Archive for the ‘Mentoring – A to Z’ Category

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, we had stone boundaries around our property lines. Now we didn’t put up any of those boundaries, they were there from years gone by. The fields in PA are full of stones and rocks. Every time a farmer plowed his field, a new harvest of stones popped up. They would be picked up and stacked along the property lines forming the boundary walls. You knew when you came to a stone wall, you were at the boundary of that property.

Mentoring relationships need to establish healthy boundaries just like any other relationship. To remain healthy, good communication of expectations should take place when establishing an official mentoring relationship (some mentoring is very casual and there is no structure). When everyone involved understands what the other is expecting and it is agreeable to the terms, you have established the boundaries of the relationship.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind in establishing your boundaries:

  • Establish a reasonable schedule of time either of you are available. If you have a mentor in your workplace, don’t take up so much of their time that they cannot finish their tasks or responsibilities. Likewise, don’t overburden your mentee so that he/she cannot accomplish their tasks. More often than not, this relationship will not be 24/7. Respect the other person’s time.
  • Define the areas of your life you will allow your mentor to give you guidance. Some people are looking for a holistic approach while others are looking only for only professional mentoring. Know what areas of life are open for direction or direction is to be given.
  • Remember that the mentoring relationship is between you and your mentor and does not extend to the rest of your family nor does it extend into their family. Keep the relationship between the two parties only.

For the more casual mentoring relationships where there isn’t set times, agendas, or program for development, the need for boundaries is just as important. In these types of relationships, the boundaries may not be spoken or shared. They are more likely boundaries you set for yourself and guarded. You are responsible for being the gatekeeper in those situations.

Remember that uninvited guests who cross boundary lines are considered trespassers. And you have seen the signs concerning trespassers, right?


I didn’t want to take the easy way out when it comes to a letter like x. So in my search through the few pages of words that begin with x, I found this one that really brings to light the power of mentoring: xylograph.

First, let me answer the question, what is a xylograph?  A xylograph is an engraving made in a piece of wood for either an artistic expression or to be used for block printing. The picture above is an example of a piece of wood that was engraved to be a block for printing the pattern created. Once the engraving has been completed, the image can be copied over and over again.

What I find interesting with xylography is that once the engraver begins working on a piece of wood, there is no erasing or starting over with that piece. The wood is permanently changed at the hands of the craftsman. Slight mistakes might be altered but there is no going back to the start without beginning on a new piece of wood. The xylograph will reflect the perfection and imperfections of the master craftsman.

As a mentor, you must recognize the influence you have on the life of your mentee. The words you say, the actions you take, and the attitudes you display are all having an effect. You are in many ways engraving something permanent on the life of your mentee. This is not to say you have to be a perfect craftsman as a mentor, just realize the impact you have on their life. Be responsible for what you pass on to them.

I had a college professor who was one of my mentors for a number of years who taught an alternative approach to sharing the message of Christianity. He had left behind the traditional church model to implement a model that was more consistent with his views of how the early church operated. To this day, I have implemented concepts he taught me and that class. I, too, have stepped away from the traditional church model for similar reasons he did. He made a lasting impact on my life.

It is important for the mentee to know that when you choose to be mentored, you are offering yourself up as a piece of wood to be carved by the master craftsman. Be sure the person who is doing the engraving will create a beautiful piece that will bring honor and success to you. Remember, you have the choice in who leaves their mark on your life. If you don’t like the engraving that is being done, find another craftsman.

One last thought. Just as a xylograph can be created to make prints, so will your engravings in the life of your mentee continue to be passed on to others. Although they will only be copies of the original, they will continue to make an imprint in the lives of others for years to come. Engrave something of such value that it will be appreciated by future generations.

In the spring of 2010, I was presented with the idea of being a Big Brother volunteer for the Big Brothers Big Sisters organization. Before proceeding through the application process, I wanted to know the expectations. How much of a time commitment was required? What would I be expected to do with my Little? How much money does a volunteer usually shell out for activities? The organization provided me with all the answers to my questions. They understood the need to know what was expected of their volunteers.

