Mentoring: Randomly Hanging Out vs. Intentional Learning and Growth

We are sometimes very quick to use the term “mentor” without stopping to consider what it means and, therefore, what we should do about it.

When we agree to be mentored or to meet with someone we consider a mentor we are asking to be shaped, molded, and guided.  We are assuming there is knowledge to be gained, a skill to be acquired or honed, or a worldview that needs fine tuning or adjustment.  It is not just hanging out.  The prudent mentee will utilize the time spent with a mentor for maximum benefit.

The following are my rules for meeting with a mentor.  They are a compilation of my own observations the list that Perry Noble published in a blog in March of 2008.

  1. Always be respectful of your mentor’s time and adjust to his/her schedule – ALWAYS!
    We should never ask our mentor to adjust to our time frame.  We are seeking their council and advice and we should move heaven and earth to meet with them.
  2. We should always be prompt for meetings…better yet, BE EARLY
    Nothing says “I like you, but I really have no respect for you” than being late.  This is doubly true when we have specifically asked to meet with someone whom we wish to build into our lives.  Unless your mentor is a guru on a mountaintop, he probably doesn’t have much extra time – don’t waste it.  You should plan to arrive early and bring a book (or just give in and get a Kindle and carry MOST of your library with you) and redeem your own time.The reverse is true for those who mentor.  Respect the time of your appointments and bring a book too.  I have spent many an afternoon in coffee shops waiting for that “must have appointment” that someone has made with me and then never showed.  I am prepared to redeem the time as well.
  3. We must learn to ask GOOD questions of our mentors.
    In the summer of 2002, I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.  It is the true story of a man that flys from Chicago to Boston every week (on Tuesdays!) to visit a beloved college prof who is suffering and dying from ALS.   Mitch’s old friend, professor, and mentor teaches him about living and dying.After reading this very contemplative book, I called my favorite professor from college who had been in retirement for a few years. While he taught, Dr. Rem Carter was known and loved by students.  Thousands of students reminisced of how they were “Carter Survivors” because his classes in Western Civilization and history were so challenging.
    I needed to be mentored so I looked up Dr. Carter and gave him a call and asked if we could meet.  He invited me to his home and showed me something wonderful.  He did not have his doctoral degree from the University of Edinburgh hanging on his wall.  Instead his prized  piece was a sketch of the chapel at Stanford Universitywhere he gave his life in service to the King.  I was inspired and knew I needed more of what this godly man had to offer. After a few meetings, Dr. Carter asked me, “what do you want to get from our time together?”  I didn’t know the answer.  He suggested that I do some intense reading in the area of the Apostolic Fathers so that we would have something to discuss.  He strongly encouraged me to ask questions to drive our talks.  I will never forget that.Make a list of at least three good questions.
  4. Develop the discipline of learning and listening.
    We should not go into meetings with mentors to get them to agree with us or convince them that we are right.  We are there to be active learners.  We should not just talk about ourselves unless we are asked. Demonstrate respect for your mentor by bringing something to take notes with.  We simply can’t remember everything that is said in a conversation.  Develop the habit of taking good notes.
  5. Develop the disciplines of graciousness and thankfulness.
    It is a very good idea to send a note of thanks.  Do not write a tome.  A simple thank you card with about four lines is good.  Email and Facebook are fine but thoughtful and thankful people spend the money and time on hand written notes and stamps. If you ask to meet with your mentor for coffee you should buy it.  Don’t expect your mentor to do so unless they have a standing rule that they will.  One of the people I meet with 2 or 3 times a year WILL NOT let me purchase a meal or coffee.  I tried and got in trouble.  That is a very nice gesture but it should never be expected.  I always have some money with me in the off chance he will let me pick up the bill.  It hasn’t happened yet.

If you have read this far you might want to go a bit further.  Ever wonder where the title “mentor” came from?  You might be interested to find out.

Learn on!

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