One of my most cherished friendships is with a man nearly twice my age and whose background is completely different from mine. We met one evening when I attended bible study at a church in Southwest Atlanta, which I’m now a member of. He was leading the group through a study of one of the Psalms, and I quickly noticed his enthusiasm for the scriptures. He pointed out interesting details and drew deep connections between books of the bible, and I got the sense that this man had a great feel for drawing wisdom and insight from the difficult passages of scripture.When bible study was over, I introduced myself and asked if he would be willing to spend some time reading the bible together. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of a fruitful relationship in which I found myself receiving countless nuggets of wisdom and encouragement.
My new friend invited me to breakfast the following Saturday and he spent that time getting to know me, where I came from, and where I was hoping to go. He asked about my family and my work. He asked what my goal was in meeting with him. He asked how often I wanted to meet. He was very intentional about knowing my expectations and framing our interactions from there.
For the better part of three years, we met at his house almost every Saturday afternoon. I found this man to be faithful and consistent and I could see that he was interested in helping me grow and mature as a man. Because he allowed me to see his life, marriage, and ministry up close and personal, I was able to learn some important principles that help me to navigate my own life, marriage, and ministry in a better way to this day. When I approached him and asked him to spend time with me, I was looking for someone to help me understand the bible. Instead, what I got was a mentor.
Whether you are seeking spiritual, personal, or professional growth, one of the most valuable investments you can make in yourself is finding someone who is willing to walk alongside you as a mentor. A mentor is a person who seeks to uplift and provide guidance to others with no thought of what he might gain in return. He is genuinely content with walking alongside others and helping them to level up.
A mentor is a person who seeks to uplift and provide guidance to others with no thought of what he might gain in return.
None of us has to believe the lie that we must get through life all on our own, without any guidance. Mentors are people who are uniquely gifted with the ability to see your potential and help you to fulfill it. What’s more, they genuinely want to see you flourish. As such, the value of having a mentor cannot be overstated. Having such a person in your life can help you grow personally or professionally, and the wisdom they provide can help you avoid making costly mistakes.
However, not just anyone can step in and fulfill this role in your life. There are certain personal qualities that good mentors have, and hopefully, by the time you have finished reading this article you’ll know how to spot them.
As the saying goes, “the best ability is availability.” A mentor embodies this idea. He initiates meetings and times to hang out with you and keeps a certain amount of wiggle room in his busy schedule to build with you. This doesn’t mean that he drops what he’s doing every time you need him, but it does mean he’ll answer your phone calls or make sure to return your calls, texts, and emails in a timely fashion.
A mentor is not only available, he is also engaged in your life and will make you feel as though he is truly invested in seeing you succeed. As such, my mentor never passes up an opportunity to offer me a seat at his dinner table. And normally during our meals he asks about my work, my family, and my relationship. The fact that he remembers little details about past things I’ve shared makes me feel like he is engaged in my life, as if I am listened to and cared for. He and his wife also made time to share their wisdom and experience with my wife and I during our dating and engagement seasons, for no other reason than wanting the best for us, and they continue to root for us in marriage.
From his example, I learned that a mentor who is truly engaged is willing to listen to you and consider your thoughts and feelings. It doesn’t matter whether your thoughts and feelings are personal or professional, because a mentor is aware of how closely connected all the different aspects of life are. The things that happen at home can have an effect on your work life, and vice-versa, and a mentor is willing to process all of life’s situations with you. He will celebrate your victories as if they were his own, as well as grieve with you in difficult times.
Humility is another quality that is common to good mentors. Humble people prioritize the feelings, needs, and wellbeing of others because they are secure in the fact that their own needs can and will be met. As a result, they don’t take a transactional approach to their relationships, where they are keeping track of everything they have done for you. While they do not mind being on the receiving end of kind gestures and useful advice from others, they seek to minister to your needs before they consider their own.
My mentor certainly demonstrates this kind of humility. I can’t recall ever meeting with him and not hearing about how he visited, encouraged, or gave generously of his time and resources to others. He has shared stories about feeding the hungry, ministering to women at a shelter for victims of abuse, or mowing his neighbors’ lawns when they need it. He doesn’t wear his good deeds as a badge of honor. Rather, service is woven into the fabric of his daily life. Simply asking how he’s doing or what he has been up to naturally leads to these conversations about his service to others.
A mentor also strives to be patient with his mentee. He won’t be quick to give up on you when you suffer setbacks or make poor choices. He’ll walk with you through challenges and growing pains because he hasn’t forgotten the particular struggles he has dealt with on his own journey through life. He will also be gracious with you when you’re flaky and unreliable. For example, there have even been times where I didn’t communicate well with my mentor about my availability. Rather than being frustrated with me when I cancel a meeting on short notice, he shows me grace and tells me how much he looks forward to the next time we meet and his example has taught me to be more gracious to others.
You can also depend on a mentor to be open and honest with you. Above all, he knows that if he acknowledges his own flaws, failures, and shortcomings to you, it will foster the atmosphere of confidence and transparency that creates space for accountability and growth. As he draws back the curtains, allowing you to see his life and inviting you to be a part of it, a mentor creates the relational equity needed to give you honest feedback about your flaws and to provide loving correction to you when necessary. If he sees you operating at a level that isn’t your very best, he doesn’t accept excuses or lower the bar for you. Instead, he pushes you to improve. He will be on your team, yet stand on the side of what’s right and best for you without wavering.
Encouragement during difficult times is another thing you can expect out of a mentor. When you are struggling and lacking confidence, your mentor chooses to see the very best in you. During these moments, you will be met with support and helpful reminders of previous challenges that you overcame. He will help you to make a plan for success and set realistic goals and expectations. Through his experience and wisdom, he will advise you from an informed perspective when you are struggling to make decisions and plan your future.
Lastly, a good mentor is far more than just a mentor. He is a friend. He doesn’t see you as a “project” or someone who needs to be fixed. Mentorship, like friendship, is a two-way street, and he is aware of the fact that he benefits from the friendship just as much as you do. A mentor welcomes care, correction, and constructive criticism from his mentee, and he values the relationship and time spent with his mentee in the same way he does any other relationship.
If you have never had a mentor or you don’t currently have one, think about the areas of your life where you could benefit from the support and guidance of a person with experience. Maybe you are in a career transition and need some professional advice. Maybe you’re about to have a difficult conversation and need help processing things beforehand. Perhaps you want to live out your faith with more conviction, and you are looking for accountability. No matter your age or what stage of life you’re in, there is great value in having a mentor in your corner to challenge, counsel, and encourage you.