Ask clients about their mentors
List below are five questions I often ask clients about possible mentors in their life.
1 | Who can you help identify your blind spots?
We all have them, blind spots. Blind spots can be the behaviors or skills we need to polish in order to be more effective, to have a greater impact on the organizations and people we serve, and notice what we're not paying attention to. Mentors can help a client identify what they should keep doing, stop doing, or start doing.
2 | Who can help you envision new opportunities or new ways of being or doing?
Your clients can benefit from having people in their life that stretch their imaginations, point out new opportunities, and connect leaders to people who are doing creative work in area the clients is seeking to address in their life. It builds on the question you may already be asking your client, "Where are my areas of opportunity?"
3 | Who can help you make better decisions?
Decision making is a core attribute of a successful leader. Leaders are often unaware of the cognitive biases in their decision-making processes. Having a mentor highlight these biases opens the way for improving future decisions and see issues from multiple angles of vision can vastly improve the decisions a client makes.
4 | Who can help you discern which skills you need to develop?
A question I often ask church leaders is, "What one skill should you focus on to improve your leadership style?" All leaders have shortcomings that could be improved upon. Skills such as communicating the vision and goals, motivating teams through collaboration and trust and developing others vary from company to company and need to be improved upon. The skills that are needed for a senior pastor, a leader of a non-profit, or a community organizer are different. I often connect clients to leaders who already play the role a client seeks to play in the future.
5 | To whom would you go to ask your burning questions?
Some of the burning questions I invite a client to ask a mentor include:
- What's the most important leadership lesson you've learned?
- If you were in my current position, what would you do?
- What are the challenges and pitfalls I should be aware of, and prepare for?
- Who served as mentors to you in your role, and how did it benefit you?
- How did you handle . . . (describe specific situations)?
- What are you noticing about me, and how I lead others?
In order to grow, we need different perspectives on ourselves as leaders. Mentors provide clients with new views of how they're showing up. Different mentors are often needed during different stages of one's life or ministry. As you think about inviting clients to use a mentor, consider the following questions:
- Who has served as a mentor for you? In what ways did you benefit from the experience?
- Do you have any mentors if your life right now?
- Where could you see mentors benefiting the clients you currently coach?
When I worked in the business world I had a supervisor who would share her wisdom with me. One of my favorites from her was, "My strengths aren't others' weaknesses." She also reminded me to thank my mentors and would say that she would be happy if I succeeded, even excelling beyond her, because management would recognize that she was the one who trained and supervised me so it would be a plus for her. She also kept me aware of corporate politics and pitfalls to avoid.
Mentors help name blindspots and also affirm gifts in a person when that person doesn't see them in themselves.
Tom, you're spot on in regards to mentors affirming gifts in others when they don't them in themselves.
Tom, you were so fortunate to have a supervisor that valued strengthening the company as a whole, over holding knowledge to herself. How wonderful that she saw your success as a win for her as well. I agree that Mentors have the capacity to both celebrate our gifts and helping us see the ways we can use these gifts to better ourselves...and the company as well.
Tom, I like the statement "My strengths aren't others' weaknesses" that you shared in your mentor relationship. This is so true as we recognize that not everyone's strengths are the same and we all have a role/purpose in ongoing functionality as a collective whole. I also appreciate the idea of mentors naming blind spots. The cool thing about a mentor is they can sometimes see a fuller sense of the picture that has been gleamed from their experiences.
Tom, you are so very right about mentors being there to help with blind spots. I remember one of my mentors helping me see the nuances I would have missed completely had she not made me aware of them. Even the little things can make or break forward progress.
Mentors have been integral to my continued growth in leadership and ministry. Earlier in ministry (and life!) I was the beneficiary of several wise mentors that I repeatedly quizzed about best practices in ministry and keys in understanding interpersonal relationships as well as parish dynamics. In more recent years mentors have assisted me in gaining clearer perspective as well as stretching my imagination. Encouraging our clients to identify and engage their mentors in their growth journey can be a serve to accelerate and deepen the coaching process. The list of "burning questions" mentioned may prove helpful to clients as well.
