“A student was given a mentoring opportunity, in the hope that when you had somebody to lean on you, you would begin to stand a little steadier yourself, and get manliness and thoughtfulness.” -Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown’s Schooldays
Becoming a man does not have a final step. It’s an on-going journey with milestones of character and achievements. Likewise, mentoring doesn’t have to wait until a certain level of manliness has been achieved. In fact, it is a vital step on the road to manliness. However, it seems appropriate to save this step for last as it often takes some confidence to step up to the task of teaching and leading others and to do so effectively requires continued growth in other areas.
What is a Mentor?
“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” – Proverbs 27:17
Often times when we think about mentors or teachers we think about people in official roles such as managers, bosses, or leaders in a church or community. We may also think about programs such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters which is a fine way to venture into mentoring in a more official way. However, the best mentors I’ve had have been men who performed the role very naturally. They were people I could turn to, knew when to offer advice, when to challenge or correct me, and generally demonstrated a desire to be a part of other peoples lives. In short, mentoring is sharing your life with someone else to bring your encouragement and experience to bear on their life for the better.
See Yourself as a Mentor
One of the keys to growth in manliness is how we think about ourselves. Our view of who we are and who we want to be are key to how we live our lives. If you are not a mentor currently ask yourself this question: “What good do I provide in a situation?” If your response is negative then you may need to work on your attitude and mindset first. Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is important to mentoring. Having a desire to inspire and help others, not for posterity but for their benefit, is a manly trait. Often times, an attitude of humility is the most attractive trait in a mentor and will draw people in much more quickly than a show of knowledge and braggadocio.
If you frequently find others asking you for advice or help then you are doing something right. Others have gravitated to something about your personality and see you as a person they can trust. Now all you need to do is take it to the next level. Below are some ways to be a better mentor.
Evaluate Your World
When you begin to see yourself as a mentor the world will start to look differently. People look to you for knowledge and trusted advice and you don’t want to steer them wrong. Since starting Wolf & Iron I have noticed that I am much more critical about the information I take in. I want to be certain of the views I may one day share. I have never been one to go with the flow and not question my world, but I put everything through the ringer more than ever. Taking a discerning, principled stance on issues will keep you steady while the social pressures or new information pops up to support an agenda you do not agree with and conflict with true manliness.
Set the Example
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it.” – 2 Timothy 3:14 (Paul to Timothy)
I learned some time ago that setting an example is about being genuine rather than perfect. Manliness is a tough uphill climb and it’s alright to stumble. However, hypocrisy is not a manly trait. Don’t ask others to live a life you are unwilling to do so yourself. As an example, suppose you talk a big game about hunting and how great it is for the spirit of a man but can’t bring yourself to shoot, much less gut and process the animal field to freezer. Instead you allow other people to do the hunting for you and pay to have the meat processed. That may indeed be a hang-up for you (some guys are just not there yet and may never be) but the key is to be open and honest about it. It would be much better to say, “I would love to hunt but just can’t bring myself to do it…” rather than putting on a façade. Also, it’s important to set an example of what it looks like to learn. Many people don’t know how to really think through problems. It’s good to allow them seeing you stepping through the process and asking questions.
Teachers are the Best Students
“To teach is to learn twice.” – Joseph Joubert
If you have ever had the opportunity to teach a subject, you undoubtedly know how much more intensely you studied it first. I remember being asked to lead a men’s discussion group several years ago; the first time I had done anything along those lines. I spent a lot more time preparing than I ever had for a previous meeting. Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing. Being accountable to others is a great motivator to take learning seriously.
Qualities of Excellent Mentors
They are fun
The best mentors are easy going, laugh a lot, and take problems and set backs in stride. They make learning and growing fun and feel like a natural part of life rather than a forced, necessary effort.
They are approachable
Mentoring is a two way street. Often times a person will have an air of superiority, sometimes just to appear that they are in charge and have everything under control. While they may have a platform for sharing knowledge, they won’t see growth from their mentorees (or bond with them) if people don’t feel like they can ask questions or challenge them. You want people to feel comfortable bringing up anything.
They communicate at all levels
Being able to speak to youth as well as adults, or juniors and seniors in a particular field is a critical skill of a mentor. A good teacher will have an almost immediate recognition of the level or stage of a person and can adjust their communication accordingly.
Knowing when to push, when to correct, and when to just encourage is tough. Some people need a very straightforward talking to while others need a boost of self-esteem. Some men have decided that they are either always a challenger or an encourager and the people in their circle know them for those traits. It’s great if you can do both, but it is more rare to effectively challenge.
Mentoring is a privilege, one that is earned through being a good student of life and humbly coming along side others to help them along. Think on those who have mentored you and duplicate what they seemed to do well and grow in the areas the lacked.