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Mentoring: What if it isn't hard?

I think most of us have been conned into thinking that mentoring is hard. That somehow being a successful mentor is beyond the reach of mere mortals.

In this post, I step into the role of myth-buster. I am going blow up the lies by showing you how easy it is for you to become an effective mentor.

Let’s start with a story.

A few weeks ago, I was working offsite at my local Starbucks. I sat at one of one of those larger community tables while another guy worked at the other end studying some fat textbook looking thing. As happened regularly, the door swung open and a new customer walked in. I didn’t look up until I heard this conversation.

New customer. “Hey man, you must be a pilot. I recognize that book.”

“Well, yes and no,” came the answer. “I am applying for a job at Southwest Airlines and studying to pass my certification.”

The newcomer. “You’ve got to be kidding. I’m a pilot for Southwest. I’ll tell you what. I am going to mentor you so that you succeed. Here’s my phone number, please call me so that we can get together.”

Boom. No preamble. No fanfare. One man offering himself to help another. And, a mentoring relationship was started.

Before long, my time was up. But, on my way out, I introduced myself to that Southwest pilot, learned his name is Eric, and confirmed that my suspicions were true. He had never met the man studying before. However, this was a way of life for him. His comment, “It should be normal for all of us to reach out to help one another.”

Eric and I met for a coffee not long afterward and I got to hear a lot more about his experiences and motivations as a mentor. Two things stuck out to me as I listened to him. 1.) His mentoring efforts were driven by deep generosity and a desire to pay it forward. And, 2.) He understands how it doesn’t have to be difficult to be successful. He and I share the same puzzlement over why mentoring is not a way of life for everyone.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what could make the process of mentoring easy for all of us. Here are my three top suggestions.

I. Just Ask!

Yeah, I know it sounds too simple, but it’s brilliant.

The biggest place mentoring gets stuck is that it never gets started. We all seem to think someone else would take the first step. The problem is, how would anyone know there’s a real need unless they are a mind-reader?

We all STINK at mind-reading. Those who need our help don’t know what we have to offer or that we would be elated to offer it. Those who could help us don’t know we need or want the help.

Whether you see an opportunity like Eric did or you are someone who needs the help, just ask. Offer your assistance as a mentor for something you see someone working on. Or, if you are working on something, shorten your path to success by asking someone to mentor you.

Don’t make it complicated. Don’t say, “How about you and I meet every Tuesday at 5:30am for the next 79 weeks so I mentor you in geo-political ethics.” Instead, make it simple and say something like, “I know you are working on X. I’d love to get together and hear how it’s going. What do you think?”

II. Lean Into the Puzzles of Life!

The second great chasm of complexity that sabotages mentoring is the belief that you need some type of brilliant content or curriculum to lead people through. It’s as if being a worthy mentor means I need to be some kind of Yoda-like genius. That’s defeating before we even get started.

Here’s a simple strategy: let the puzzles of life become the learning lab for discovering insights and practices that lead to breakthrough.

In the course of talking about the challenging puzzles they face, you’ll find yourselves touching the deeper stuff of character, relationships, and dreams about the future. And, you won't have to be a genius who plans a sneak attack strategy to expose the stuff they didn't know they needed to talk about.

The natural course of life will bring challenging puzzles to the surface all the time. Simply ask people a question like this, “what’s eating your lunch these days?” Or, “what puzzles are you trying to solve at work or at home that have you stuck these days?” Use those puzzles as the substance of your mentoring conversations. You’ll be amazed at the depth of reflection that emerges.

III. Use the Puzzles of YOUR Life!

I wish I could press the permanent kill switch on the notion that mentoring is a top-down transaction. Healthy mentoring is a two-way street, a relationship of give and take where both people open the doors to their lives and influence one another.

So, pull back from the posture of inquisitive professor. Offer your own life and something you face as a real-time case study.

Invite your mentoree behind the curtain of your life and you’ll be surprised by what happens. They will discover the wisdom that lives in them. They will gain access to the deeper things that live in you. The level of trust between you will grow exponentially. You’ll probably gain fresh perspective on whatever is eating your lunch. And, you will find greater freedom from the need to be a superhero in this relationship.

At the end of the day, the greatest contribution of a mentor happens when their life rubs off on someone else. When you choose the path of vulnerability and let someone else see the things that affect you, you accelerate the imprint of your life on them.

And, it’s not complicated. Try opening up a conversation about something you’re working on by saying, “Would you be willing to help me think through something I’m facing?”

Ready to Give it a Try?

Seriously, mentoring isn’t rocket science. Sure you can grow our skills, but there is nothing about mentoring that you can’t do right now. Today.

It’s just possible the impact you long for is waiting on the other side of a simple invitation.

For more on Mentoring check out these other posts:


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