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360 Degree Mentoring and How to Find It

A BIG CLUE: The answer is not...

Yoda... Gandalf… Dumbledore… Jiminy Cricket... all fictional superheroes of the mentoring world. The only thing is, they aren’t real. In fact, notions of their effortless wisdom enflames the mythology that prevents people from becoming mentors in real life.

I want to tear down the walls that sabotage mentoring and open up the playground that makes room for everyone to play. I call this new day, 360 degree mentoring. But, before talking about the simplicity and accessibility of 360 degree mentoring, I need to blow up a couple illusions that undermine potential mentors every day.

The first illusion is the romanticized fantasy that mentoring relationships are populated by dramatic experiences of earth-shattering breakthroughs replete with fireworks and a music montage. Real-world mentoring feels more like the simple exchange of friends over a cup of coffee than a cadence of lightning bolts and quotable insights. At any given moment in a mentoring relationship, the conversations can feel small, slow, incremental and often insignificant.

This second illusion is a subtle deceit that makes people doubt the value of the time they are spending together. This ugly lie declares that these mundane and incremental conversations are unremarkable. The truth is entirely the opposite.

The remarkable impact of mentoring is not in the drama of single moments, but in the cumulative power of one person repeatedly sharing their life and their experience with another over time.

The reality of mentoring, is that the small non-glamorous interactions between mentor and “mentoree” create exponential impact over time.

If you can surrender these corrosive illusions and let go of the old-school notions of mentoring as a top-down or guru-like delivery system of expertise, the world of mentoring possibilities will open up for you.

I want to introduce what I have called, 360 Degree Mentoring.

Rather that behaving as if one person is the consummate expert and one person is the needy client, both parties come to the table as contributors and learners. Jettison the idea that one person gives and the other receives. In this model, both parties come eager to learn from the other.

Let me give an example. I have been meeting with a local college student for a couple years now. He had some things he wanted to talk about when we started. But, the truth is, I love meeting with him. He is teaching me about the world view of college age students. He is a graphic design major so he helps me think about design and art. The other day we were talking about something and came up with a learning project that we could both benefit from. You wouldn't call us peers--he is 20 and I have a Medicare Card--but this partnership is amazing for me.

Granted, mentoring relationships usually start because one person sees a need they have or a person they might be able to serve -- mentoree or mentor. So, let's talk about how 360 degree mentoring works through the lens of traditional roles.

The Mentor:

If you are the one in the perceived "mentor" role, you need to recognize that you have unequal power in the structure of the relationship and therefore you need to leverage that power to shape conversations that go both ways. It starts with the honest humility of being a voracious learner who is on a life-long quest to grow and develop.

I've been know to say to people, "look, I'm selfish about this. I hope I might be helpful, but I think I have more to learn from you than I have to offer."

So, if you are the "mentor" turn the tables. Share some of what you are working on and solicit their advice. Seek out the arenas of their expertise and learn from them. Expose your own dilemmas and invite them in. Above all, be curious about what they are learning, how they view the world, and the questions neither of you have answers for. Team up to pursue new learning together.

The Mentoree:

If you are the mentoree, this 360 degree relationship will probably challenge you to think differently. You aren't a helpless baby bird waiting for momma to come feed you. You bring a lot to the table.

Yes, all good mentoring relationships start with being specific about the help you would like. But, that very question recognizes that there are other areas of life where you have experiences and insights of tremendous value. I am asking you to believe that if God brings you into a mentoring relationship, there are things he's deposited in you which will bring great value to your mentor.

Ask your mentor about the "unfinished stuff" in his or her life. Be curious about things they are working on, things they are learning, puzzles they can't solve, questions they struggle with, etc. When you hear something that intrigues you, why not offer to work on that together--as equal partners in a project? When you hear something you don't think you agree with, you have agency, so speak up and talk about it.

In an earlier era, mentoring was purely top down. Mentors had the answers, the expertise, the secrets of life and success. In an information age, all of us have access to more information that we will ever need. We can find YouTube videos that show us how to do almost anything we can imagine.

We don't need mentors who will feed us. We need partners who will walk with us and help us sort through the deluge of information already at hand. We benefit most from those partners who will draw out of us the answers and insights we've already discovered. We need people who will live into the give and take of dynamic relationship. Mentors and mentorees who embrace the 360 degree of their relationship will actually breathe life into one another.

So… What relationships are you already in that could be tweaked?

Who is within reach that you could invite into a 360 degree mentoring relationship?

Pastor Yoda Photo:


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