My Life with God

How Can I Mentor When I Don’t Know What I’m Doing?

Oh, the number of times I’ve heard this. It’s sometimes phrased differently, but it often comes down to the expression of “I’m not enough to be able to influence others.” Wrong. We are all influencing others. And I can assure you there are plenty of people willing to step into mentoring roles who shouldn’t be there. But before I digress too much, let’s focus on what we can do, how we can mentor others in healthy ways.

Sometimes it’s a somewhat formal position or relationship; someone might approach you and ask to be mentored. Perhaps the person doesn’t use the specific word, but he or she is looking for guidance. And that’s a good thing—most of the time. Other times, it’s almost imperceptible. You might not even think what you’re doing is anything significant; you’re simply walking through a season of life with someone. We don’t have to put a label on it, but for the clarify of this post, let’s call it mentoring. If you want a more casual term, I like intentional influence. That clarifies the purpose for me. It’s often the phrase I think of as I consider mentoring relationships, but it gets a bit clunky when writing. So, mentoring it will be for today.

Know the motives. Be clear about what’s expected. You might not be able to completely express it, because it might not be something you formally talk about, especially if it’s a more casual relationship that becomes characterized by mentoring as it grows. But there’s a difference between someone who wants guidance and someone who wants the other person to fix everything. The latter is not mentoring and can quickly turn into dysfunctional enabling. That’s not to say there aren’t times in people’s lives when they need a lot of help. There are crises and transitions that require a lot of input into others’ lives. That’s okay. Mentoring sometimes develops out of those seasons. There is influence within the season, but the primary focus is not mentoring. It is often survival and healing and perspective. However, when there are mentors in our lives, they are often the people we most readily turn to in those critical moments. And in those odd times we actually avoid our mentors?—well, that’s a warning sign.

Not only is it important to know why someone wants to be or is at least open to mentoring but also it’s essential to know the mentor’s motivations. I wish it was always to encourage and walk beside others, but it can also be a power trip. It can be less about the person being mentored and more about the position of power the mentor has with them. Some people like to be the expert. Other people are experts but are humble enough to see their own weaknesses and willing to work within them instead of overlook them.

Be willing to grow. Check in on the motives. They will change. If you assume what was discussed at the beginning of the relationship will always stay the same, mentoring is going to be a challenge. No relationship remains the same over much time, because, hopefully, both people are growing and changing. It might seem obvious that the person on the receiving end of the mentoring will change, since growth is part of the point of mentoring, but the mentor will grow, too. In my experience, I have received, been challenged, and grown more than I feel as if I’ve given when in a position of mentor. And as we grow, we communicate, because otherwise, we lose touch. It doesn’t help to be aware of goals, establish a trajectory and never digress. Not that we purposefully digress, but it’s going to happen. I understand many business models need clear steps to meet their goals. Personal mentoring is a bit different. It’s a bit messier. It’s less organizational and more flexible. And that’s where humility comes in.

Be humble. The longer I live, the more securely I believe that growth, at least the healthy form of it, only comes through a humble attitude. Pride contaminates growth. When a mentoring relationship is characterized by pride, the results that come from it will not be valuable. To be honest, all our relationships are touched by pride, because we can’t completely rid our lives of it. That acknowledgement is honest. What we do with it matters. Do we excuse it because it’s inevitable, or do we use it as a motivation to always keep ourselves in check and ask others to do the same? It can be woven into the fabric of our mentoring relationships. Not only can but should. Without humility, we are speeding forward with what feels like power but has little sustainability. We’re disconnected, because we don’t want to be tied to anything but ourselves, our goals, our methods. We think we’re open-minded, because we learn and apply what we want, what’s most comfortable, or with what and who we agree with the most. But that’s faulty mentoring. When we lack humility, we build a shaky house of relational cards. Influence goes from intentional to hazardous.

Be authentic—with purpose. Authenticity has become a bit of a buzz word. We may want authenticity, but we’ll simultaneously go to great lengths to avoid it. Or we abuse it. We let it excuse a free-for-all expression that has little accountability. Authenticity isn’t venting. It’s an honest reflection that invites healthy engagement. Authenticity is pulling the curtains back to let others peek into our lives. And as we share, we see our lives better, too. As we build trust, we open the door and allow the person see more deeply into our minds and hearts. We share concerns, weaknesses, misconceptions, dreams, grief, and doubts. As we engage with others in those vulnerable places, we see things we haven’t seen. It’s like when someone physically comes into your home, and you suddenly see the dust bunny under the couch or the cobweb in the corner. Left to yourself, it might take a lot longer to find those things. Being authentic is letting others into your life before you clean all that up—then being willing to clean it up alongside them. It’s not chronically ignoring or excusing it. Authenticity should expose and grow us not provide trophies for our venting.

That might be enough suggestions regarding mentoring for the day. I’ve contributed to books and programs that focus on mentoring. I’ve taught on mentoring. I’ve led mentoring groups. And no structure or process will every invite mentoring health without fostering the character of people within the mentoring relationships. It’s a personal thing. We can provide the structure and process, but we have to be willing to be guided through it. Intentional influence doesn’t happen because we read a guidebook or follow sticker steps along the path; it happens because we engage—humbly, authentically, consistently.

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