanks for those practical suggestions and reminders….more than that, thanks for your willingness to mentor and make true disciples. You have enriched my life greatly through many things, especially in teaching me the importance of having and being apart of mentoring/discipling relationships. Thanks for being raw and honest in all those situations.
    Appreciate you friend!

  2. Another question. Just out of curiosity. This solitude thing you’re doing is it only for men? Because I read that you are the one who is mentoring the 48 hours. Are there also women who mentor? I’m asking this because through this post I understand there are not many female mentors? Please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m wondering if we have something like that here. Would be good for a change.

  3. I’m not a mentor. Well, I think I’m not. But my mentor in my youth was my seven years older brother. He took care of me and everything he said I still remember and have a lot of truth in them. He died one day before my 16th birthday. Fortunately, today I can say there are three mentors in my life. One is a good friend and the other two is the couple I call my parents. Two out of the three are women but the man who is a fatherfigure to me has the most impact on my life. It’s funny but it’s like he understands me more than the women do. All three of them encourage, guide and advice me differently. I’m glad I have them. Still I have a question. One of your points is about mentors not to try to be someone they are not. But my experience with one woman (not the mentors I haven ow) was that she forced her thoughts on me. I tried to tell her they are not my thoughts but she kept doing it. I felt so controlled and manipulated. After a while I couldn’t handle her anymore. She was trying to mentor me but I never asked her to be my mentor. I think women tend to do that. I started to avoid her because she didn’t listen to me. Our last conversation was on the phone and it wasn’t nice. She accused me of things was not true. I don’t want to meet her anymore. Shouldn’t mentors also let the mentee be the way she or he is? Accept them the way they are? I don’t want to sound pitty or hurt because I’m fine now. It’s just I think mentors should know this too.

    1. @Ani, Yes, great point, Ani. It is the mentors responsibility NOT to manipulate and try to make the mentee something they are not. Mentors should discover the natural strengths and passion in the mentee and then help grow them. Thanks again for joining the conversation.

  4. Great post Randy!

    I love your insight on mentoring. I just posted to all my Twitter friends.

    I have had mentors, those I have mentored, as well as peer mentors – all incredibly valuable relationships for me. I find growth in my life happens when I am involved in any of these types of relationships. I know for me, I have needed to be rather intentional about making sure mentoring relationships are happening in my life – sometimes they happen organically, but often you need to seek them out.

    I have a new book being published: “Beautifully Gifted: Equipping Today’s Women for the High Calling of God” – I share your heart to influence, especially this next generation!

  5. To mentor or not to mentor? There is no question! Mentor! And teach mentorees to mentor. You are absolutley right Randy. We miss a significant part of a meaningful life if we don’t. Its not easy but it’s rewards are significant. I tend to think that mentoring is one cure for a self centered universe. Passing on what has been poured in us by others, to others.

  6. As Leah wrote it is easier to have a mentor in your teen years because of youth leaders. As a youth leader I had that privilege and even a bit with other younger single moms. I’m pondering not only the age difference with finding a good mentor but gender as well. I actually feel women have a tendency to have a more social way of tackling mentoring. A woman could mentor without knowing it. For instance I have a younger woman who turns to me all the time. A few actually it was not until I read this post that I realized I was really not only a friend but a mentor to them. However, I do not know if this is true with men.

    Like many I would love to be mentored. I have lost many of my sweet elderly women who mentored me through life. I think I am in need of a mentor or mentors again. I must admit I would love more then one.
    .-= Carol Asher´s last blog ..Got Camp? =-.

  7. Randy, I think you’ve hit on something key here. I found it was much easier in high school to have an older, wiser support system from youth leaders in the church, but for young men and women living on their own, facing the struggles that come with being in your late 20s and early 30s, there seems be a scarcity of older people who demonstrate a willingness to pour into their lives, both spiritually and professionally.

    Many of my own friends in this age range demonstrate the restlessness you speak of. We can commiserate and find understanding with one another about this stage of life, but there is something valuable in talking to a person who’s been there and made it through, who’s made mistakes and learned from them, who’s on the other side of what we currently deal with. And preferably someone who is an honest encourager and listener.

    I truly wish I had someone like this, but my own experience in finding a mentor has resulted in two older (as in age 70+) women who were out of touch with my generation. Another girlfriend I recently spoke to about this expressed similar frustration in not knowing how to go about finding that wiser influence she once had in her life when she was younger. I think you bring up some great points. Perhaps this will encourage more people in our community to become the influencers you speak of!

