‘Mentorability’: What makes a ‘good’ mentoree?

By Tim with help from ACMN members on our April 2021 Member Networking Zoom

My training was largely around the concepts, skills, resources, and practices that would enable me to become an effective mentor.  I was also being mentored and there was comparatively little reflection on what might enable me to be a ‘good’ mentoree. 

This would all make good sense if 90% of the effectiveness of mentoring was wrapped up in the role of the mentor.  However, after mentoring now for over 20 years, I am very aware that this is not the case.  In the most productive relationships I have been involved in, both mentor and mentoree bring different but equally significant elements to the relationship.  Mentoring becomes a genuine partnership in which both mentor and mentoree have complementary roles to play. 

For the sake of this discussion let’s focus on those elements that create ‘mentorability’.

  1. A ‘good’ mentoree knows and understands enough of the nature of mentoring to have clear expectations of the kind of relationship they are entering. Someone who thinks they are getting a support person, an understanding friend, or a teacher of useful inside information, will not fully engage the process of mentoring.  They may even resist key elements of the relationship.  Some realistic understanding of mentoring is important to a healthy relationship.  A good mentoree will grow into this relationship, however a rocky start and even a derailment can be avoided if the mentoree has a fairly clear idea of the relationship to start with. 
  2. An effective mentoree is already on the journey of self-awareness and reflective life practice. Someone who is prepared to realistically face hard questions of why and how they do the things they do, and what stops them from moving forward, is ready for mentoring.  A ‘good’ mentoree has a sense of their strengths and their weaknesses, their capacities and their challenges.  If a mentoree has no idea of who they are, and where they are starting from, finding ways to move forward will be challenging.  Again, ‘good’ mentorees grow in this area through mentoring but they need to have started on this journey themselves.

  3. Alongside the capacity for self-awareness, mentorees need a mature sense of personal responsibility.  Mentorees who blame others, or who have little sense of the way their life impacts other people and relationships, find the challenge of being mentored confronting.  Mentoring assumes a willingness and a commitment to grow, change and develop. If there is no sense that one has a responsibility to develop before God, in relation to ones’ family and friends, to team members, and even toward oneself, there is unlikely to be significant outcomes in mentoring. 

  4. Mentoring requires a level of psychological and emotional stability which provides a platform for growth. Emotional and psychological stability create the foundation on which to build or the roots from which to grow upward and outward. Other interpersonal processes, such as counselling, pastoral care or discipleship may work more effectively with individuals in less stable circumstances. Mentoring assumes the capacity to trust, to risk, to innovate and to ‘rise to a challenge’. It also assumes a willingness to be held to account, to hear real feedback and to face and deal with the tension naturally created by change. Mentoring therefore presupposes the inherent stable basis on which transformational growth can take place.  Another way of saying this is that growing people ‘know who they are’ so they can ‘become who they are not yet’.   Connected to this is the idea that mentoring (at least in the sense used here [1]) is best adapted to adults who are somewhat settled in life.    

  5. Lastly, and importantly, a ‘good’ mentoree prioritises mentoring in terms of time, cost and commitment. In Stephen Covey terms, mentoring is a Quadrant 2 activity (Low Urgency,  High Importance).  A growing mentoree allocates the resources needed to engage mentoring and make the most of it.  This means scheduling and turning up for appointments, paying for them to value the time commitment involved, preparing for them and following up on tasks and objectives agreed to. 

Each of the above are addressed progressively in most mentoring relationships, and usually grow steadily through the relationship but if there needs to be enough in each of the five categories above to work with. 

I look for an early indication of each of these elements when I have an initial informal coffee with a prospective mentoree.   And I assume if they are a ‘good’ mentoree they are also running a bit of a mental checklist on me. 

– – – 

We opened the discussion at our last mentoring network meeting with some reflection on the aspects of mentorability and some great observations and interaction took place. 

Here are some of the other observations made by ACMN members and some of the questions raised about the five I suggested.

  1. How important is the need for some broad theological alignment to effective mentoring? The group suggested that while effective mentoring can take place with people from differing denominations and across differing views on a range of areas of ministry practice, this was important as there are thresholds of theology which do influence the basis and practice of Christian mentoring.  Knowing these would be important in moving into a mentoring relationship. 

  2. There was some reflection in the group on the quality of humility and its connection to teachability, openness and courage to be honest and vulnerable. These were all seen as important attributes of a ‘good’ mentoree.

  3. There was strong endorsement of the concept of willingness to prioritise time and commitment to mentoring.

  4. We spent some time discussing the issue of stability. Our mentorees are not always in this place.  If this is truly important, how does a mentor deal with a mentoree in crisis, burnout, deep conflict, anxiety or depression where there may not be significant psychological and emotional stability?  This was an excellent observation and a good question.  One of the mentors suggested the idea of emotional and psychological ‘capacity’ rather than ‘stability’ might be a useful adjustment.  I think this is quite helpful and as I have considered it, would definitely make this change.

    We discussed the capacity of a mentor, making referrals to a wide range of professionals, the levels of support we could offer, ensuring we are able to journey with a mentoree through this period, and reflected that keeping the relationship in a healthy space is important.  It does mean that the focus of the mentoring relationship will change when a crisis is occurring.  I.e. focusing on goals may not be wise or appropriate.  Shifting the focus onto wellbeing, pastoral care and self-care, along with appropriate supportive accountability may be much more helpful in this period.  Is this still mentoring or does a crisis shift the relationship?  Another good question to ponder.  
  1. How does a mentor assess mentorability? How long does it take to discern this?  Again we discussed this for a short time on the zoom meeting.  Most felt that discernment needed several sessions to become clear.  There was also the sense that mentorees do grow into ‘mentorability’ over time.  We acknowledged not all mentoring relationships ‘work’ and some people simply do not click.  Learning this sooner rather than later would be important.   

So thanks to all who contributed to this.  Out of the discussion I will both expand and modify my original list.  Stand by for version 2.  

Tim Dyer

[1] I acknowledge mentoring is often used to describe empowering relationships with at-risk teenagers.  I am using it more in the context of leadership and capacity development. 

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