How to be a Mentor

Tim Elmore, author of Generation iY and founder of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit in Atlanta dedicated to developing emerging leaders. He offers the following tips to mentors:

What Is Supposed To Happen In A Mentoring Relationship?

So—what is it we are called to do if we’re to be life-giving mentors? Good question. Over the last several years I have made it my aim to distill the ingredients that make a good mentoring experience. The following word-pictures represent what I believe are the most helpful goals you can shoot for as you attempt to invest in someone.

1. PAINT PICTURES

Pictures stick, longer than mere words. Your mentee likely grew up in the digital generation—with MTV, photographs, videos, DVDs and movies. There are screens everywhere and images abound. I believe the surest way to deliver a memorable message is to paint a picture in their mind. Use metaphors, images, word pictures and stories to drive home the principle you want them to catch. I try to live by the axiom: give them a point for their head and a picture for their heart.

2. GIVE “HANDLES”

Everyone possesses some knowledge of truth. Most people, however, are hard pressed to own it in such a way they can use it in everyday life. Simply put, “handles” are things we can grab onto. Every door has a handle; every drawer has a handle. We give people “handles” when we summarize truths or insights in a user-friendly fashion so they can wrap their arms around it. Truth becomes a principle they can live by. When someone has a “handle” on something, it means they “own it” and can practice it as well as communicate it to others. A good mentor can distill or crystallize truth so that the complex becomes simple. For instance mentors may provide a “handle” for their mentees by summarizing the truth they are discussing into a brief phrase, slogan, metaphor or jingle. They may choose to add a memorable experience together. An example for service may be working in a soup kitchen or serving in a retirement home.

3. OFFER “ROADMAPS”

Roadmaps give us direction in our journey and a view of the “big picture.” When we give someone a “roadmap,” we are passing on a life compass to them. In the same way that maps help us travel on roads we’ve never been on, these life roadmaps show us where we are; they help people not only to see the right road, but to see that road in relation to all the other roads. They also help a person stay off the wrong roads. They provide perspective on the whole picture. This generally happens only when we communicate intentionally, not accidentally. While there is a place for spontaneous interaction, planned opportunities to speak into a mentee’s life are necessary. Friendship may happen by chance, mentoring happens on purpose. Roadmaps help mentees navigate their way through life.

4. PROVIDE “LABORATORIES”

When we provide “laboratories” for our mentees, we are giving them a place to practice the principles we’ve discussed with them. Do you remember science class in college? Science always included a lecture and a “lab.” By definition, laboratories are safe places in which to experiment. We all need a “lab” to accompany all the “lectures” we get in life. In these “labs,” we learn the right questions to ask, the appropriate exercises to practice, an understanding of the issues, and experiential knowledge of what our agenda should be in life. Good laboratories are measurable; they can be evaluated together; and they provide ideas for life-application. In these labs, mentors can supervise their mentees like a coach. They can oversee their experimentation like a professor. They can interpret life like a parent. Every time I meet with my mentees, I have a “laboratory” idea to accompany the principle I want them to learn. This forces me to be creative, but I believe in the axiom: information without application leads to constipation!

5. FURNISH “ROOTS”

One of the most crucial goals mentors ought to have for their mentees is to give them “roots and wings.” This popular phrase describes everyone’s need for foundations to be laid and for the freedom to soar and broaden their horizons. The foundation we must help to lay in our mentees involves the construction of a “character-based life” versus an “emotion-based life.” This means we help them develop core values to live by. They should leave us possessing strong convictions by which they can live their lives and the self-esteem to stand behind those convictions. The deeper the roots, the taller a tree can grow, and the more durable that tree is during a storm.

6. SUPPLY “WINGS”

The final word picture that describes what a mentor must give a mentee is “wings.” We give someone wings when we enable them to think big and expect big things from God, from life and from themselves. When someone possesses wings, they are free to explore and to plumb the depths of their own potential. When mentors give wings, they help mentees soar to new heights in their future. Consequently, it’s as important to teach them how to ask questions as how to obtain answers. Mentors should empower mentees to take the limits off what they might accomplish with their lives—and cheer when their mentees surpass their own level of personal achievement.

Read the whole thing on his blog.

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