Mentoring Made Simple

Margaret was ten years old when a woman in her 30’s decided to start investing herself in young girls. There was no magic curriculum, no overly-structured strategy, just an authentic woman who loved Jesus and chose to love the girl that would one day become my wife.

Two weeks ago Margaret and I attended the 80th birthday party for that mentor. We would not have missed it for the world. Her children and grandchildren made her proud and the dozens of guests made it a success. But what struck me was the impact of Lenita’s life expressed through so many people to whom she had given herself. Margaret was not the only one. A handful of no longer young girls were present to honor the woman who helped them learn to be good mothers and deeper lovers of Jesus because Lenita chose to invest in them.

Margaret and Lenita on her 80th

When we walked up to the house, I watched Margaret sign into the guestbook. “Dear Lenita, you are my longest standing friend.”

It’s funny. Margaret didn’t write about the structure of their mentoring relationship, or the books they studied, or anything remotely complicated. What matters most is the depth and authenticity and consistency of Lenita’s friendship.

You see, I find that we get all twisted up over the notions of mentoring because of some funky ideas that mentoring is about structure or curriculum or Yoda-Like super-wisdom. In reality mentoring is about sharing your life, your experiences, and your perspective when needed. It is more about walking together over the long haul then solving a urgent problem in a perfect way.

Yes, there are multiple ways for mentoring relationships to work well. J. Robert Clinton and Paul Stanley did an excellent job looking at nine different types of mentoring relationships in their book, *Connecting*. However, the vast majority of mentoring is as simple as a relationship between one person who chooses to make his or her life available and another person who admits they have a need.

I like to keep it simple. I am responsible for my own mentoring. If I have something to offer, it is my responsibility to offer it. If I have a need, it is my responsibility to look for someone to help me. I don’t expect anyone to read my mind, I own responsibility for the mentoring I need.

So, let’s cut through the red tape. Who are you pouring your life into? What do you have to offer and who do you know that might need it? What are the areas of personal development you need to work on? Pick up the phone. Schedule a coffee. Do whatever it takes to get off the dime. Start asking questions and start sharing your life. Perhaps one day at your 80th birthday you’ll have someone sign your guestbook whose life was changed forever.

As the husband of a woman who’s life was marked forever, thank you Lenita.



Join the Conversation:

Your Thoughts? Your Mentoring Experiences?


Our Little Black Book

I am big on the significance of milestones in life and the opportunity they give for perspective and re-alignment. Last week was one of those milestones. It was not only the first week of a new decade, it was our 32nd wedding anniversary.

Margaret and I went away for a few days to celebrate, relax, and to take a look at where we are at, how we are doing. We actually have a ritual that we follow each year on our anniversary. Since it is so close to the beginning of a new year, Margaret and I take a morning and do a “state of the union” review on our life and marriage.

It’s rather simple. We have this really cheap blank book and in it we capture our perspective on four or five basic categories. Some years we do a bit more, but we always include:

  1. Where are we now?(a brief summary of current reality for each of us and our kids.)
  2. Looking Back: the major events, themes, and developments of the past year.
  3. Looking Ahead: our dreams, priorities and big plans for our life together in the year ahead.
  4. Growth, change, or goals the Lord is prompting us toward during the next year.

    We’ve been around the block enough times now to know that “drift” happens. All that stuff of life creeps up and new patterns develop in your marriage as you react to them: busy travel seasons, challenges at work, illness, financial set-backs, etc. Without some mechanism for getting altitude and re-calibrating life, subtle drifts become dangerous currents.

    Now, Margaret and I weren’t this intentional when we first started, it just seemed like a good idea to do some annual reflection at the beginning of the year. But, over the years we discovered that this tradition is really a sacred time to talk to each other about how we are doing and about the re-alignment that needs to take place as we go forward.

    We started this tradition on January 1st, 1978, six days before our wedding. We were dirt poor, so we rented a table at McDonalds and for a few hours made two pages of notes about the previous year and what we saw ahead for our first year of marriage. Over the years there were a few times when somehow we didn’t get our thoughts written into the book, but even with a couple gaps, we realize now that we have also documented the map of our journey through life together.

    our anniversary book

    That little blank book is pretty ratty these days. We will fill it up in a couple years, if it holds out that long. When it dies or gets filled up, we’ll start volume II. On January 7th thirty-two years from now you will find Margaret and I sitting someplace simple with that second volume asking the same questions and making intentional plans for the year before us.

    Raising My Game

    Two weeks ago the Lord spoke to me about the disciplines involved in writing for this blog and provoked me to get my act together and write more often. No, it wasn’t dramatic. No smoke or lightning, but the stomach grabbing awareness that he was trying get through to me was undeniable.

