The Biggest Mistake That Mentors Make

Mentors are great and I believe everyone should have one. Traditionally the way it works is a mentor (someone older and wiser) shares life with a mentee in either a one-on-one or small group setting. Ultimately, the hope is that the mentee can grow through this mentorship.

But there's a problem. I've been noticing that people seem to do great while meeting with their mentors but they tend to fall apart once the mentorship is over. From the mentor's perspective, they think all the progress they made was fool's gold. From the mentee's perspective, they think they need to start meeting with their mentor again.

The Mistake Mentors Make
Dr. Ed Welch argues that one of the main reasons people do so well while having a mentor but struggle when their mentorship ends is actually because of the mentors - particularly how the mentors see themselves.

Welch argues that mentors tend to assume the role of a "guru" or "counselor" who should have the answers to the mentee's questions. After all, the mentee approaches them that way. So mentors will listen, give answers, share anecdotes, etc. However this is where the problem begins: The mentor is essentially acting like a "guide."

I don't know about you, but when I'm walking on a trail with a tour guide, I tend not to pay attention to where I'm going. The reason? I'm leaning completely on my tour guide. So if the tour guide isn't there and I find myself on the same trail, I'll probably be lost.

When mentors act as "guides," they put themselves in the position of having all the answers. As a result, the person they lead may grow - but passively. Once the mentor is gone & that person encounters the same path, they tend to get lost.

Adopting a Different Approach
Instead of seeing themselves as "guides," Welch argues that mentors should see themselves as "fellow-travelers." Though they have probably walked this trail before and are familiar with different paths and landmarks, mentors should see themselves as still journeying with the person.

Usually mentors pray that they can be used as an instrument to help someone grow. But in light of this, mentors should also pray for their own growth - and the growth shouldn't just be through the "experience of mentoring someone."

Instead they should see this as an opportunity to really learn from someone and seeing things from their perspective. After all, if the mentee is a fellow-traveler, they may notice paths and landmarks that the mentor never saw before.

What This Looks Like Practically
When mentors act as guides they tend to do the following:

  • They respond to questions with answers (meetings feel like a Q&A)

  • They see you as a pupil ("I discipled him"; "my small group girls!")

  • They won't share how they're struggling (they've mastered this trail already)

When mentors act as fellow-travelers though their approach is different:

  • They respond to questions with questions (meetings feel like a conversation)

  • They see you as a friend ("we went through quite a journey together")

  • They share their struggles too (they're still walking this trail)

In other words, mentors should resist being a guru-figure - even if that's what the mentee wants them to be. Instead of assuming the role of a "savior," mentors should walk with others towards the Savior.

I'm not saying if this happens that a person will now be good once the mentorship is over. But I do believe you prevent yourself from being that crutch whom they lean on so they can find a surer foundation.