Recently, I have been really convicted and challenged on the notion of mentoring. Some of it comes from personal frustrations. Most of this however, stems from my desire to see some people around me become very successful sooner rather than later. I personally believe that you cannot be a leader if you are unwilling to be a mentor. Some will argue otherwise. That’s OK.
So let’s break mentoring down and then I have some practical advice on how to mentor that I am following myself.
Difference Between a Mentor and a Coach
To me, a coach is someone that watches you perform, shares some adjustments, shows you a few new plays, keeps an eye on the overall game, then gets off the field leaving it to you to win. In this way, coaches are invaluable. Mentors are similar but different in a couple ways. First, mentors are always in the game themselves. Maybe not the same game as you, but they are active in some way. Second, not only should you want to achieve the same success as your mentor, but their strength of character as well. From a mentor, character is caught just as much as skills are taught.
This means some coaches are also mentors. While others should just focus on coaching and will be very competent at it. But character is the reason you should always choose your mentors carefully. They don’t have to be perfect. This isn’t about perfection, but it is about direction. Make sure your mentor is pointed in the direction of character you would like to see in your own life.
Some mentors, and many coaches for that matter, are just glorified teachers. I am not bashing teachers here. Having teachers is really important. I am just advising caution to arbitrarily elevating teachers to mentor status. The character of a teacher is important. I taught junior high and high school for two years. There were some students I only taught, others I coached, and a few I tried to mentor.
The trap of many teachers that consider themselves mentors, is that it’s all about them and what they know. Their only desire can be to show you how smart they are and have you value their knowledge. Teaching then becomes about ego. And in worst cases, the teacher will actually suppress the student, making sure they will always have intellectual superiority. Again, I am not saying all teachers are like this. It’s just a common trap I have encountered.
What a True Mentor Does
First, a mentor is willing to be vulnerable with their own struggles and journeys. Mentors never come across perfect. They are humbly authentic. While at the same time, a mentor does understand they have authoritative experience, in that they’ve actually overcome many struggles and are simply willing to deal with deeper levels of personal challenges.
What is most important here however, is that a mentor never needs to be acknowledged as one. This is how you know they are not performing for the recognition of a glorified teacher. Mentors quietly set an example and are willing to teach you if necessary. But they would rather have their actions speak so loudly you learn everything needed anyway. In this manner, mentors are always about relationships balanced with results and not just information.
When it comes to successfuly teaching as a mentor, here are the steps I try to always use:
- Show them what to do
- Explain how come they are doing it that way (how you personally came to it as well)
- Show them how yourself
- Let them try it
- Watch them do it with others (without making them insecure)
- Give them feedback
- Watch their backs and keep encouraging
- Celebrate the victories and defeats equally
I am, by no means, optimally proficient at this list. It’s a reminder to myself just as much I hope to help others. Let’s give it a whirl. Mentors are the kinds of leaders the world needs.