Leadership Essentials – Choosing Who to Mentor

Leadership Essentials – Choosing Who to Mentor

There is nothing sadder or more disturbing than to see a leader come to the end of his or her ministry and there is no one to take his or her place.  By my own definition, this would actually disqualify the person as a leader.  But, as we progress in our leadership positions and responsibilities, our time becomes more precious, and if we are not careful, we allow our organizational management responsibilities to cause us to neglect the higher calling of producing more leaders.  The ability to manage time in such a way that one can continue to produce more leaders is one of the signs of a great leader.


As we grow in our leadership, we have to make decisions about with whom we spend our time.  The more successful we become, the more people there are who will want as much of our time as we are willing or able to give.  If we are not vigilant we lose effectiveness by trying to work with and/or please everyone, instead of working with the right ones.  If we don’t have criterion by which we choose our mentorees we will waste a great deal of time working with the wrong people, or starting mentoring relationships only to have them fade away or end badly.  Following is the criterion I use when selecting mentorees or evaluating those who ask me to be their mentor.  I don’t ask that people be perfect in the following (I certainly am not), but I do want to see desire and movement towards these qualities.


Christ-like – Does the person exhibit demeanor and behavior patterns that demonstrate he is consciously striving to be more like Christ every day.   What does his prayer life, Bible study life, and ministry life look like?  Do his family, community, and coworkers hold him in high regard?  Is he known as spiritual person?


Christ- centered – Does the person focus on Christ or self?  Pride is putting self first.  Christ-centered persons put Christ first which causes them to put others first.


Character – Is the person a morally good and honest person?  Is his personality mostly pleasant to be around?  Is his disposition mostly on an even keel?  Does he demonstrate a desire to be obedient to the teachings of the Lord?  Is he known in the community as a good man?  Do his wife and children not only love him, but enjoy having him around?


Capability – Has the person demonstrated diversity in interests which will indicate ability to lead more than one kind of person?  Has he demonstrated a strong work ethic, a willingness to work hard to get the job done without sacrificing relationships with family and friends?  Is he a learner?  Has he demonstrated the ability to set and reach goals, not only by doing things himself, but by mobilizing, equipping, and influencing others to take on the goals as their own?


Competency – Has the person acquired the basic skills necessary to be a good leader?  Does he know how to equip others, mobilize for the tasks, and influence others without being the boss?  Does he have enough experience to be a mentor to others?  Is he moving towards a life of wisdom, the ability to put knowledge to work for the good of others and the community?


Capacity – Can the person work at the level at which I am working?  Does he have an aptitude for the job, and a giftedness for the ministry?  Is the person a doer as well as a knower?  Can he be a teacher/trainer/mentor to others who want to serve in the same area of responsibility?  Is the person still growing, and will the person continue to grow, or has he maxed out?


Chemistry – And most subjectively of all, do I click with this person?  Can we be friends who enjoy spending time together?  Can we hang out and enjoy each other’s company?  Do I like the person and does he like me?  I am going to be spending a lot of time with this person and I want it to be a joy, not a dread.


I don’t take mentoring relationships lightly.  No leader should.  Who we invest in will determine our legacy.  Start early in developing your mentoring skills, including the choice of who you will mentor.  You will make mistakes, but good leaders learn more from mistakes than successes.  Great leaders don’t make the same mistake twice.  Good leaders equip and train many people.  Great leaders equip and train the right people.  You will not choose the right people to mentor if you don’t have a criterion that you have thought through carefully.  Who you choose to mentor will determine if you are simply a good leader, or really a great leader.




David Watson

Irving, Texas

9 Replies to “Leadership Essentials – Choosing Who to Mentor”

  1. Thanks David, great post.
    I have a lot of questions, as I am right in the midst of this right now, meeting with a bunch of different people and wondering how to move forward. Just to get an idea of the scope of what you do in your mentoring relationships:
    • How many people do you mentor at any one time?
    • Do you meet individually or in groups?
    • Do you have a “trial period” when you are “testing” someone to see if they have the qualities you mention?
    • What sort of relationship do you continue with people who don’t meet the criterion? (who perhaps still need pastoral care etc.)
    Jef Linscott

  2. Hi, Jef. Great questions.

    • How many people do you mentor at any one time? Time and capacity determine this. I can mentor between 5 and 10 at any given time. Others have more time or capacity and can do more.

    • Do you meet individually or in groups? Individually. I have never pulled the people I mentor together for a common meeting. The nature of our work does have some of them in the same meetings, but we are not doing mentoring in these meetings. This may be more about my personality than about mentoring. Yet, I think we say a lot to a person when we focus on him or her. Everyone I mentor has expressed appreciation when I have gone to them for a few days of intense interaction without interruption.

    • Do you have a “trial period” when you are “testing” someone to see if they have the qualities you mention? Everyone I meet is being evaluated and considered for mentoring. The ones I ask to join me in a mentoring relationship have been under observation for some time. If a person I have not been observing comes to me and asks me to be their mentor, then I do go into a period of observation over about a year before I deepen the relationship. But remember, I am working a a very high level of leadership. This would not be the case 20 years ago when I was engaged in starting churches on the ground. Then, I worked with everyone until they disqualified themselves.

    • What sort of relationship do you continue with people who don’t meet the criterion? I limit the time interaction with people who don’t meet the criterion, but I do continue to watch them, and in some cases, give them things to think about and/or do. Mentoring for leadership is not a pastoral role in most cases, though there may be pastoral moments. I am looking for change in people. Are they growing? Are they having positive impact on others? Are they becoming healthier? This article is about those who are becoming leaders, which is a very small percentage of those I would relate to in a care-giving or ministry role.


    David Watson

  3. HI David, Has it ever occured to you that the people you most hang out with in a cross cultural mission field may just be good at balancing the cultural cue and not necessarily the right people to pass over the paton?
    2. All Cretans are liars… How do you advise a young missionary trying to mentor leaders in a cretan environment?

  4. Hi, Ronald. I never think of passing over the paton. I start with spiritual-minded locals and they either prove themselves within a short time or I move on. It’s about obedience to the Word, not cultural games of any kind.

    My advice to all young missionaries is learn language and culture, live obedient lives as beacons to other spiritual people, look for spiritual minded people who will work with you, plant the Gospel, and start new churches with these people in the lead from the beginning.


    David Watson

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