Keeping Focus in Mentoring

by Janet Woodlock. 

It’’s possible to drift in mentoring relationships. They can become a pleasant catch up, but be relatively ineffective in helping another grow personally, spiritually, and vocationally. Indeed, they can become frustrating sessions, where old issues are re-hashed with little evidence of increasing maturity or responsibility in the mentee.

One of the most important steps in keeping mentoring relationships effective is contracting well. Expectations need to be crystal clear, with key goals / growth areas identified at the outset.

Some of the expectations that should be built in to a powerful mentoring agreement/contract include:

  • preparation for sessions. The mentoree should agree to bring an issue to every session.
  • commitment to action steps. The mentoree is clear s/he desires to grow, and commits to implementing any actions arising from each session.
  • regular meetings. If meetings are only very occasional or are made on an ad-hoc basis, the mentoree may feel little pressure to implement action steps.
  • an agreed review date. Review how the mentoring is working for both parties after a certain number of sessions. (Then ask: “What can I learn as a mentor to support you better? Is my mentoring helpful to you? Should we continue?”)
  • an end date. Mentoring that continues forever is prone to becoming a friendly conversation. It is better to contract for a certain number of sessions, then review whether the mentoree wants to re-contract around a new set of agreed goals.

Having a potential mentoree fill out a survey prior to a first session can be helpful in forming specific growth goals. Or your first session can be focused on series goals.* Ask your mentoree to identify ambitious goals they would like to work on over a longer period of time. (Fitness, family relationships, spiritual life, education, career goals, new initiatives in ministry – it could be anything!) Then clarify the goals they would most like to focus on in mentoring.

If expectations are set out clearly, and if ambitious goals are established for the mentoring relationship, you have set the relationship up well to ensure the mentoree keeps focused.

It’s hard work being this intentional. Sometimes it’s appropriate to have a less formal mentoring relationship. But contracting like this, and referring to the agreement throughout the relationship, does the heavy lifting in keeping the focus on personal growth.

Christian mentoring is less about helping people feel better (though that may often occur) and more about helping people become all that God is calling them to be, and step into all that God is calling them to do. In short, it can be a very effective tool of discipleship.

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be a mentor desires a noble task.” That’s my very rough translation of I Timothy 3:1. I think it’s true though! What a privilege it is to partner with others in this way!

So how might you become more focused in your mentoring?

And can you share something that has helped you keep focus in mentoring?

And a provocative thought: the most focused mentoring relationship I’ve ever had involved major financial penalties if action steps weren’t completed! (Mates rates vs executive coaching rates). What do you think of THAT approach?

I’d love to hear from you!

Janet Woodlock

*big goals that require a series of steps to achieve.

The ACMN does not promote a single model of mentoring. Some styles include:
Life Coaching: Partnering with a coachee who sets personal goals, helping them develop action plans to achieve them. (Janet’s typical style; hence the focus on goals in this article)

Spiritual Direction: Partnering with a pilgrim in discerning where God is at work in the inner life.

Counselling: A strong focus on emotional / psychological wellbeing. Some ministry supervisors are trained psychologists/counsellors.

Skill Mentoring/Coaching: An expert providing feedback on a skill area (e.g. helping a minister improve their preaching)

The first three styles in particular involve the mentor asking questions and listening deeply. Some mentors develop a blended style depending on their background, or wear different “hats” depending on the presenting issue.