Find Great Mentors

Everything I’ve learned I have learned from someone else. —John Wooden

And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. —2 Timothy 2:2

Why You Should Find a Mentor

Most men don’t know how to find a great mentor for a good reason: They haven’t been mentored. Given the time you’ve grown up in, mentorship works much differently than it used to. Families in the past used to spend much more time together, mentoring and disciplining each other—relationally, occupationally, and religiously. However, in your time, divorce, single-family homes, recreation, sports, and media consume us. The church, formerly the center of a community, is now an afterthought for Christians. Because of all these changes, I am concerned about you. These cultural hurdles have impacted how mentorship forms and the simpler structures of the past. Given this, a “traditional” understanding of mentorship, a protege walking with a mentor for a prolonged period, appears to be threatened by the speed and dysfunction of life. However, you cannot punt on mentorship. We as men need to figure it out because John Wooden is right: “Everything we’ve learned we’ve learned from someone else.” This is a polite way to say we need men and mentors in our life.

Son, the simple fact is that we are always being mentored whether we intend it or not. We are being mentored by those who have access to our time and thinking. Consider who these people are in your life. They are coaches, teachers, employers, friends, and the people you listen to and watch on your device. Daily, these people are speaking into your life, and they are mentoring you. Some of their messages are valid, and some are misleading. But instead of subjecting ourselves to accidental mentorship and cultural voices with misleading worldviews, why not find the best mentors? Sound men and truthful mentors with a clear message. Men with wisdom and advice that works.

It took me a long time to learn to be mentored and then mentor others because I grew up in a fatherless home. Today I understand that I wanted mentorship more than anything. I wanted a guide, a coach, a mentor, or a confidant. I wanted a man who could point the way and help me to avoid the pitfalls of life, a mentor who would help me find my advantage. I wanted someone who understood me and could dig out my uniqueness. I wanted someone to help me leverage my skills for the most significant impact. I came to discover that God’s Word was the ultimate guide, but when combined with a teacher, the truth found in God’s Word had a spectacular life. I learned that a godly man was a means of cheating the system since I could glean truth and avoid pitfalls by learning from someone’s successes and failures. This has become my dirty little secret. I have learned how to get free wisdom from lawyers, leaders, entrepreneurs, trainers, inventors, philanthropists, authors, writers, builders, and many more. I have also discovered that by inviting them to share their wisdom, they are endeared to me—which itself is interesting. And it only costs me a drink or a meal, and most of the time, they pay. Through all this, I have discovered seven characteristics that make for the very best mentors. Whether these mentors are occasional or last a lifetime, the following are the characteristics I seek in a mentor. Rarely do mentors possess all seven. But if they do—they become the friends and mentors I lean on for a lifetime.

The 7 Characteristics of a Great Mentor

(Below is a quick reference checklist for you to download.)

One | Chemistry

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.—Proverbs 18:24

You need chemistry with someone you will call a mentor. They shouldn’t be a man filled only with knowledge or some area of expertise, but one with whom you have relational compatibility. Finding this connection is essential, and I have learned it’s critical in a mentoring relationship. At first glance, you may think you could learn a ton from a potential mentor; however, once you meet with them, you might discover chemistry is missing. I would not make a long-term commitment to a mentor for this reason. This may be more intuitive in some of your first mentoring relationships; therefore, I would not jump into any mentoring relationship just because some man appears relationally savvy, has a vast resume, or is an expert in some field in which you have an interest. Look for that mutual chemistry that results in a “friend who sticks closer than a brother.” You might find that a lunch or two will help you discern if the relationship has longer-term potential.

The question you need to ask is:

“Do you have chemistry with them and they with you?”

Two | Expertise

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.—1 Corinthians 11:1

Next, I would then seek out a mentor for their expertise. We lean on mentors because of their knowledge; this is no big surprise. We want to learn from them because of their competency. To find the best mentor with the expertise you need, you need to assess your current needs. There are many areas of need for knowledge: dating, friendships, education, sports, leadership, skills, career, character, and faith. As you get older, you will discover even more like marriage, family, occupation, and legacy. Regardless, you must recognize where you currently lack the knowledge and need expertise and then seek out people who have the experience you need. People are willing to share and are even endeared to you when you ask. I would strongly recommend these domain experts, but also identify mentors who imitate Christ in their area of expertise. There are plenty of people out there willing to give you advice, but a person who lives in submission to Christ usually knows how to leverage their expertise in ways that bring glory to God.

