Why Being A Mentor Isn't As Scary As You Think

  • 19 February 2016
  • Randy Wollf

There are few ideas that scare people more than the thought of becoming a mentor. Being a mentor is often associated with having great wisdom and being ready to deliver profound advice on a moment’s notice. While these skills are certainly helpful, the qualities of an effective mentor are quite basic. In fact, I am confident that you have experience in each of the skills that are foundational when mentoring others. Here are four skills for helping people take next steps based on the Leader Breakthru Coaching approach.

Skill #1 - Listening

We all know that listening is important. Yet, most leaders are not listeners. We typically pre-conclude and make recommendations because we think it’s more efficient. Leaders like to fix people and things quickly.

Active listening is holding off judgment and really trying to hear what the other person is actually saying and even thinking. To do this, we need to practice the 80/20 rule – listen 80% of the time and only talk 20%.

Here are five tips for listening better:

  1. Listen with your mind – Pay attention to what the other person is saying. Don’t let your mind drift to other matters, even though they may be pressing. 
  2. Listen with your body – Body language often communicates more than our words. Active listening means that we are facing the person and maintaining appropriate eye contact (and not looking at our cell phone).
  3. Listen with your words – It’s important to summarize what you think the other person is saying, so that you know you’re hearing correctly (and so the other person knows you are listening and care about the conversation).
  4. Listen with your intuition – As you are listening, you will sometimes begin to “hear” things beneath the surface. Your intuition will notice subtle cues that will help you say things that nudge the conversation in productive directions.
  5. Listen with the Spirit – If you’re a follower of Jesus, you can be confident that the Holy Spirit is guiding you. Ask Him to give you insight into the conversation and then to guide your responses.  

Take a moment to look at the picture below. What do you see? What’s happening in this person’s life?

When I ask these questions in front of a group, I will usually get a broad range of answers. Some people read loneliness or even desperation into the picture. Others see someone praying or warming up in a church building.

Even though we know little about the situation portrayed in the picture above, we are quick to read into it based on our perceptions. These perceptions are sometimes accurate, but often they are misguided or at least incomplete. As we listen to others, it’s important that we monitor our perceptions so that we do not come to conclusions prematurely.

Skill #2 - Expanding

Expanding is all about asking good questions that help the other person think in different ways. As Terry Walling, Executive Director of Leader Breakthru, has said, "Discovery is about ownership. That which an individual discovers, they have a greater propensity to implement." 

Good questions are open-ended. Instead of asking, “Did you feel angry when John left the group,” you could ask, “How did you feel about John’s actions?”

Questions that expand peoples’ awareness are also pure questions that do not lead people in a certain direction. Instead of asking, "How do you think your negative attitude is hindering your leadership," you might ask, "What are some things in your leadership approach that you feel may be hindering your effectiveness as a leader?" 

Skills #3 - Focusing

Imagine that you’ve had a very sore wrist for a couple of weeks and have finally set up an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor wants to hear the symptoms, but ultimately wants to discover the underlying issue.

The focusing skill involves asking good questions (and sometimes offering advice) that helps the individual pinpoint the core issue. This sometimes takes a while. After identifying the main issue, I like to ask the person for 1-3 action steps that will help them make progress in addressing the key issue (I will follow-up with them on these action steps – support and accountability are huge motivators). Even baby steps can create momentum that will help the individual continue to deal with the current issue (and other issues, as well).

Skill #4 - Empowering

The final skill of empowering focuses on encouraging, affirming and celebrating. We all need cheerleaders in our lives who spur us on. I love how Mo Cheeks, former NBA basketball coach, does this with Natalie Gilbert as she sings the American national anthem at an NBA game (you can watch the video here).

All of us can come alongside others – to give them the strength to carry on.

In this blog, I have looked at four key skills for turning conversations into mentoring opportunities. Listen well. Ask good questions that open up new possibilities. Focus the conversation on key issues. Empower the person to take next steps. 

What have you found helpful in turning conversations into mentoring opportunities? Please post your responses below. 

Randy Wollf is a certified COACH trainer with Creative Results Management. Please contact MinistryLift if you would like to discuss having Randy or another COACH trainer come to your church or organization to provide the highly interactive, hands-on COACH training (offered in one, two, or three-day formats). Randy is the Director of MinistryLift and Associate Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary