It was a somewhat chilly January day. My husband, away on business, was enjoying the sun of Sydney, Australia, while I was battling to get my two young daughters into appropriate church attire. We’d been invited to church before we’d even moved across the country, two months earlier, but we hadn’t yet managed to get out the door on a Sunday amidst the boxes, holidays and overwhelming laziness. Today, however, I felt triumphant as I slid behind the wheel of my car fifteen minutes before the 10am service started and typed the address into my GPS. Wait. This church is 20 minutes away? Crap. Two things are certain: a) we are not going to make it to church on time and b) this will be the last time we attend this way too far away church. After struggling to find a place to park, having to register my kids at some fancy check-in desk, peeling the girls off of me and leaving them unhappy in unfamiliar surroundings, I enter the sanctuary alone to find a giant, pitch-black room. I actually consider just leaving at this point – my heart pounding as I make my way through the crowd and practically fall into a seat. Soon, the pastor walks onto the stage and began speaking words directly into my heart. Using the analogy of the Dead Sea, he described how so many Christians become spiritually dead by taking and taking without ever pouring into the lives of others – help ME, feed ME, teach ME – but who are they feeding? Huh. (Watch sermon here)
I, of all people, should intentionally pour myself into the lives of others. After all, I had the extreme privilege of having a mentor who changed the entire course of my life. I was 23 years old and we’d recently moved to Indiana. I was working in the office of an apartment community when the assistant manager and manager positions above my role came open. And she took a chance on me. No one in their right mind would have taken a chance on someone so green – to put me in charge of a 20+ acre community with about 1,000 people calling it their home?! She was experienced enough to know how much work I would be and she signed up for it anyhow. Let’s just say that I didn’t leave her with a lack of coaching opportunities in those first months, but in time, I learned – A LOT.
At the time, I was a pre-Dental Hygiene major; my dad was a dentist and had recently been President of the Washington State Dental Association. Dental Hygiene would have been a safe path for me: my dad could introduce me to dozens of dentists once we moved to Washington State after graduation, the environment was familiar after practically growing up in a dental office and Hygienists were in high demand in Washington. The problem was that I was just not made to be a Hygienist, and she saw that right away. She would plant seeds of doubt by asking questions like,
“Do you think you’ll enjoy not making decisions that affect the bottom-line of a company when you’re a Dental Hygienist?”
When the time came for me to turn in my application for Hygiene school, I couldn’t make myself actually take that step. I can’t picture what my life would be like had I pursued the safe route all those years ago, but I’m certain it wouldn’t have filled me with purpose the way consistently using my God-given gifts has.
What I can picture clearly is the mentor who forever changed my life:
1. She truly cared about me as a person. When we worked together, I’m not sure there was anyone on this planet who knew me as well as she did – the good, the bad, the really ugly when things didn’t go my way. Yet, she still cared about me. Her concern for my best interest had me hanging on every word of coaching she provided. If your mentee doesn’t know you care about them both professionally and personally, that you have their best interest at heart, you cannot be effective in helping them reach their best. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Who knows you well enough to trust you to lead them?
2. She taught me her way, then let me learn my way. How hard it must have been to watch someone with so little experience try new things, especially when not all of them were successful. Incredibly valuable to me and my growth was how she would present the whys of how things were being done, then she would allow me to try to innovate on the process. My advice to those who are new in role, especially those who are early in their careers, is to first spend your energy absorbing how things are being done and how all those processes intersect – free of judgement. Then, once you have a good understanding of how all the pieces fit together, don’t be afraid to voice your ideas. While the fresh perspective you bring to your position can be valuable to your organization, you need to earn the respect of your management and your peers before they will trust your opinion. Trust that God, in His infinite wisdom, has placed that mentor in your life to teach you things you cannot learn on your own.
For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God. (Romans 13:1)
3. When she didn’t have anything nice to say, she still spoke the truth to me. Sometimes we allow our desire to not hurt someone’s feelings rob them of the ability to learn and grow. I think that the most effective mentor is one who won’t back away from the tough conversations, but will then let their mentee absorb the feedback and also have the space to implement the necessary changes. Try to bring your mentee not only areas for development, but also potential ways to implement the changes they need to make in order to take their career to the next level. It is painful to struggle to improve without knowing how, your suggestions for improvement could make the difference between your mentee thriving and giving up.
To learn, you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction. (Proverbs 12:1)
4. She cheered me on when I had a win. So many times we easily spot the flaws in those around us, but when was the last time we intentionally complemented someone? Help build your mentee’s confidence, and your skill set, by allowing your mentee to show you that they can shine. Winning is always a team sport – cheer each other on for the biggest wins of all. Don’t feel threatened by the success of your mentee, rather see their success as raising the bar your team or your organization. Keep your skills fresh by allowing your mentee to learn new skills and bring new ideas to the table.
I am certain I would not have been able to find the career satisfaction I’ve enjoyed over the years had it not been for this amazing mentor. Wherever you are in your career, find someone who is one or two steps ahead of you and find a way to contribute to their success so that they in turn will have the capacity to contribute to yours. Mentorship should always be a two way street, with both parties giving and in turn, you should find someone who you can pour your life into.
Thank you, Jayne. Without your coaching and encouragement, I would not be where I am today.
As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. (Proverbs 27:17)