Whether you are looking for a mentor or looking for a mentee, it is good to have a well-defined list of expectations. This will help you know what you want to accomplish as well as who will most likely be able to meet those expectations. This also gives you a means to measure the results of your relationship.

Keep your list of expectations flexible. We all have had events occur in our lives that were difficult or very demanding of our time. Unless there is a financial contract for your mentoring relationship, remain flexible enough to work around those unexpected events.

Be reasonable in what you expect from each other as well. A person who becomes too demanding will become a burden and destroy the mentoring relationship. A good mentoring relationship is one where each person is considerate of the other’s time, effort, and energy.

Be sure to communicate your expectations clearly with each other. This cannot be overstated. More problems arise in relationships from a lack of communication than any other cause. When you are in an ongoing mentoring relationship, take time to review your expectations semi-annually or annually to keep it healthy.

Another thing to keep in mind, your mentor may not be your immediate supervisor or manager. Several years ago I had the expectation of the senior minister I was working with to have a mentoring role with me. He did not take up that role, and it frustrated me at first. It was then that I realized that just because someone is in a higher position than me, they may not be willing to mentor or feel obligated to do so. This freed me to find my mentor outside of my organization.

Finally, the one thing you can expect is that your mentor or mentee will fail you. No one is perfect. We may know this intuitively about all relationships; however, when we put someone up on a pedestal, we forget their fallibility. We act shocked and devastated when it happens. If we know that a person will fail us, be it in a tiny way or in some huge ordeal, we can take steps necessary to recover and move on. Don’t let the failures of one person derail your journey to success.


This post is part of the mini-book I am putting together. If you would like to receive a free copy of this book when it is completed, sign up here and we will update you when the final version is complete.

When I was in college, one of my part-time professors drove to Bel Air, MD, from Philadelphia to teach a class on discipleship (the Christian equivalent to mentoring). One of his hard-fast rules to choosing someone whom he would mentor was they had to be F.A.S.T. (Faithful, Available, Submissive, Teachable). If someone didn’t display those four characteristics, he felt it would have been a waste of time to begin a mentoring relationship. Of those four characteristics, I want to focus on availability for this post.

I recently met a young couple talking about their boys’ involvement in school sports. They mentioned how much time they spent throughout the year taking them to games and practices. When one season ended, another one started. It was a never-ending cycle of activity. If they were to add to the mix, time spent on their jobs, their relationship, and any other community involvement, where would they find the time to mentor or be mentored?

First of all, don’t assume that because they may have a busy life that they would not be available. Many people who have full schedules would carve out time to mentor an eager protégé or to be mentored. They understand the importance of a mentoring relationship and will make themselves available. They know developing a mentoring relationship will accelerate their success and are willing to find the extra time for it.

Prior to asking someone to be a mentor to you, be sure you are available. You must have more flexibility than the mentor since you stand to gain the most out of the relationship. You should be able to carve out the appropriate amount of time to make it worthwhile for your mentor to spend time and energy on you.

When considering your availability as a mentee, also keep in mind you should allow for some time to give back to your mentor. After all, they are giving you their time, their insights, their wisdom, and part of themselves. In return, you should be willing to give of yourself to help them in some significant way. In my book, Mentoring, Masterminding, and Coaching: The ABCs of Strategic Relationships for Accelerated Success, I go into further detail on how to give back to your mentor.

Mentoring relationships vary in the amount of time involved. There may be relationships that require a significant amount of time to achieve the desired results. For example, let’s assume you are just starting out to become a financial advisor. You will more than likely spend more time with a mentor in the beginning learning the basics, how to handle field work, knowing what forms you need, etc.. The more seasoned advisor may look for a mentoring relationship that is tailored to strengthen a part of their business and it may be a session once every 3 to 6 months. The key is knowing what you want before asking someone to be your mentor.

Availability is a key component to a healthy, viable mentoring relationship. Whether you are looking for a mentor or a mentee, you need to create the time in your schedule based on the needs or results you want to achieve from the relationship. There are many people willing to make themselves available to you. You just have to ask to find the ones who are.