by Rev Dr Kate Coleman
Mentors can make a world of difference in our growth and development. But what is a mentor? And how do you find one? And what do they do? Propel Women sat down with leadership and mentoring expert Rev. Dr Kate Coleman, the founding director of Next Leadership and coach of hundreds of men and women in ministry and the workplace.
Propel Women: Many women aren’t sure exactly what mentoring is or how you find a mentor. How were you first mentored?
Kate Coleman: Many of my early mentors had no idea that they were influencing me: they were role model mentors. If their journeys were public knowledge, I asked “OK Lord, what can I learn from this?”
As an adult, my first mentoring relationship was when I was coming up in church leadership in London. Two church overseers approached me after I’d led a service and offered feedback: “We noticed that when you were speaking to people, you were very timid and quiet… but when you prayed, you prayed with such power and confidence. If you are going to fulfill God’s call on your life, you are going to have to learn to speak to people with the same confidence you speak to God.” This was the first of many life-shaping conversations we had over the years.
PW: How did you first become a mentor?
KC: My first mentoring relationships happened organically. As a young leader, people would come to me for advice and prayer. Our kitchen table conversations, my listening and prayers and specifically my careful questions were actually HELPING people grow in their faith and leadership.
I gradually realized this wasn’t something every leader did and that I needed to stop mentoring “by accident” and start mentoring on purpose and with purpose.
I’m not a guru, but I’ve always been passionate about seeing people reach for their potential to become everything God wants them to be. Eventually I began to name and structure those relationships more intentionally.
PW: Fill in the blank: ‘You might be ready to start mentoring if ____________.’
KC: You might be ready to start mentoring if you are committed to helping others to shine and become their best God-inspired selves and make their best God-inspired contributions. If you’ve woken up to the fact that you have something worthwhile to pass on to someone else (whether sharing your own insights, lessons from your own mistakes, or breakthroughs that others say helped them), that’s a great start.
Benjamin Disraeli once said, “The greatest good you can do for another is not just share your riches, but to reveal to him his own.” If the idea of helping others discover their treasure excites you, you are ready to mentor.
PW: What are the hallmarks of a healthy mentoring relationship?
KC: Mentoring is a relationship, with some particular distinctives:
• It’s purposeful: both the mentor and mentee have the goal of empowering a person to become their best self in a particular situation.
• The best relationships are open and trusting, boundaried, have good rapport, and they have commitment. You don’t have to be the best of friends in a mentoring relationship, but there must be respect and trust.
• Mentoring is collaborative: both mentor and mentee are working to help make something happen, even if their roles are slightly different. Both need to be willing listeners and learners to work together.
• A mentor brings the gift of perspective. You may not be older than the mentee, but usually a mentor has battle scars and hard-won wisdom which can help put challenges into a broader context. Sometimes our greatest growth happens outside our comfort zone, so we can encourage others when they hit times of challenge to keep going.
• The ability to lovingly confront when necessary. My task as a mentor is to hold my mentees accountable for what they have said God has told them to do. My responsibility is not to do it for them or coerce them. Good mentors are mirrors and help mentees see what’s really happening.
• They have boundaries. There are lots of kinds of mentoring relationships, but I find the most helpful are the more structured, because there are things you can say up front and be clear about that are harder to come back to later. Early clarifications might include whether there’s homework, who pays for coffee, frequency and length of meetings, and more. There’s wisdom to start your mentoring relationship with the where/how of finishing in mind: it can protect from co-dependency or a loss of momentum.
PW: You might be ready to be mentored if…
KC: … If you want to become everything God is asking you to be and you realize you can’t get there on your own. Mentoring is for those who become aware of their own limitations and are looking to learn from others to develop skill and insight. Humility and teachability are key traits.
PW: How does your faith shape the way you mentor and develop leaders?
KC: Faith is fundamental. I am a Christian engaged in mentoring, even if I am working with non-Christians in a mentoring environment. That means that what I’m trying to accomplish, and help them accomplish—and the way I go about that—is rooted in faith. I am trying to help people not just with measurable impact, but also encourage Godly habits, disposition and values—the values that make for great leadership.
Jesus is the greatest mentor of all! You’d think with the whole world to save, Jesus might have come out of the wilderness and tried to reach as many people as he could… but instead he invested time in a smaller group and developed their gifts and skills and nurtured them towards maturity so he could step back and they could get on with it!
Spiritual giants grow from spiritual babies. We don’t start out perfected. It takes somebody’s time and energy to get us where we need to be. Scripture has a rich treasure on the role we play in helping form others. I see mentoring relationships in Elijah/Elisha, Jethro/Moses, Moses/Joshua, Mordecai/Esther, Deborah/Barak, Mary/Elizabeth and more. We should mine scripture for mentoring wisdom!
Rev. Dr Kate Coleman is the founding director of Next Leadership, whose mission is to transform leadership by equipping leaders to serve well, in today and tomorrow’s world. Kate was the first black woman Baptist minister in the UK and has been recognized as one of the 20 most influential black Christian women leaders in the UK. She is the author of 7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership: Overcome Self-Defeating Behavior in Work and Ministry.