The simplest definition of a mentor is a person committed to two things: helping you grow and keeping you growing, and helping you realize your life goals.
Okay, but what does a mentor look like?
Howard and Bill Hendricks’ book “As Iron Sharpens Iron” has been a great reference for my understanding and development of the concept of mentoring. Their intentional strategies and practical suggestions are a gold mine for anyone looking for a mentor, or to be a mentor. A great place to start? The 10 Marks of a Mentor:
A Mentor Seems to Have What You Personally Need
Whatever your mentoring objectives are, the only person who can help you achieve them is the one who has already developed those capacities himself. It’s a basic principle of spiritual nurturing: you cannot impart what you do not possess. So, look for a mentor who actually has the goods, not just one who looks good.
A Mentor Cultivates Relationships
An effective mentor has to be willing to give of himself to another human being. He must be capable of establishing an maintaining a relationship. Otherwise, he will have difficulty attracting anybody, despite the considerable value of what he may have to offer.
A Mentor is Willing to Take a Chance on You
A mentor is going to make a certain investment in you – an investment of time, energy, emotion, trust, and other resources. Investments always involve a measure of risk. This is as true in mentoring as anywhere else, because there are no guaranteed outcomes to the mentoring process. As you seek an “investor,” you have to ask yourself: Is this person willing to run the risk with me? Or is he so risk-averse that he’ll never give me a chance?
A Mentor is Respected by Other Christians
A mentor should be respected by other effective Christians. Among the qualifications for church leaders are that a man be “above reproach” and “respectable” (1 Timothy 3:2). As you consider a potential mentor, you need to conduct something of a background check on the prospect, particularly if you do not know him personally or have not known him for very long. Ask other people’s opinions, particularly those of mature believers, to indicate whether he is worth the risk.
A Mentor has a Network of Resources
The more extensive a network your mentor has, the better. Mentors can help you reach your life goals because of who they know and what they know. This knowledge base gives them tremendous power to promote your welfare. Your mentor can help you with your needs and objectives by introducing you to people, books, seminars, programs, and other resources that can encourage you in your development. The better the network, the more help he will be.
A Mentor is Consulted by Others
One of the best indicators that a man would serve well as a guide is if he is already serving as a guide to others. The prime candidates are the ones who already have a reputation as mentors. This ability to offer counsel is crucial. It is not wisdom alone that qualifies a person to coach another person, but his ability to communicate effectively and apply his wisdom to the other person’s need.
A Mentor Both Talks and Listens
The issue is communication. Most people think of communication as being all about speaking. But the truth of the matter is that you become an effective communicator by becoming an effective listener. Without question, communication is a two-way street, involving both speaking and listening. But of the two, listening is by far the harder to learn. A good mentor is a good listener. If you bring him a problem, a question, a comment, an idea, he will more than likely help you figure it out and run with it, rather than regale you with his own polished presentation. Mentoring is not about your mentor displaying his brilliance; it is about you as a protégé learning to step up to the next level, so that you can develop your competencies.
A Mentor is Consistent in His Lifestyle
What your mentor does and how he lives will have a far greater impact on you than anything he says. In fact, you may forget 90 percent of what he says, but you’ll never forget how he lived. There is no substitute for a person of consistent Christ-like character. He doesn’t have to try to snow you with words – his life is the most eloquent sermon there is. You want a person who is progressing toward maturity. That means a person who is authentic – as honest about his failures and weaknesses as he is realistic about the things he has going for him.
A Mentor is Able to Diagnose Your Needs
All of us have blind spots, areas of which we are unaware. That’s why we need people who can diagnose our developmental and spiritual needs. When you’re out of your depth, you need a competent person who not only can see that something is wrong, but can figure out what it is and how to fix it. A good mentor has the analytical ability to distinguish between nagging symptoms and underlying diseases.
A Mentor is Concerned with Your Interests
Looking for a mentor requires a moderate dose of healthy self-interest. We’re talking about your life and your development. Therefore, you are looking for someone who will champion your best interests. Ideally you want a person whose greatest joy is to see you succeed. If you succeed, he succeeds, and if you fail…well, he’s there to pick you up, dust you off, and get you back on your horse.
As you evaluate people according to these ten marks of a mentor, be realistic: you are going to find that almost every person falls short in some way. In other words, you will never find the perfect mentor. The point of this list is not to disqualify as many people as possible, but the urge you to aim high. A mentor can have a profound influence on you life, so it’s worth finding the most qualified person you can.
You’ve got a checklist in hand – now where do you find a mentor?
(from a prior series on Mentoring, while I am away on vacation)