    1. @Leah LaRocco, Leah that’s a great point and I was struggling to find that same thing. Fortunately, I have been able to reconnect with a mentor of mine who was in his early 30’s when I was in Jr. High and now can help guide me through the challenges 20 years later. I think though, I’m most likely one of the exceptions to the trend. Perhaps it is up to us now, today, to commit to creating a pipeline of mentorship so that in the next 20 years we stay available (as a generation) to those we mentor now, who will turn 18 and know everything and disregard us until they find themselves in our shoes in their late 20’s.
      .-= Christopher Wiseman´s last blog ..Zappos.com, The Right Now! Vision and Delivering Happiness – C.V. 1 – Deliver Wow Through Service =-.

    2. @Leah LaRocco, Thanks for joining the conversation, Leah. Your points are well-taken and are so on target.

      We have a dearth of mentors 10-20 years older than those 20-30 somethings who so desperately want a mentor who understands.

      My intent in writing this blog is to take some of the fear away from prospective mentors.

  8. “…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.”

    That really struck me as so true. Media has replaced mentor in our society. If media is used without the goal of fostering meaningful personal connections, it has no other goal than to perpetuate itself. If that’s the case, the influencer to the influencers is tying all it touches back to itself which is a scary thought.

    I’m personally involved in a nonprofit called The Right Now! Vision which has among its 3 goals is to help grow leaders in teenagers through mentorship. We love teens! Our passion is to share with teens the truth and immediacy of God’s love to connect unconnected teens and help grow teens in faith and leadership. In truth, we set out just to help share the truth and immediacy of God’s love with teens. Very quickly we saw the need not just to reach the ones we could directly, but to help them take the message into their everyday lives and share it with others on their own. To do that, we realized that we’d have to equip them with the tools they’d need to be successful, which requires mentorship on our part. I’ve been blessed with some remarkable mentors in my life and am quite humbled in the belief that as a product of mentoring, I now have the opportunity to “influence influencers”.

    I am going to share this with our other members and look forward to implementing these lessons into how we mentor teens and guide ourselves. Great blog! I look forward to the next.
    .-= Christopher Wiseman´s last blog ..Zappos.com, The Right Now! Vision and Delivering Happiness – C.V. 1 – Deliver Wow Through Service =-.

          1. @Randy Elrod, thanks so much for your encouragement and taking the time to check out our blog. And thank you for this your list and starting this discussion. Not to hijack your blog, but I welcome anyone interested in mentoring to contact me. It’s a very straightforward message and I would welcome everyone who’s participated here to share their insights on how we can more effectively share this message with teens.
            .-= Christopher Wiseman´s last blog ..Zappos.com, The Right Now! Vision and Delivering Happiness – C.V. 2 – Embrace & Drive Change =-.

  9. Great stuff again, Randy. Definitely what I want to do with my life. I’ve had the fortune to have some mentors in my world and pass that along to others. I’m constantly looking for ways to do it more (both receiving and giving) and can totally identify with your confident/restless point. I’d love to connect next time I’m in Nashville if you’re around and have the time.
    .-= adam herod´s last blog ..encourage an Iranian church leader =-.

  10. Awesome advice! I was lucky enough to have a great mentor throughout high school and into college and early marriage. I am still in contact with her. She ran a weekly Bible study for several girls for more than ten years, and I’m pretty sure her input is the only reason my faith survived growing up in a very conservative and oftentimes judgmental environment. I still quote things she always said to me like “Bloom where you’re planted” and “It’s none of your business what other people think of you”. Now I am running a Bible study for a group of high school girls and I hope I can pass on to them a little of what she has given me.
    .-= Orual Undone´s last blog ..Taking the Bible seriously – but not necessarily literally. =-.

  11. I am not currently officially mentoring anyone. After years of training leaders on teams I led and walking with them, I am now not in that position. I do train leaders all over the world but there is little one on one time and ability to follow up. I miss the “doing life together” part of it. And I miss the opportunity to see my “students” in action. I loved sitting on the front row watching one of the leaders I had trained lead worship! I was their biggest fan. I don’t get to do that much anymore. It’s a new time of life for me – one that I’ve not entirely adapted to.

    I HAVE started a women’s group with six other women who are all in transition or grieving stages of life. We’re walking together and I hope I am helpful to them in this period of their faith journey. It’s a grand experiment!