The question you need to ask is:

"Do they have an area of expertise that you want and need?"

Three | Trust

Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.—Proverbs 11:13

We are not always readily trusting of mentors. Becoming honest, open, and transparent with anyone is challenging primarily because of fear. Fear keeps us from trusting a mentor—fear of being thought of as stupid increases this lack of trust. And the fear of how a mentor might handle information keeps us from discovering the positive potential of trust and growth. When we experience a break in confidentiality, it is hard to trust the next person.

You need mentors who can be trusted and give you opportunities to trust. These are people who don’t mind you asking what you consider to be dumb questions—even though they are not. You need mentors who can take you from your present state to your next best. The only way this is possible is if you can find a trusting person who knows you as you are and where you would like to be. Concealing your desired future state, for reason of fear, will only prolong your journey to becoming the man God wants you to be. This means you need them to keep your confusion, challenges, and personal issues private. The easiest way to build trust is to verbally agree to confidentiality and clarify it as you feel it is needed. Make sure that your mentor knows where you feel insecure and then clarify what is important to keep between the two of you.

The question you need to ask is:

“Do you trust them to keep private matters confidential?”

Four | Refining

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.—Jeremiah 29:11

There is nothing like finding a mentor who cares about your best interests. Over time, you’ll discover a boss, a coach, or a friend who will have agendas that benefit them in their mentorship of you. You need to remember that there are people out there who will give you self-interested advice, using you and your decisions for personal advantage. But “selfless” mentors do exist. More often than not, they are God-fearing people who selflessly set their agendas aside for you.

You need to find a mentor who wants God’s best for you. This means locating a mentor who, over time, gets to know your skills, knowledge, and ability and understands where you want to be as a man and a leader. This mentor should have a growing awareness of where your character needs refining and should be able to identify and help you leverage new areas of potential as an individual. Look for a mentor who can refine you.

The question you need to ask is:

“Do they want what is best for you and your future?”

Five | Challenging

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.—Galatians 6:1

You need a mentor who can lean into you. I know many avoid discipline and coaching by finding a mentor who only tells them what they want to hear. People who always agree with you are not helpful mentors; however, they may be nice friends. A mentor knows how to cheer you on and appropriately and regularly challenge you. They understand your temperament and find a way to encourage you to become better. Don’t back away from a man that may challenge you. I have found there are some abrasive mentors out there—men who say it as they see it. At first, I avoided these men, but I have found over time that a man who calls it as he sees it is often a man who is not afraid to speak the truth. Too often in a spirit of being nice, mentors fail to speak the truth because, at times, the truth hurts. The perfect mentor is the one who knows how to talk about the truth and do it lovingly. They restore us in what Paul the apostle calls “a spirit of gentleness.”

The question you need to ask is:

“Do they know how to challenge you respectfully and consistently?”

Six | Godly

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.—Galatians 5:22–23

These last two characteristics are the gems of any mentoring relationship. You need to find a mentor who has a godly character. They have an internal compass that reflects the “fruit of the Spirit.” While we often want a mentor for their success, how they achieved that success matters. There is nothing like the combo of a mentor who has incredible expertise and does this in a godly manner. These are men you need to lean on because their mentorship is multidimensional—good for this life and the life to come.

The question you need to ask is:

“Do they reflect and demonstrate Godly character?”

Seven | Truthful

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.—Joshua 1:8

I saved this one for last because I believe it’s the most important. You need to find a mentor who believes in objective truth and wants to help guide you to it through God’s Word. Nothing but God’s Word works. It is accurate, and it works every time. I had a hard time believing this when I was younger, but I am hoping you will take me at my word when I say that God’s Word is the ultimate guide—not man. Mentors will fail you, but God’s Word will not. When a man refers to, reads, or quotes scripture for you, pay attention. This is a sign that they want not their best for you but God’s best for you. We don’t need another opinion in this life. We need more truth, and God’s Word is that truth.

I would highly recommend a mentor who regularly spends time in God’s Word. Men of this kind are rare, but they are out there. Even if they don’t have the most profound resume or the most significant business, they have a success of spiritual proportions. These are men with a more certain compass, and they have a value that will pay off in the life to come.

The question you need to ask is:

“Do they consistently engage in reading and using God’s truth?”

This year, find a mentor. You don’t have to formalize it. In a cunning way, give it a whirl. Buy a great man a drink or a meal. I’ll even pay for it. Give it a try now, and you will discover that it leads to a great advantage for you in the years to follow.

I love you, son.—Dad

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