Dan, WOW! So wise of you to lean into the knowledge and experience of others in the ministry. Based on your post, it's obvious that these mentors helped you to not only take of the blinders that may be limiting you - but also to help you to discern skills you needed to develop.
I had a mentor earlier on when I began in ministry. We were intentionally paired up with someone to walk with you and that was wonderful for me as she was a female pastor of color who helped me understand the terrain and asked what were my hurdles and dreams and gave good advice and offered hard truths. And at one point I outgrew the relationship and we both recognized it and I found a colleague who had been in partnership with our church for a number of years and had been an associate pastor in a large suburban congregation for many years and had served in an urban context for 8 years before his current call. He was about 25 years my senior and a white man with a lot of power and he was very good at helping me stretch and become wise about how to navigate in our synod and various circles and ways to understand code language that was meant to shut me out or down and that was wonderful. We have remained friends. I am currently a part of a diverse 5 member women's mentoring group out of the twin cities. 3 of us are pastors and 1 in faith-based publishing and curriculum, the other an awesome professional lay leader finishing her Ph.D and we each have very different gifts and some talents that intersect. We also serve as accountability partners for each other in specific areas that provides clarity and clear boundaries. It has been wonderful to have as we have a regular schedule of meeting, but also have a way to send out the emergency Bat Signal or in promptu quick meets for something that may require a specific soundboard/advice and it is amazing as it stretches and pulls me as well as affirms me and my worthiness.
I so love how you continue to find new mentors as you move along in your ministry life. I love that you have a diverse group of others to turn to and not just pastors and not just individuals from your area. Thank you for sharing that.
While I've never had anyone in my life who 'wore the title of mentor', there have been people who've guided me through life transitions, offered sage advice in work places and now in the ministry setting. These are people who saw the value in investing their time and knowledge with newer leaders in order to strengthen the organization as a whole. These were people who had enough self-awareness to recognize another way they had knowledge and skills that were best shared with other.
But this article and our class discussion have helped me to understand how beneficial a mentor could be for me in this time, and I will begin to actively begin looking for someone; and even be open to being a mentor for others.
This blog offered sage advice for coaches, as we seek to find multiple way to help our clients pursue that preferred future. It reminding us of the value of suggesting to the client other people-helping services that could move them forward and give them clarity and accountability on future steps.
This highlights the importance to me of helping new team members on a team find a mentor they can lean on. Sometimes that mentor could be me, and in other cases it wouldn’t be a good fit… so what can I do to help facilitate those opportunities? It would be my hope that the people around me, especially if I were working in an organization, would take an active role in facilitating those mentor relationships. Ultimately, it’s incumbent upon all leaders to support those connections so that their team members will grow. Mentoring is a key aspect of continual growth and development, so if a junior member is struggling to make those connections themselves, then the leader should intercede and make it happen. Otherwise, your team members are missing growth experience, and the opportunity to build professional connections with others.
Mary, I really like your statement about being open to being a mentor to others. So often we forget that we have abilities and expertise that can help others around us. I think it would be a lot of help to have first call pastors paired with a more seasoned pastor. There is so many questions that they don't teach you in seminary, and things they teach you in seminary that really don't mean a hill of beans.
I know even in my limited knowledge I have been a good mentor for another pastor in our community who not is as familiar with Lutheran rituals. He really appreciated how to give out ashes and why we shouldn't use water when we mix the ashes.
The part we need to guard against as a coach is that we need to remember what hat we are wearing. We need to wear our coaching hat with out clients and not slip into mentor mode.
It takes a village!
Currently I don’t have a mentor, but I’ve greatly benefited from having coaching relationships that have helped me look beyond what’s right in front of me and pursue transformational actions. However, when I look back at a mentor of mine while in the military, he was very engaged with challenging my current state and pushing me toward pursuing and achieving my maximum potential… and so it’s helped me realize that he was coaching me as well, whether he realized it or not. Today, however, I see the value of having a trusted person to lean on, someone who is willing to challenge my blind spots, and encourage me to develop new skills to tackle tomorrow’s challenges.