    As for having a mentor, I have a couple of people older than me that I call and talk to periodically. Their input has been invaluable. But they live hours away. We are unable to meet regularly. I’d love to have a relationship like that, particularly in this transitional time of my life.
    .-= Jan Owen´s last blog ..Resource Drive for Guatemala =-.

  12. Great list Randy. It encouraged me to keep doing all these things. They are life changing for me and for those God weaves into my life.

  13. As some one who has started mentoring others this is a great tool to be a better mentor. the big one for me was not always having to have the answers. That is a tough one for me, but good to hear that it is okay if you do not know the answer.

    I myself have been in a constant search for a mentor. Looking for that mentor relationship is something that I desire and need. But like most good and beneficial things, it is very hard to find.

    Thanks for putting this out there though. Hopefully this will encourage others that are not mentoring to start.
    .-= Kyle Reed´s last blog ..The One Thing That Destroys My Relationships =-.

  14. Randy,
    thank you so much for your thoughts. As a young pastor I have struggled with the desire to mentor those around me and the pain of mentee rejection, but this post helps to put it all into perspective. I can hear your heart and I pray that as I continue on following the call that God has on my life “to influence influencers”, as you put it, I will succeed in propelling those I mentor further then I could ever go. Thank you again. Keep it up.

  15. Randy,
    I’m sure you will hear this many times today but let me just say “thank you” from the bottom of my heart for being a great listener and more importantly a “safe place” for me. Your influence on me has had a direct impact on a congregation of 5000. Your influence and mentorship with me has had a major impact on an entire pastoral staff. Your direction, leadership and vision are much more far reaching than just to me. Thank you my friend. I pray God’s richest blessings on you and Chris. and again, at the risk of sounding trite…”thank you my friend”.

  16. Great words. Without the mentors in my life I would be a total failure. It has been the key to everything I’ve done. Although I have had many mentors through different seasons of life, my father has been and continues to be my greatest mentor. As a new father I can see where these same rules will apply in some regard to even a father/son relationship at times. Next to husband, it will be my greatest accomplishment to steward my sons life well.

  17. Really good stuff. Hoping to do Next Generation Mentoring this fall. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on mentoring, Randy!
    .-= Doug Young´s last blog ..Reunited =-.

        1. @Doug Young, Let me clarify…Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post reviewing the book last year. He included a link to the site. I order the book and then began dialoguing with Chris Hornsby of NGM.
          .-= Doug Young´s last blog ..Reunited =-.

          1. @Doug Young, Awesome. I didn’t recall the name. Mike has told me about the book, and is in fact leading a mentoring group of his own, and I believe the group is based on the book.
            Thanks, Doug.

  18. Randy… i love this post. i love that i get the chance to mentor people from time to time but what i really love is that i get to be mentored by you. Your example, advice, leadership, friendship and partnership in our little business ventures has been one of the most exciting parts of my life. Thank you so much for giving into my life the way you do and showing me how to live life in every moment… big and small.

    I also am constantly amazed and encouraged by the example you and chris are for me as i watch you both pursue each other with diligence in love for one another.

    So… for those of you reading this who are thinking… wow, i wish i could experience a little of that mentoring with Randy… i would highly encourage you to invest time and money into 48 hours of solitude with Randy… believe me when i tell you that it’s worth every thing you put into it.

    I’m a better man because of the mentors in my past and my mentor now… Randy Elrod.

    thanks you and don’t forget to tip your waiter…
    .-= Spence Smith´s last blog ..Dana Key Remembered December 30, 1953 – June 6, 2010 =-.

      1. @Randy Elrod, Awesome post Randy! I will be looking for a good Christian mentor when we move to Nashville. I’m the Tim that friended you on Facebook, friend of Daniel W. Thanks for the insightful message!!

  19. These are the most solid points I have ever seen put together. I think a wonderful pastor/leader book could be written about these …. and even for all Christians. If the church lived life like this the world would explode with the Holy Spirit, and ministry potential, opportunities, outcomes would be as rapid as they occurred in the Acts church.

    These points are all about living life real and fully!
    .-= Lindy Abbott´s last blog ..The Observable World Speaks For Itself =-.

  20. All I can say, is “thank you!” What good thoughts these are and how they have encouraged me to be a better mentor and caused me to long for a mentor myself.

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