7 Easy Ways to Blow It With A Mentor

mentor

Almost every leader you talk to these days either wants a mentor; has a mentor or is mentoring someone. I talk to scores of young leaders who want to be mentored.

So let’s say you land the mentor you were hoping to get…how do you make the most of that relationship?

I’ve seen more than a few leaders blow it when their chance to be mentored comes along. And there have been times where I’ve blown it too.

As someone who’s been on both sides of the mentoring relationship, here are 7 ways I’ve seen leaders blow their opportunity to be mentored.

1. Talk about yourself a lot

I’ve seen this happen again and again. There have been times where I’ve set aside time to meet with a leader, and they spend half of it giving me their life story.

I suppose this one bothers me because I used to do that all the time too.

Sure, your mentor needs some context, but particularly on a first meeting or when making the request for someone to mentor you, come prepared with a 30 second to 3-minute synopsis of who you are, your situation and context, and leave it at that.

And in your regular meetings, come with a 2-3 minute update of what’s going on and then be ready with a question.

A good mentor will draw your story out of you and drill down on the key details he or she needs.  Eventually, you’ll get to know each other well.

But your mentor doesn’t need the unedited version of everything that’s happened since pre-school that’s made you who you are today.

Why does this matter? Because your mentor’s time is valuable. Act like it.

They have 1,000 things to do, and listening to random stories with no point isn’t at the top of their list. (Actually, that would never be at the top of your list either, so don’t be that guy.)

2. Confuse your mentor for a friend

Your mentor isn’t your friend; he or she is your mentor.

If you want a friendship, go make friends with someone. But if you want a mentor, well, that’s a whole different thing.

You’re not going to hang out over cold-brew coffee, you’re going to learn. So learn (even if that happens over cold-brew coffee).

Don’t get me wrong, over time some of your mentors will become your friends. That’s happened to me more than a few times.

But a mentoring relationship really doesn’t begin that way.

Be respectful. Value their time. Come with great questions. And maybe a friendship will develop. If not, don’t worry about it. The relationship can still be highly valuable for both of you.

3. Never arrive without a list of thoughtful questions

Few things drive mentors crazier than people who arrive with no questions.

The second worst practice is to arrive with questions that haven’t been thought through particularly well.

What’s the difference between thoughtful questions and not very thoughtful questions?

Well, for starters, if you’re meeting with someone who has written a book or has some public content, read it.  It’s very frustrating when your questions are aimed at something your mentor has already publicly talked about and you haven’t read it.

A bad question:

Mentee: How do you lead change?

Mentor: Have you read my book about leading change?

Mentee: Nope. I’m an idiot.

Better question.

Mentee: You talk about trying to figure out whether the person opposing change is the kind of person you can build the future of the church on. Tell me more about that. How can you tell if the person is that kind of person?

Mentor: That’s a great question…Well…

See the difference? If your mentor has created content on something for public consumption, be familiar with it. Otherwise, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

If your mentor hasn’t written or published anything on the subject, there’s always the Google. Study a subject so that you show up with thoughtful questions.

A third approach is to ask questions specific to your context, and then ask your mentor how he or she has dealt with the same situations. Then sit back, listen and take notes.

Poorly thought through questions keep you in the shallow end of the leadership pool. Better questions launch directly into the deep end.

4. Refuse to take notes

One sure way to make your mentor feel like they’re wasting their time is to never take notes.

Great leaders carry open notebooks. Careless or close-minded leaders don’t.

You’ll see top leaders always taking notes, whether that’s on their phone or in a physical notebook.

Not taking notes when you’re meeting with a mentor is a sign you’re not listening.

5. Fail To Act

Your mentor will almost certainly give you ideas and specific advice.

What’s the best thing you can do with it?

Act on it. Right away. Go home and implement the change. Then tell your mentor what you did.

If you can’t implement it, go back with a list of questions that can help you figure out whether there’s a way to do it.

But, you ask, what if I don’t agree with the advice? Great question. Then share your struggles. Tell your mentor why you don’t think it’s a good idea. (But don’t make excuses like why it won’t work in your context…that’s a mistake. Here’s why.)

The one thing that connects all of these responses is action. You’re at least acting on your mentor’s advice or reacting to it.

You know what far too many people do with a mentor’s advice? Nothing.

Do nothing and chances are your mentor will eventually bow out.

The first time I met Reggie Joiner he gave me a list of suggestions for the ministry in our church. I called him up a month later and told him all those things were done or underway.

He was shocked. He then went on to tell me that he gives advice all the time, but most people do nothing with it.

The fact that I acted made him want to build into me again and again. In fact, 12 years later, we’re still great friends, and I continue to get great advice from him.

6. Don’t Take Them Up On Their Offer

A mentor’s time is valuable, and they have a thousand other things they can do with their time.

One of the worst things you can do is to ignore an offer a mentor makes you.

I won’t mention specific names, but years ago a top leader said he would be willing to listen to my sermons and give me feedback.

Guess what happened? I never took him up on his offer because I was too scared. Every time I went to send him a message, I thought it wasn’t good enough. I kept hedging over which message to send.

Weeks turned into a few months which, in turn, became a year.

So much time passed that I sent an email apologizing and asking if the offer was still on.

This time, he said no.

That was entirely my fault. I blew a major opportunity completely due to my own insecurity.

If you mentor offers you extra time, take it. If he invites you somewhere, go. And if he makes you an offer, accept it.

7. Hold Out for a Superstar

One of the best ways to blow it with a mentor is to hold out for the superstar mentor. You know what I’m talking about.

