Why Leaders Need Mentors Too
I see you. You're there—you're always there—working hard and getting it done. First to arrive and last to leave, carrying the weight of the world, speaking wisdom that sustains the weary. I see you there, gathering the pieces of broken hearts and delicately, patiently piecing them back together. Sharing creative ideas with your team, leading with the kind of wisdom that will shape your department, and ultimately, people's lives. You lead the way.
Maybe you're the counselor who listens to countless stories every day.
The pastor who invests hours of preparation for the weekend ahead.
The teacher who guides and trains young minds in the classroom.
The entrepreneur with the exciting new startup.
The mom in the neighborhood whom everyone turns to for advice.
The community leader who serves, not because she believes in endless committee meetings, but because she believes in making a difference as soon as she walks out of her door.
I'm not sure where we'd be without you—without your insights, your gifts, your passion, and your leadership. Perhaps that's why this question won't leave me alone: Who mentors you? I wonder, when you're so busy investing your energy in everything and everyone else, if there's room enough for someone to invest in you. Do you have a mentor?
The value of a mentor
The word mentor emerged from Homer's epic poem The Odyssey. Mentor was a friend of Odysseus, King of Ithaca. When the king went to war, Mentor became a friend and advisor to the king's son Telemachus. Mentors today continue in that role. They're experienced practitioners, sharing their skills and insights with those who want to learn from them. They mentor through teaching and training, but also through modeling what they know and through sharing their experience in practical ways.
Mentors fill our bookstore shelves, magazine racks, and blogs. They present our TV shows, teaching us how to dress, cook, lose weight, start a new business, sell our home, or raise a family. These mentors instruct and guide; sometimes they're like a cheerleader, while at other times they are like tough love to the extreme. Their skills bring out the best in those they work with, equipping them to reach goals they couldn't have reached alone. When a leader like you has such great opportunity to influence others, aligning with a mentor is more than just a good idea—it's a crucial part of your leadership development.
Mentoring in the Bible
While we don't see the word mentor in the Bible, we certainly see mentoring relationships. When Jesus trained up the team that would ultimately birth the church, he mentored them New Testament-style: he discipled them. He invested three years in his band of disciples. He taught and trained them, listened to them and encouraged them. After three years of on-the-job training with the greatest leader ever, their leadership skills were transformed. Not only was the early church born, but these leaders continued to raise up other leaders and lead the church through explosive growth, changes, persecution, and uncertain times.
Throughout the Bible, we see leaders who wouldn't have reached the heights of their influence and leadership capacity without mentors speaking into their lives, modeling how to live, and equipping them to navigate the days ahead. Where would David have been without Samuel in those early years? Barak without Deborah? Esther without Mordecai, Timothy and Titus without Paul?
So what about you? Who is helping you realize your potential?
A mentor can remind you of your purpose
When Haman tricked Xerxes into issuing an edict that sanctioned killing God's people, understandably Esther was terrified. What could she possibly do? This was way beyond her power. She was just Xerxes's wife and he'd not seen her for weeks.
Mordecai provided Esther with something every leader needs from their mentor at some stage: perspective. "Don't think for a moment that because you're in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arrive from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?" (Esther 4:13–14).
Mordecai's perspective reminded Esther of her potential for godly influence, and his challenge equipped her to step up into her purpose. Leadership can be challenging at times, and sometimes we feel powerless to respond. In times of great pressure and struggle, a mentor's perspective has set me back on track. They have reminded me of the life I'm called to live, and that I am called to lead.
Do you have a seasoned leader who can give you perspective and remind you of your purpose?
A mentor provides a fresh pair of eyes
"You're going to wear yourself out—and the people, too. This job is too heavy a burden for you to handle all by yourself. Now listen to me, and let me give you a word of advice, and may God be with you" (Exodus 18:18–19). Jethro had watched Moses at work and saw that he was taking on way too much. Moses spent every day handling the disputes of all God's people . . . all day. So Jethro, like a good mentor, offered his son–in-law some leadership strategies that would empower other leaders in the community, serve the people more effectively, and give Moses some space.
Like Moses learned from Jethro's insight, just because we have a call to leadership doesn't mean we automatically know everything. Strong leaders are lifelong learners. There are those around us who have seasoned leadership skills that can only enhance what we do. Their strategies can make us more effective and their insights can grow our leadership capacity—if we let them.
Sometimes a mentor has provided a fresh pair of eyes to a situation by asking me a few questions:
- Do you really need to say yes to that invitation?
- How does this decision affect your family?
- What do you believe God is calling you to prioritize in this season?
Simple questions like these that have protected me from a direction that seemed difficult yet inevitable, until fresh eyes helped me see an alternative path.
Who provides a fresh pair of eyes for your situation, sharing leadership wisdom?
A mentor will take a risk on you
If I could ask anyone from the Bible to mentor me, I'd ask Barnabas, the "." He was willing to take a risk on leaders whom others had given up on. It was Barnabas who sought out Paul and persuaded the early church leaders to accept him (). Then Barnabas took Paul under his wing until Paul became a more prominent leader within the church (; ).
It was also Barnabas who stood up for John Mark when Paul didn't want to take Mark on further trips after he deserted the team in Pamphylia (). Paul and Barnabas parted company over it and Barnabas carried on with John Mark at his side. In the end, Barnabas was right about Mark as we see in Paul's letter to Timothy: "Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry" (2 Timothy 4:11). Perhaps Paul had Barnabas to thank for Mark's maturing in leadership (as well as his own).
I'm forever grateful for the mentors who have taken a risk on me. Mentors have stood up for me and have stood with we when others walked away. They've made room for me to grow by sharing or creating opportunities. One mentor gave up his own platform at a national event so I could stand on it. Another invited me to co-lead a mission trip even though I was the youngest and least experienced person on the team.
Who has supported you as a leader even in the face of opposition? Who has taken a risk on you, opening doors of opportunity?
Lead . . . with a mentor
So yes, ladies, I see you. First to arrive and last to leave, you lead the way! I pray for one gift for your leadership journey: a mentor. A mentor who will help you discover and realize your potential. Someone who offers perspective, reminding you of your purpose here on earth, no matter what the cost. A mentor with a fresh pair of eyes and insights that make you a better leader. A person who is willing to take a risk on you, opening up new frontiers of opportunity and wider influence. And my prayer, too, is that one day you'll mentor other leaders.
Originally from England, Jo Saxton is an editorial advisor for Today's Christian Woman and is a pastor based in Minneapolis. Jo is a director for 3DM, a movement with a vision to change the world by putting discipleship and mission back into the hands of ordinary people. She is the author of three books, including More than Enchanting, which explore the subject of women in leadership. Jo is married to Chris and they have two fabulous daughters.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
Why Leaders Need Mentors Too
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