7 Easy Ways to Blow It With A Mentor

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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.)

Your mentor's time is valuable. Act like it. Click To Tweet

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.

Your mentor isn't your friend; he or she is your mentor. Click To Tweet

Get Answers To Your Toughest Pastoral Succession Questions

5 years from now, what would it feel like to look back and know…

  • That you asked the right questions before and it prepared you for what came after?
  • That you made tough but necessary decisions to prepare for a brighter future?
  • That you were confident each step of the way?

You can hit the ground running in your ministry and skip the years of trial-and-error (and failures) that so many pastors face during a transition.

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.

Great leaders carry open notebooks. Close-minded leaders don't. Click To Tweet

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.

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

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.

Secure Your Church’s Future with a Proven Pastoral Succession Plan.

If you’ve ever wondered:

  • How do I lead this church with a vision I didn’t create and a staff I didn’t hire?
  • Am I even equipped to be a lead pastor? And to lead our church through a healthy transition? 
  • How can I honor the outgoing pastor throughout the transition?

Then it might be time to make a plan for your future.

So much rides on healthy pastoral succession. A bad one can ruin a great legacy, harm a church, and make the new lead pastor a sacrificial lamb.

Or, it can go exceedingly well. 

How do you not mess it up when there's so much at stake?

The Art of Pastoral Succession helps you hit the ground running in your ministry and skip the years of trial-and-error (and failures) that so many pastors face during a transition.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.