I would want my clients to have the same experience, which they can receive in some respect from me as their coach, but they should also pursue a mentor relationship that will elevate specific thinking within their industry. This would be a powerful tool to help them grow into new positions and opportunities.
There is power in naming who a mentor is and what they do. As I read through this I realized all the people in my life who have been mentor's to me. I think especially of Marriage mentors. At the same time I realize the areas I don't have mentors in (a.k.a. Ministry). I have people I turn to, but I guess I have never asked them to be a mentor. The question I have is, is there an official conversation that needs to happen with someone if you desire them to be a mentor?
Yes! Marriage mentors!
I have had many mentors in my life: professional mentors, family mentors, marriage mentors. I guess I really hadn't thought of these people as mentors. I simply call them my "wise ones". My nature is to seek people who have done it before, been through it, or are better at it. Mentoring has helped me see how a healthy marriage functions and has been with me to work through it when I haven't been my best self. My professional mentors have been invaluable in discernment processes for ministry and help me to actually follow through. I love ideas so it is easy for me to keep "thinking" and find joy in ideas alone but I can use this as an avoidance technique. My mentors know me well and help guide me into and through the "hard things" by calling me out WHILE lifting me up. Can people whom I have never met be a mentor? I think of Fr. Richard Rohr as a mentor but I've never met him person.
This blog has made me aware that I have not connected with my mentor in quite some time and I need to connect. I also realize that I need a different type of mentor at this time in my ministry than I have had before.
Oh, and to comment on the blog itself, I appreciate the specificities Jim provided in the "accountability" questions. The specificity drills down and gives a sense of importance to the need. Specifics can help the client imagine someone as mentor that perhaps they had not considered before.
You remind me, Amelia, that I need to reconnect with my mentor-a retired pastor with whom I served as a lay youth minister and who saw in me gifts for ministry before I saw them in myself.
From my perspective, I believe you can have mentors you never met. A seminary professor encouraged us to read various theologians with the perspective of the author as a dialog partner. I read all three volumes of Douglas John Hall's systematic theology and believe he helped me to remain sane during my internship! And guess what, I actually had the opportunity to meet him a few years later and was able to thank him. Who knows, maybe one day you'll have the chance to meet Fr. Richard Rohr?
One of my favorite mentors was a pastor I got to know as I took him home from his church. We both live in the same area, and he asked me one day if it would be okay to give him a ride home, and then after that I was his driver, until he left his interim ministry. He had a ton of experience having been in ministry 40 years. One of the things I really enjoyed as I drove him home was to talk about areas of ministry that I was green at like fund raising and managing people. He had a wealth of knowledge and a lot of stories which I really appreciated. Whenever I had any burning ministry question he was always there and he was a great asset.
I hope other people can see the value of this, of having somebody else who they can ask honest and open questions about. I wonder if for many of us we don't do this because we feel that we are going to be shamed for what we ask.
There have been people in my life that have served in mentoring ways. I remember connecting with internship supervisor weekly, just sitting down to connect and ask simple questions. The openness to questions from my supervisor gave a freedom to try out different things and helped to not be afraid of failure. I can see mentoring being helpful to coachees, but I would be cautious not to add too many additional meetings.
A friend/mentor was helpful to me as I trained for my first ironman triathlon. He spoke from experience and helped stoke confidence as he understood some of the rigors of training and race day. A good mentor will help evoke trust in yourself, your abilities and training.
I really like the way you talk about a mentor being someone who speaks out of their experience. As someone who had a season in my life where I was running marathons I wish I had tapped someone who could have helped me understand what needed to go into it and how to best run on race day. After a frustrating race I happened to be on the same flight as the lady who had spoken at the pre-race dinner the evening before, and she was able to give me some good tips which helped a great deal the next time I ran a race.
