Mentoring Part V: Concluding Thoughts
This series has focused on mentoring, what it is and how we go about finding this kind of relationship. The focus has remained on how we can prepare ourselves to establish a good relationship with positive outcomes for both mentor and mentee. Our Christian faith reminds us that Jesus is our ultimate mentor. However, we really benefit from the guidance we receive from those in our physical world who may have more experience than we do in certain areas. This includes our academic, personal, and vocational lives as well as our walk of discipleship.
I gave a couple of examples of mentoring relationships found in scripture including Moses and Joshua and Paul and Barnabas. There are many others we could add to this list but the point is that the relationships these people had went beyond friendship and simple working relationships. They were bonded together through a common cause and intent on learning from each other as they shared their lives together.
Creating a Positive Climate
There are a few things that we have explored about how we can begin and succeed in a mentoring relationship. Much of this begins with us, the mentee. We need to come to the relationship with a sense of positivity and humility. The humility side of this comes easily to most of us as we may feel unworthy to even ask someone to be our mentor. While being humble means being willing to accept constructive criticism, it in no way should have us doubting our personal worth. We are more than worthy of good relationships and we must retain positivity about who we are and how and why we are called to study, teach or research. It is very important for us and the mentoring relationship to keep a positive outlook on our rapport with the mentor and how we can learn and grow from it.
Let’s think for a minute about some ways to create a positive climate for both ourselves and our mentors. What are some positives that we bring to our academic career or profession? How do those strengths help us in those environments? What are the positive characteristics you might be looking for from a mentor? It is also helpful to think positively about asking someone to be our mentor. Thinking that that person will probably say no can be self-defeating, leading us to doubt our self-worth. As mentioned in previous posts, approaching a mentor can be a little intimidating. None of us likes rejection. A positive outlook about what we need and why we are seeking a mentor will help us deal with the negative self-talk that often creeps into our thoughts. Remember, we are worthy of a relationship with Christ!
In my previous posts I spoke a lot about the importance of good communication. It seems pretty basic, but it really is that central for a thriving mentorship. We can all think of situations when communication, or the lack thereof, has caused problems! Being articulate about what we need and how to connect well with us sets the stage for a good working relationship. This is important for the connections we form with our mentors whether they are formal or informal, long or short term. If a mentor is someone who you already have a rapport with, communication may be fairly easy as you both know what to expect from the other. If it is someone you have not worked with before, it will take time to build the trust. And building trust is based in good communication.
I also spoke about the importance of setting some expectations and boundaries. This begins with open communication at the onset of the relationship and will no doubt continue as various situations arise. If you are having difficulty receiving feedback or the feedback feels overly hostile or critical, it is essential to communicate how you feel and establish some ground rules. This does not mean we disrespect our mentor; in fact, they may not even be aware that their comments affected you as they did. It’s not always easy to set those expectations, but good open communication really is foundational for the mentorship to grow and be beneficial for both parties. There really is no substitute for good communication, even if it is difficult.
Another subject I touched on is the importance of being self-aware. This includes knowing our gifts (including spiritual gifts), our strengths and our weaknesses. Some of us are great at managing fine details and others are much better at seeing the whole picture. This is just one example, but you get the idea! Understanding our limitations is important for communication within the mentoring relationship. Recognizing both our strengths and our challenges will allow us to be transparent with our mentors about where we may need some additional guidance. Our mentors may even be able to help us identify and understand strengths that we didn’t know we had as well as difficulties and how to work around them.
Self-awareness also includes an awareness of what kinds of things are emotional triggers for us. Certain situations or personality traits in others may set off something within us that we may or may not be aware of. It is important for us to be able to identify our sensitivity to things that may trigger an emotional response. One way to address this is ask ourselves, why am I reacting like this? There are a lot of reasons for our emotional responses. Sometimes it is just the stress of everyday life. However, if there are more serious reactions, we may want to spend some time with a professional counselor to explore those areas. Our mentors may help to guide us, but unless they are licensed for counseling practice, they are not a substitute for a licensed professional. There is no shame in working with a licensed counselor if we have emotional triggers and mental health concerns. This is also an important piece of self-awareness, which can help us get the most out of our mentoring relationship.
This five-part series has provided a brief overview of some ideas about how we can be prepared for a positive and successful mentoring relationship. We often spend a lot of time thinking about who we would like to be our mentor. We consider things like personality, time commitment and how a mentor might be able to help us during this season of our lives. Yet we also need to consider how we can be a good mentee. Some of the highlights from this series are to be specific about what we need and respectful of the mentor’s time. Being positive about ourselves and how the relationship will progress also helps us to be successful. Our self-awareness guides us through difficult conversations, which may include moving on from working with a mentor. And of course, communication is key. This is true for all of our relationships, but even more so for a mentoring interaction. Jesus’s humility and strength not only serves as an example for who we might look to as a mentor, but it also teaches us how to listen and learn from them. No matter what our mentorship looks like, as Christians we are reminded that Jesus is our ultimate mentor.
Anderson, Keith and Randy Reese. Spiritual Mentoring A Guide for Seeking and Giving Direction. Grand Rapids, MI: InterVarsity Press, 1999.
Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg, “Share My Life With Others: Mentoring” in Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005: p. 141.
Cordiero, Wayne. The Divine Mentor. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2008.
Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017.
Zachary, Lois J. and Lory A. Fischler. The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009.
Author Services: Support for Taylor & Francis Authors. (2023, February 3). Academic mentoring for researchers: What is it and how does it work?. Author Services. https://authorservices.taylorandfrancis.com/blog/mentoring-support/academic-mentoring-for-researchers/
Broekhuizen, R. (2021, August 16). How to be a true mentor in Christ. Focus on the Family. https://www.focusonthefamily.com/church/how-to-be-a-tru-mentor-in-christ/
Campbell, S. & MacTaggart, R. (2020, August 24). 10 quick ideas for becoming a more effective mentee. EDUCAUSE Review. https://er.educause.edu/blogs/2020/8/10-quick-ideas-for-becoming-a-more-effective-mentee
*These are only a couple of examples of the information available on the internet.
About the author:
Jody Fleming is an ordained elder and endorsed chaplain in the Church of the Nazarene and is currently Affiliate Faculty with Kairos University and an Online Course Developer with Pacific Islands University. She holds an M.Div. in Biblical Studies/Teaching Ministries and a Ph.D. in theological studies with a concentration in Global Christianity and Mission and has published in the areas of the Holy Spirit and Missiology including her book Wesleyan Pneumatology, Pentecostal Mission and the Missio Dei. Jody has two adult children and lives with her husband in south central Pennsylvania.