Mentoring – Why do we do it? How do we do it? Are we effective?

Leadership naturally implies mentoring or growing those up who seek us out as mentors and follow. Evaluating if mentoring is right for us or if we are right to mentor, requires an intentional approach and commitment. If we have committed to being a mentor or evaluating this relationship, we should be able to answer three questions succinctly.

Why do we mentor?

I mentor because I am called to transform the lives of black youth in Atlanta. Mentoring allows me to influence young men, train them to excel beyond even their own expectations and expand their vision to lead Atlanta. Race plays a critical role in this conversation.

Why do you mentor? Some feel a responsibility to give back, others may want to inspire change or make a difference. In order for us to be effective mentors, we must understand why we want to mentor because mentees will eventually figure it out, even if we haven’t. Mentees may not connect quickly with us so we also need to understand why and why it may take so long to invoke lasting change.

L.E.A.D.’s Human Ambassador Project

How do we effectively mentor?

Authenticity & Transparency – People won’t believe your success until they believe your struggle. Mentees consciously and subconsciously fear that mentors will not be authentic, aka FAKE. Without authenticity, mentoring relationships become one-sided with mentors dictating directions and “shoulds” which equals guilt. Mentoring relationships are a two-way street. My mentees must be committed to helping me with my shortcomings otherwise we can’t have the relationship. If I don’t share my shortcomings, I cheat them from this opportunity.

Boldness – Are you inspiring? Confident is good. Arrogance is bad. The fine line separating the two is humility, one I often cross. Mentees often lack direction in life or knowledge of the path to reach the destination, hence the reason they follow us. We’ve been given permission to lead so if we expect boldness from them, we must demonstrate it as well.

Consistency – How do we remain influential while not present? As a follower of Christ, I believe that planting seeds of greatness must be watered by the Holy Spirit in my absence. I can influence mentees interceeding through the power of prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. My mentoring relationship include an aspect of accountability in my absence that works to keep my mentees honest.

One of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell and in his book Outliers, he teachers that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to develop a skill. I believe it to be true.

Helping mentees become the best version of themselves requires deliberate practice within a set of guidelines. Guidelines include honest conversations about available time and my priorities and where they fit into those priorities. While mentees will not get all of my time, they can, by text message, email, sharing of books, blogs and daily prayer, be mentored, follow and learn.

Guardrails established early enable a reliable framework for consistent transformation. These frameworks naturally forecast an end date for the formal part of the relationship. When the purpose of the relationship is clear, frameworks are easier to discuss. Mentoring relationship should never end informally so being clear increases credibility.

Sustainability – Will I (the mentee) be inspired beyond our formal relationship? Sustainability requires strength. I thrive when I’m spiritually, emotionally, mentally, relationally and physically strong and I want to teach my mentees how to fill and keep these five buckets full forever. Since mentoring relationships have a beginning and ending, how will I be inspired and inspire those beyond the framework of the formal mentor relationsihp? By modeling and sharing what personally works for me.

I strengthen myself by growing each aspect required in sustainability: Spiritually – through prayer and my relationship with Jesus Christ; Emotionally by my wife and daughters who inspire and empower me by revealing my positive and negative blindspots; Mentally – by reading which I didn’t like as a child. I felt it was taboo for Black boys to be educated. It was considered to be “acting White” by many of my peers. Now I read almost two books per month because education is learning what needs to be learned to do what needs to be done; Relationally – by spending time with likeminded friends. I’m an extrovert and enjoy meeting new people benefitting most from people that want to become a better version of themselves. I feed off of these folks even if they are homeless, addicted to drugs or the CEO of a Fortune 100 company; Physically – by working out for at least 30 minutes four days per week, even if I don’t want to, feeling good feels good and allows us to do good.

How are you sustaining yourself? What is your plan for sustainability? It this worth sharing with your mentees? You can’t share what you don’t know…

Are we being an effective mentor?

In the end, are we fulfilling our mission as mentors? How are we measuring our effectiveness? We can only do that if we define our role. Mentors need to think twice about starting relationships with mentees if they don’t know how to mentor. Education precedes empowerment and leads effectiveness. Think carefully about committing to a mentoring relationship. What role will you play? What is your commitment? How will you define success for yourself, your mentee and are those the same? I measure my effectiveness by my mentees being able to communicate their life purpose in 30 words or less. Not by memory, by instinct.

If you can answer 50% of these questions, you are ready to get started. Be mentored, finish answering the other 50% and get involved. You’re needed.

Pictured with my mentee Javier Mayora of El Salvador