You decide that the only appropriate mentor for you in someone you follow online or who leads a big church. So you imagine sitting down for your monthly video call with Craig Groeschel, Brian Houston, Andy Stanley, Christine Caine or Kara Powell. You’re holding out for famous.

A far better approach is to have lunch with a pastor in the same town you’re in who’s maybe a decade ahead of where you are in life and leadership.

He or she will almost certainly meet with you. And they’ll be far more likely to give you practical, specific advice that will help you grow.

Got any stories? 

Have you blown it with a mentor? Or has anyone blown it while trying to get you to mentor them?

Tell me about it in the comments!

You know what far too many people do with a mentor's advice? Nothing. 

12 Comments

  1. Chuck on June 21, 2020 at 10:03 am

    As a separate entry, I’ll include a story. As some here know, I was a professor at different institutions for over 20 years and was involved in both student ministry and in undergraduate research mentorship during that time. Let your imagination run not too far and you can predict the situations that crop up in these settings. I once had a research mentee working on a simple undergrad project. She was blue often and had a propensity to talk about her troubles. After hearing too many key phrases I clandestinely consulted with a good friend of mine who was on staff in student mental health services. She (my staff friend) intervened appropriately.

    These situations pop up more often than we wish, but a mentor has to know the proper response and not risk doing more harm than good.

  2. Chuck on June 21, 2020 at 9:45 am

    9. Don’t confuse your mentor with a psychoanalyst or a social worker. While being a mentor might entail lending an ear sometimes, it’s anywhere from a disservice to a danger to confuse compassion with proper training. Even if you have both, boundaries do exist and shouldn’t be crossed. Have the mock to know when to refer to a professional if the need arises. A mentor’s job is leading by example, not leading a therapy session.

  3. Mark Holman on June 21, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Did anyone ever have someone who would mentor you and he had problems and decided to quit the position of Pastor and dropped you for NO apparent reason? I’m like he literally cut most communications but didn’t want to you even come to the church in another city. I wanted to visit that church for other reasons but it was not for that reason. I almost decided that he was falsely saying something and I was going to drop the whole thing which I’ve experience falsehoods from weird people before.

  4. Vaughn on June 21, 2020 at 7:53 am

    I’ve blown it many times on many levels and that’s before becoming a pastor, so now that I’m planting my first church I’m glad to have found this information.

  5. Jonathan Davies on September 3, 2017 at 7:12 pm

    That’s gold Carey. Thanks for the thought and experience that’s gone into that!

  6. Stephen Bedard on September 2, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    This is really good. Mentoring is a vital relationship and it is so easy to mess up.

    • Tom Feore on June 21, 2020 at 7:32 am

      Thank you for this. As an enneagram 8 and a Gen X’r, I’ve had little experience or understanding of how powerful a mentor may be in my life.
      Finding one is a big part of my growth journey and this article is SO helpful.

  7. Jay Hawes on August 30, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    I would add a #8: Forget to express gratitude.

    A mentor’s time is valuable, as you noted in a few of the above. Take time to let me know how much you appreciate their willingness to meet:

    1. Start the mentor meeting by thanking them. Don’t dive right in but explain how much it means to you.

    2. Value their time by starting and ending the meeting on time. Be early. Leave last.

    3. Write a thank you card as followup: this goes a long way. It shows them you care and that you value their impact on your ministry.

    Gratitude is becoming a lost art. Successfully learning into it will help your mentoring relationships blossom.

    • Daniel on June 21, 2020 at 12:55 pm

      I’m a young adult, and I’ve blown it by not taking a lunch offer from my Senior Pastor who see the calling of ministry in me. He mentioned lunch to me over a year-and-a-half ago and I never scheduled a time to see him. He calls me “Pastor” whenever he sees me, even though I am not currently a Pastor. Quite honestly, I’ve been afraid of stepping out into ministry, and I don’t see myself as adequate nor having the leadership abilities that are needed to be one. That is why I’ve delayed meeting up with him for so long. That is one story, of many, of how I’ve blown it big time.

      • Mark Holman on June 21, 2020 at 5:16 pm

        You have been blessed to have this, and learn this whenever you’re given like a FREE lunch, someone gives you say a $1,000.00 or $10,000.00 dollars it’s really GOD blessing you. Too many misinformation is actually running rampant among certain beliefs and believers that will falsely say things that they think they are some sort of Expert Know it all. And to the title Rev, Reverend, Pastor, Evangelist as on motivational speaker said you have a title use it. As for me I was told the same thing and ILL say mine , Reverend. Mark Holman, Pastor Mark Holman, Evangelist Mark Holman, and you ARE claiming your right, and I’m considering ordering address labels and maybe Christmas Cards that way, and that’s about far as I’m going, I’ve selected a ministry bookkeeper, Experienced for so many years. Other things a group of advisors, CPA, a Attorney, and more. Any money in that area as soon as Headquarters approves everything a Account will be SEPARATE from personal accounts in case anyone interested in asking. I’m keeping things legal, I’ve heard someone doing something Dishonest and apparently in Hot H2O also I.R.S. and news media would call for an audit. I advised him that I would have to report to my District Presbyter, and other leaders having suspended credentials for any reason would not be a good testimony.

        Rev Mark Holman

    • Pauline Duncan-Thrasher on August 3, 2020 at 10:31 am

      Thanks Jay for that reminder. As a mentor and often a mentee the gratitude goes a long way toward reminding both that choosing to engage as a mentor or to ask someone to mentor you is an investment of not only time and energy but trust.
      Giving thanks needs to be sincere and frequent from both I believe. Positively, Pauline

  8. Josh Pezold on August 28, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Great stuff Carey. Love the part about sharing how you are using what you learned. Very helpful.

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