LeaderTip #11: How to Establish a Mentoring Relationship


I consistently talk to people about the importance of mentoring, how many people long to find a mentor, and how very few organizations really practice the art of “mentoring” or “coaching” well.

Outside of the four books I’ve written on the subject, I have never pulled back the curtain and personally described what I do in my mentoring community. I have mentored emerging leaders for over thirty years now.  Let me share with you what I’ve learned and what I’ve found works when I mentor a community of leaders. I will start with how I choose the people I want to mentor.

How I Choose People to Mentor:

The best way to summarize what I look for is with the acronym FAITH:

  1. I look for people who are Faithful. (Faithful to their previous commitments)
  2. I look for people who are Available. (They have the time to meet regularly)
  3. I look for people with Initiative. (They don’t sit around waiting for action)
  4. I look for people who are Teachable (They will learn willingly from me)
  5. I look for people who are Hungry (They are passionate to grow)

If I plan to mentor leaders, I look for GIFTS:

  1. They are Gifted. (They have obvious gifts of communication, planning, etc.)
  2. They have Influence (Even without a title, they influence others)
  3. They are Fruitful (They produce results whatever task they do)
  4. They are Trustworthy (They can be depended upon to keep commitments)
  5. They are Serving (They currently are active, serving in some capacity)

I’ve found if I can spot even three out of five of these characteristics, I’m likely to have a positive experience with a mentee.

The Commitment I Ask For:

Before I agree to mentor an inquirer, I tell them who fits in my “window” to invest lots of time with, at this point in my life. Obviously, I can’t mentor everyone. So, before I ask someone to “sign on the dotted line”, I clarify what I expect:

1. They make every meeting, read every book assigned each month and do every exercise (application) each month. Since 1979, I have regularly met with “mentees” for the purpose of growth. We meet monthly, for three hours, we read and discuss a book, and we commit to an application (an exercise) in response to our discussion.

2. They agree to take on an official leadership role or position by the end of our year together. (Most are already serving in this capacity, but I want to make sure they are committed to a place to embody the principles they will learn).

3. They commit to mentor at least one other leader when we are finished. This means they will reproduce the mentoring experience with a group or an individual of their own choosing within the year.

In today’s busy culture, I have found this level of commitment is rare, but doable for people who sincerely want to grow. You and I both know—folks make time for what they really want to do. If a person cannot make or keep this commitment, I still remain friends with them, but they are released from the group.

For a practical encyclopedia on the subject, check out the book, Life Giving Mentors on our website:

Questions for Reflection

1. How well do you and your organization practice mentoring?

2. Do you have a mentor?  How about some mentees?

3. What single step could improve your mentoring experience?


LeaderTip #11: How to Establish a Mentoring Relationship