Choosing a Mentor – Part Two

We are looking at how to be wise when looking for and choosing a mentor. Last time we saw…

1> A good mentor is a worthy example

2> A good mentor is available

Andrew Carnegie stated, “As I grow older I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do.” As I grow older I too am doing just that. For us to be able to observe models (mentors) up close and see what they do, we must have some contact with them. That requires access and availability. For us to be actively mentored, we must have time with people to ask questions and learn from their answers all the time watching how they live and work.

When I mentor people, we usually meet once a month at the most. However, I am available by email and text at other times should they have a question or a concern between in-person meetings. Many of their mentoring questions are stimulated by my actions, not my words. That, of course, is a humbling thought. I know at times I fall short of the ideals and values that I teach and that we see in Scripture. Often the greatest leadership challenge I have is leading me! Teaching people what to do is easy. Showing them is much more difficult.

The greatest piece of advice that I ever received from my mentors is in the area of availability. When you are looking for a mentor, don’t shoot too high too soon. If you are considering going into politics for the first time, you don’t need the advice of the president or prime minister of your nation. If you are a high school student starting work at MacDonalds, you don’t need to relate directly to the manager or owner of your local hamburger joint. If you are fresh out of school and just starting your career, don’t expect to get extensive mentoring from the CEO of your organization.

Why shouldn’t I? You may be thinking. Why not start with the best? First of all, if you’re just starting out, nearly all your questions can be answered by someone two or three levels ahead of you – not ten. And their answers will be fresh because they will have recently dealt with the issues you are dealing with. Second, CEOs need to be spending their time answering questions of the people who are on the verge of leading at their level. I’m not saying you should never go to the top. I’m saying spend the majority of your time being mentored by people who are available, willing, and suited for the current stage of your career. And as you progress in your development, find new mentors for your new level of growth. 

3> A good mentor has proven experience

The farther you go in pursuit of your potential, the more new ground you will have to break. How do you figure out how to proceed? Benefit from others’ experiences. As the Chinese proverb says, “To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.”

Ever time I have entered into a new venture, I’ve sought the advice of people with proven experience. When I planted my first church; when I formed a network of churches; when I began to travel overseas on a regular basis; when I started ministering apostolically; when I left full-time pastoring; and now as I devote quality time daily to the writing and publishing of books. Hearing about their bad experiences makes me aware of potential problems I will be facing up the road. Hearing about their good experiences gives me an anticipation of potential opportunities up ahead of me.

I don’t know of a successful person who hasn’t learned from more experienced people. Sometimes they follow in their footsteps. Other times they use their advice to help them break new ground. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani says, “All leaders are influenced by those they admire. Reading about them and studying their traits inevitably allows an inspiring leader to develop his own leadership traits.”

I personally read at least one biography or autobiography every month. Recently I read Michele Obama’s book “Becoming.” I am currently reading “Born With Teeth” by Kate Mulgrew who played Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek Voyager. You can always learn by reading the life story and adventures of others. 

More next time…