Three Principles for Mentoring Others

About my writing: My passion is to develop leaders who have eternity in mind with Jesus as their guide. To that end, I write about two topics. The first is leadership and character development. The second is Biblical principles through the lens of a leader.

Recently, I met with a young professional who asked me to mentor him. John is 25 and dreams of running his own non-profit ministry. We met at Starbucks, and he came prepared with a notebook full of questions. In the hour we spent together I did my best to offer him personal insight and wisdom from my own experience in leadership.

Leaders must build other leaders, and we must build the people around us. As we think about mentoring others, let us remember these three principles.

  1. Every human is one caring person away from success.

This principle is important because it changes our attitude about the mentorship meeting. Most people don’t have someone who pours into their life. If they do, it is usually not someone who is far enough ahead of them to offer the wisdom that comes from hindsight.

When you prepare to mentor someone, it is easy to think, I am so busy, and this person is so early in their journey. I don’t know how much of a difference I can make. Or you may even feel, I am so wise. I am so glad this person is listening to me. I don’t think either of these thoughts are the healthiest to entertain. Rather, let’s shift our mindset toward thoughts that challenge us as well as the person seeking mentorship. Consider, wow, I could be the only person in this person’s life who cares enough to push him to the next level, encourages him to reach for his dreams, and shines a light in the right direction.

I hope that with John I will be that one person so when he looks back he can genuinely say, Someone cared enough. His name is Wes, and gave me his time and pushed me to reach for my dreams. 

  1. What is something they cannot do without your help or someone they cannot meet without your connections?

I told John toward the end of our meeting that there was a lady I wanted him to meet. This lady is a fellow board member in a multi-national organization in which I serve. She has a doctorate and has served in prestigious positions in the non-profit world.

I knew John would most likely not meet someone of her caliber in his own circles at this time. Why did I make the introduction? Because I ask myself this question for the people I mentor: Who in my circle can bring into the life of this person to help them advance?

For the person you are mentoring, what is an experience or an introduction you can offer them in addition to your wisdom? 

  1. Coaching can be more powerful than giving advice.

What is executive coaching? It is when you do not give any advice whatsoever, but rather ask questions regarding the areas in which the person needs resolution. Essentially, you encourage them to think about a solution and be creative about understanding.

About a year ago I mentored a leader with a doctorate degree in management. We met several times. She always took notes and was appreciative of my advice. Then we did a session in which I said, “Today I am not going to give you any advice or share any principles with you. I am only going to ask you questions about the area in which you want to grow.” We did that for an hour, and at the end she said, “Wow, today was powerful. I think I got more out of today than any other session.”

Even though I knew that giving advice was not as powerful as I’d like to think, I did not want to believe it. Her comment humbled me. Here I was giving her my best advice during several sessions on leadership, but real inspiration and insight came from asking her questions that prompted thinking from within. Understandably, if a person’s points of pain do not exactly intersect with mine, there is rarely significant benefit for them.


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