Debunking Myths About Mentoring

Being mentored is a critical experience for aspiring leaders. Mentoring is not the same as discipling, pastoring, coaching, or counseling, although elements of each might be part of a mentoring relationship. According to Robert Clinton, a professor of leadership, mentoring is a relational experience in which one person empowers another by sharing God-given resources. The focus in these relationships is on increased capacity generated by the resources and the relationship shared.

Does mentoring sound like a complicated project to add to your already full schedule? If so, maybe that’s because you have bought into some unexamined myths.

Myth #1: Mentoring is a long commitment and will take a lot of time for my mentor and me over an extended season.

False. Good mentoring relationships start out with a commitment to connect regularly over a limited period of time. Meeting once a month for six months to learn a skill or grow in perspective can have a high impact.The best setup for a mentoring relationship is to identify a few clear goals for what you want to learn and make an agreement to meet regularly with a clearly stated end point. Mentors and mentees may decide to set up a new plan after the initial cycle.

Myth #2: I have to find a person as a mentor who is a perfect match with the potential to help me with every part of my life.

False. A mentor is someone who knows more than you do in a particular area and who is willing to invest a little bit of time to help you learn. Your mentor does not need to have the same personality or temperament, does not have to share all of your beliefs, and does not need to be an expert. Wise leaders often have more than one mentor at a time and have many over a lifetime. They don’t waste time looking for “perfect fits.”

Myth #3: My mentor needs to be older and wiser than me in most aspects of life.

False! A mentor could be a peer or even someone younger than you. Millennials are rocking the work world because they understand that they bring unique gifts to the table and they want to contribute early and often. Many are looking for mutual short-term mentoring relationships with elders and peers.  What do you have that you could exchange with a millennial mentor? Often there are ways to make mentoring relationships valuable for mentors and mentees. Peer mentoring (a short term mentoring relationship with a peer) is an increasingly popular practice.

One of my first mentoring relationships took place in a car on the way to and from meetings of a leadership team. I was a young leader on the team and often did not know how to react to the dynamics of the group. I observed a woman who was older than me who handled herself with remarkable calm and centeredness. When I started thinking about how I could participate more effectively, I decided to ask her to mentor me. We lived near each other, and I knew she was busy, so I asked her if I could ride with her and debrief from the meetings and learn from her on the way home. Over the next year of car rides, I learned a lot and most of it took very little extra time. 

I have been mentored by moms, grandmothers, and people 20 years my junior. I have fruitfully mentored someone once a week, once a month, and once a semester. I have mentored others on leadership presence, running meetings, dealing with team dynamics, public speaking, career discernment, and more. Mentoring others has been one of the great delights of my life as a leader.

Dive in! There is a lot to learn and so much to gain!

About the Author
Director of Leadership and Talent

Nancy Pedulla serves as Director of Leadership and Talent for the Learning and Talent Team. She has been a part of the InterVarsity National Women's Council since it began. She and her husband, Albert, live in Jersey City, New Jersey. They have three children, daughters, Adele and Claire, and son, Alden. Nancy has been with InterVarsity since 1991.