This post was really interesting for me, because it shed light for me on how coaching can work in tandem with someone who is a mentor. The person who was a mentor for me in my early ministry was a retired pastor who had (many years earlier) pastored the church where I was currently serving. He helped me to understand some of the blind spots that I had and also suggested some educational opportunities (CPE) as a good way to think through some of those things. He was very encouraging and when I entered into my new role he invited me over to give me a little advice as I entered this position because he had also held a similar position before his retirement. Unfortunately parkinsons disease has made it difficult to engage with him, because his wisdom would be useful in the midst of a difficult season.
I have been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life. As I progressed in my education and career, I would meet mentors at each stage who had a profound impact on helping me learn and grow into a higher level of proficiency in my work. One in particular gave me a wealth of information in a variety of media and was also a morale booster when I would second guess myself. I think the most meaningful gift she gave me was telling me I couldn't go wrong if I would "be fully present." We would talk about what that would look like and we would practice in role reversal.
Coaches help the client envision their preferred future. Mentors would provide the practical knowledge and experience of working that dream/ preferred future with action steps specific to their preferred future having experienced it first hand. So it could be very helpful and encouraging to the coachee to be working with a mentor that helps bring the vision into reality.
I have a spiritual mentor in my life right now. She is someone who has helped me grow in my faith, a prayer partner and someone with whom I can be very raw with and she does not judge me. Since I do not have any clients right now, mentoring will be an area that I will introduce my clients to if they currently do not have a mentor.
I've never had a formal mentor. I've learned a great deal from informal mentoring: more or less observing leaders as I worked alongside of them. I learned a great deal about leadership, and also about what not to do in leadership.
I could see mentors benefiting people I coach through sharing their stories. While times change, nevertheless a story is an introduction into one person's perspective on their life - including the habits, relationships, and decisions that led them to where they are.
The only mentors I have used have been related to my travel business. They have been very helpful as I've navigated unfamiliar water. They were able to answer questions that a Google search wouldn't be helpful with and also to give suggestions on where to start or what resources/vendors are most helpful. I don't currently coach clients, so I can't say what kind of mentors would be helpful. If I was coaching a church council, maybe an experienced church council president or a synod staff member that had skills in working with councils.
I think that for healthy growth we need a variety of different relationships in our life, including coaches, mentors, spiritual advisors and therapists. I think that this is a great suggestion to help coachees identify mentors so that they also do not begin to try and see the coach as their mentor. Just as we ask in each session "who can help hold you accountable?" I think it is a great addition to add "who can you ask for guidance from?" Again that helps to separate our role as coaches from those who give guidance and support.
I haven't had a lot of mentors in my life unfortunately. I did have a highly experienced interim pastor as my lead pastor at my last interim position whose wisdom and experience I tried to tap as much as possible. I think mentors could be useful to clients by helping keep them on track with their goals and identifying things that they don't see in themselves.
I have multiple clergy mentors that each offer something unique but meaningful to my own development and ministry: one is a retired pastor, one is just a few years ahead of me in ministry, one is a peer whose wisdom and insight offer me a different perspective. They are each people I trust, people who can share from their own experiences without having the expectation that I will mirror their experience or follow their exact path in ministry, and they all reflect back to me my own unique gifts and wisdom. I benefit from their council because it gets me out of my own head, broadens my thinking, and almost always helps me understand that there are multiple ways forward through a problem. They make me less of a perfectionist and more bold in discerning what is the next right thing for me in that moment.
My greatest mentor was Pastor Glenn Harless. From 9th grade in Individualized Confirmation, he poured into me seeing that I had a love for God, the scriptures and that my faith was central. From there he challenged me by asking me to pray in front of my peers in youth group. Eventually he had me preach in front of our excessively large congregation (1000's), when my greatest fear in life was public speaking. Finally, as I contemplated seminary he accompanied me to a Dynamic Communicator's Workshop with Christian comedian, Ken Davis. He was the one who cheered me on and led me towards the call to pastoral ministry.
Finally, I appreciate the line "Mentors can help a client identify what they should keep doing, stop doing, or start doing." The terminology I learned at Fuller Seminary is "Strategic Subtractions". When you add something to your plate/ministry/life, then you subtract something so you can manage life with enough margin.