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What makes a good mentor?

After writing about mentors last month, I had several inquiries about the qualities that help one be a good mentor.
My observations about mentors reflect my experiences with mentoring and my discussions with people who coach others to make the best use of their talents and gifts. I have read many of the things written on the subject, but I am concentrating on what I have observed directly.
I know many women who are effective mentors for their peers and for younger women. I know of many couples who help other couples in building stronger marriages and strengthening parenting skills. I know that it is unwise for a mature man to nurture a woman of any age except in a professional setting — and even then caution is important.
The first characteristic important to a mentor is a genuine concern for other people. That interest makes the mentor a talent-seeker. An effective mentor sees in a friend or colleague potential and capacity the person may not see in herself or himself. The mentor must become involved in the life and interests of the other person in order to build a relationship of trust and confidence. Out of that relationship, a mentor begins to gain a deeper insight into the personality and the gifts, so there is understanding to coach and nurture the gifts of the person.
A mentor must commit time to build a relationship that allows opportunities to understand the potential of the friend.
In addition to being a seeker of talents in people, a mentor must have a special personality. That personality must be warm. To be a warm person is to care for other people enough to be open and receptive. The busy lives that we live in the 21st century make it difficult for people to be warm — even to members of their own family. So becoming warm and caring is an intentional decision of those who want to be used in helping others to reach their full potential and to live fully.
Another personal element of a mentoring personality is being completely forthright and honest. A good mentor always speaks the truth in love, so that the person being mentored is constantly confident that the mentor’s encouragement to follow a path or discouragement from following a path can be viewed as genuine.
Another aspect of the mentor’s personality must be empathy. Empathy is stronger than sympathy. Sympathy means understanding a feeling, but empathy means sharing the feeling of another person.
So warmth, genuineness and empathy must be central to the mentor’s personality to be effective in mentoring others. The presence of these characteristics prevents the mentor from trying to fashion his friend in his own image. For example, women who have been stay-at-home moms may have difficulty mentoring women who want a professional career in addition to being a wife and mother.
Because teaching has been so fulfilling for me personality, I have to be very cautious not to stress teaching as a career to a student I am seeking to help.
A good mentor must have a positive view of life and have strong hope for the future. A skeptic about life and human potential cannot offer counsel about future development and relationships to others. A Pollyanna-ish personality may make life seem more pleasant for awhile, but Pollyanna lacks the insight to understand limitations and impossibilities in others and in future circumstances.
So the mentor must have a healthy view of life with reality and optimism.
Mentoring requires extreme confidentiality. What goes on in these relationships must never be shared with any other person. I once hurt a very special friend when I alluded in a church Bible class to his situation — even with no mention of names or exact circumstance. The person was not in the class but heard of my illustration and believed I had broken his trust. He was never able to trust me again.
A really good mentor must think broadly and often must help research possible careers, educational needs, churches in a region or lifestyles in different places.
This aspect of mentoring is somewhat frightening, but really rewarding. These “what if” sessions create confidence and hope in the lives of both parties.
Being a mentor requires a commitment of time, emotional energies, patience and creativity. But it is a worthy work.
Contact [email protected].

  • Feedback
    April, 7 2013

    Nice article…very important. I pray that those that are able to mentor will seek out opportunities to do so. I could have used a mentor when I first became a Christian, and I could have used one while I was in college, and to be honest, I still need one in my life now. A good mentor is an irreplaceable asset!
    Don Wade
    Huntsville, AL
    August, 3 2010

Filed under: Insight

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