Common Mentoring Myths

Photo credit: unsplash.com_ALitvin No one has all the answers. I'm wary of anyone who thinks they do or thinks someone else does. Sometimes we just get things wrong, I know I do.

If you don't think you do, you're setting yourself up for a fall and will probably take others with you.

The topic of mentoring has become more popular over the past few years, but it's not always what some people make it out to be.

Authoritarian or authoritative?

A while back I came across an article posted on Facebook about authoritarianism. It was related to American politics but it got me thinking.

An authoritarian leader is quite different from an authoritative one. I've worked under both and sadly, at times I've acted more like the first than the second.

What's the difference? King Saul of Israel was an authoritarian leader, while King David was more of an authoritative leader. An authoritarian leader acts more like a bully, while an authoritative leader sets a confident example.[bctt tweet="An authoritarian leader is quite different from an authoritative one"]

King Herod was a bully and tyrant (Matt 2:13-18). Herod wielded his authority out of insecurity. He didn't trust anyone and tried to kill anyone deemed a threat, including Jesus.

Jesus led by example, yet His authority was well-recognized—

And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)

Mentors are not masters

One of the graduating classes from the Bible college in the Philippines gave me a poster filled with their thoughts and thanks. They called me their beloved "Tor-mentor" because their studies were difficult and I could be a tough teacher.

But mentoring is not about being a taskmaster, or any form of master. There may be a time and place to be authoritative, but this excludes using authority in an overbearing way.

Perhaps a more appropriate way to look at being a mentor is to see ourselves as journeymen (or is that journey-persons?). Mentors are people with experience and expertise who aren't stuck on themselves.[bctt tweet="Mentors are people with experience and expertise who aren't stuck on themselves"]

Mentors have something to offer because others have poured their experience and expertise into them. Here is a simple way to look at discipleship—we (mentors) pour into others what God poured into us.

3 common mentoring myths

Here are three mentoring myths that get in the way of mentoring well. They may not be spoken out loud, but are often latent attitudes among those of us who would be mentors.

  • I have the answers to your questions you may have answers to their questions, but they don't need to be given at the expense of the relationship
  • You need to know what I know— this may not be true at all, especially if connected to an air of superiority or arrogance
  • I'm a fount of great wisdom— wisdom can be gained from many sources, you nor I have a corner on wisdom

Perhaps there's some truth in these opinions, but they do more to offend than help. A common reason for generation gaps is an unwillingness to listen. If we, the mentors, aren't willing to listen, then why should anyone listen to us? Jesus understood this (Luke 2:46).[bctt tweet="If mentors aren't willing to listen, then why should anyone listen to them?"]

Here's a reframing of those three common attitudes—

  • You don't have all the answers— You may have answers to many questions, but sometimes you need to admit that you don't know something. This may open the door for a mutual pursuit of an answer.
  • You're not always right— I learned this with my wife and children first, but also with staff and students—I need to admit it when I am. This may be humbling, but it brings opportunities for a more open and healthy mentoring relationship.
  • Your advice isn't always needed— This may be hard to swallow at times, but it's true. If you're not asked, don't feel obliged to dispense whatever wisdom you think you have. This is especially true if you're a Boomer like me.

Good mentors are not experts looking for opportunities to dispense their wisdom, but people of experience and expertise with humble attitudes.

A different perspective

One thing that helps me is to level the relationship between me and whoever asked me to mentor them. I make a point to not insist on a role of superiority, and don't want to be addressed by any title, such as pastor. I may have experience and expertise someone else doesn't have, but it doesn't make me better than others.

When I make mentoring a mutual relationship at least two things happen. First, I make it clear that whoever I'm discipling know they have value and importance to me. This encourages a much more engaged and committed relationship.

The other benefit is being open to learn from those I mentor. Often I'm able to see things differently because the relationship is more open. This helps me mentor more effectively.

Are there any mentoring myths you've seen or run into?