    From the inception of aboutLEADING, my goal has been to write about observations and insights that occur at the intersection of life and leadership. It is the intersection where I live and a place I long to make a contribution. The discipline of writing for this blog forces me to transform an intuitive “a-ha” from raw concept into a more articulated form.

    However, as my life and responsibilities ran wild, my writing rhythms took a back seat and my production pace diminished to about one article a month.

    Sorry, that just doesn’t cut it. It is time to raise my game.

    So, on a recent flight, I did a little review of the Moleskine™ notebook in which I log key ideas and lessons and realized that right now I am sitting on more than 150 ideas and insights that have stirred me and for which this blog is perfectly designed. Without ever working on anything else, that pool of ideas would provide three years worth of fodder for weekly entries.

    And that’s the goal.  A new entry every week. Sure, there may be times when I miss a week, but we are all big kids and a missed week won’t defeat the basic plan.  At the core, this is one simple way I am committed to give my life and my learning away to a community of friends and colleagues.

    I’ll see you next week.

    BONUS:  By the way, if you don’t have a personal method for capturing the ideas and lessons you discover along the way, drop me a note and I would be glad to share an easy approach to doing just that.

    Five C’s of High Capacity Leaders

    In a world that crowds after the illusion of simple formulas, what I am about to say might venture too close to that black hole. However, my conviction is that the five attributes below represent the journey of a leader’s life long development. As a matter of fact, our quest for quick-fix, simple leadership formulas is actually what derails us from the depth of this developmental journey.

    The extent to which a man or woman has cultivated all five dimensions of his or her life, is the measure by which they will find the influence of their life growing exponentially. By the same token, every dimension that is missing or stunted  sabotages the scope of that influence.

    I have taught on four of these five dimensions for some time, perhaps even beginning to take for granted that everyone already “gets it.” But this past week in a conversation with a very sharp woman leader I discovered that I have also come to understand the fifth dimension. So, whether this serves as a review of the familiar or as fresh thinking I hope it serves you.

    I also make the assumption that you live with a God-given desire to live a life of influence — to make a mark that cannot be easily erased. In that spirit, I invite you to consider the shape of the following in your life:

    CHARACTER :: Influence flows out of who you are more than what you do. Character is more than force of will or consistency. It is that unique combination of who you are when no one is looking and the formation of your soul through intimacy with Christ.

    COMPETENCY :: At the same time, leaders need to have skills. In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their skills that they might lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.

    CALLING :: Leaders are surrounded by those with an agenda, expectation, or demand for them. Yet, leaders of influence are those live before the Audience of One rather than for the applause of the crowd. They do so because they understand and align their behavior with a clear sense of calling and contribution.

    COURAGE :: Unfortunately, the crowd won’t like it. Therefore, leaders must be people of courage. You cannot lead without conflict, even when you are doing the right thing in the right way. And, you cannot wade toward or through that conflict without courage. Without courage, you will dodge the hard stuff.

    COMMUNITY :: Leaders don’t live or lead in isolation. While leading is often an isolating experience, leaders seek out, form, choose, and live in interdependence with others. They create safe places of community for others by the way they pursue it themselves.

    So, if you were to give yourself a grade of ‘A’ to ‘F’ on each of the five, what would your report card look like today?

    I am going to post an essay on each of these five every few days over the next couple weeks. I’d invite you to absorb them one at a time. Post a thought or two about how you are learning work on each dimension.

    After I have completed the series,  I’ll post it as one downloadable .pdf and add some group reflection questions so that you might use it as a resource with those who lead beside you.

    Leadership Radar

    It’s a simple concept really: Wise leaders consciously pay attention to and sharpen their radar.

    Everyone knows what radar does. It creates a picture of what is out there on the horizon that a pilot should be paying attention too. In my pathetically non-technical version, radar systems pick up signals from a wide variety of stuff out there and then through sophisticated programming software sorts through all the signals to determine which are truly important.

    Some radar signals are welcome and some function as a warning.

    Wise leaders rely on their radar as well. On the positive side, leaders utilize their radar to watch for the “blips” of potential new leaders, for new opportunities, for trends to be seized upon, chances to position their ministry or organization for expanded influence, and more. On the negative side, they are always alert for troubling trends, for financial challenges, for approaching conflicts, etc. etc. You get the idea.

    The question is: how does a leader sharpen the programming and sensitivity of her or his radar?

    The answer is found in the habits of life-long learners. Life-long learners are intentional about their own growth through mentoring, reading, training, and by putting themselves into stretching experiences. These kinds of activities literally program the software of your radar. They enable you to sort through all the incoming signals of a demanding life to spot the ‘radar blips’ that you need to respond to.

    The question is not simple are you a life-long learner, but what are you doing as a learner to increase the capacity of your leadership radar?