Getting the Most out of Mentors

By Scott Schimmel

I had an amazing mentor in college. His impact in my life then and now is transformational. I wouldn't be who I am or where I am if it wasn't for him. I believe in mentoring. Do you?

Since that mentor in college moved away, I've been looking to replace him. That was...awhile ago. It's a lot harder to find a good mentor than I thought. I've had plenty of people who I've gotten to know, to respect, to seek advice from, and to learn from. But, I've always been looking for a kind of relationship like I had with my mentor in college- someone who knew me, challenged me often, wasn't impressed by me yet accepted me and loved me, and someone who I could look up to and model my life after. 

Mentors can be life-changing. But most of the time, they aren't. Why is that? Mentoring gets weird for a handful of reasons:

  • Many mentors don't know how to ask great questions
  • Mentoring relationships need to be primarily 'owned' by the person being mentored: how often they interact, what kinds of topics are discussed
  • Trust is built over time, not until the mentor shares vulnerable stories about themselves
  • A lot of people think a good mentor hands out advice. But just giving advice isn't effective
  • People being mentored put too much burden on the mentor to magically lead the conversation to insights and breakthroughs, and don't take enough initiative to bring up problems and questions they're struggling with
  • Too often mentors lose interest and don't take unsolicited initiative to show that they truly care
  • When people being mentored don't take the advice of the mentor and apply it to their lives, it can feel like personal rejection and create unresolved tension in the relationship

In the YouSchool world, we ask every participant in our program to select a team of mentors, or Life Advisors in our language, to walk through the process with them. We do our best to help the student take ownership of the relationship in terms of the frequency of interaction as well as the content of their discussions. We believe every single person could greatly benefit by the presence of not just one but many mentors, but, most people don't know how to be mentored and most people don't know how to mentor. We can help fix that. 

What do you think are the most important elements of a healthy, impactful mentoring relationship?