If you’ve been hanging around Radical Mentoring for long, you’ve probably heard us say the best mentors aren’t teachers, they’re facilitators. A great mentor is one who can listen, ask good questions, bring others into the conversation, and tell a relevant story to make a point.
But what kind of stories are the most effective when mentoring? While not always fun to rehash, the answer is your failure stories. Over the years, we’ve noticed how much more intensely young people listen to the stories of our failures than those of our successes.
So, why are mentees drawn to failure stories over victory laps?
- Authenticity – When we only talk about finding success, raising great kids, and all the things we’ve done right, we sound like everyone else. But when we tell them about making a naive decision, missing an important deadline, or negatively impacting a relationship, that sounds different. They want to hear more . . . what we did wrong, what we learned, what we would do differently next time. They can’t get that kind of information anywhere else. And because they see us as real and authentic, they’ll listen and learn other stuff from us too.
- Approachability – If you feel like you’re around perfection, you’re going to be quiet. Walk softly. Project yourself to be as close to perfect as you can. But when mentors demonstrate humility by sharing their failures, they’re more approachable. More accessible. And more helpful.
- Emotion – All decisions are made at an emotional level. Most meaningful learning happens when emotions are engaged. Hearing and feeling the pain, embarrassment, or remorse of a situation gone bad brings the mentee into the mentor’s circle. Hearing about a mentor’s passionate resolve to recover and learn from mistakes can galvanize a younger leader’s penchant to go for it, even if it fails.
- Value – Sometimes, it looks like good leaders find success effortlessly. It seems to come cheap. But the lessons learned from mistakes and failures are expensive. They leave a mark. Young people know the value of lessons learned from painful experiences. Wisdom comes from experience. Experience from mistakes. Mistakes are costly, which makes them valuable.
- Believability – We can spin the stories of our success to a level no one can believe. They don’t see how they could ever get to where we are or emulate what we’ve done. But when leaders share their failures, their successes become more believable. More doable for younger leaders. The cookies appear to be on the bottom shelf where they can be reached by mere mortals . . . like them.
- Challenging – When young people see a leader they look up to share failures and shortcomings, they may start to believe in themselves and see their own potential “If they can succeed after that, I know I can too.” They see the chance to stand on the shoulders of someone who’s gone where they want to go.
Mentors . . . open up! Be courageous! True strength is revealed through vulnerability, so tell your mentees where you’ve messed up, not to glorify past mistakes, but to give them a chance to learn from your mistakes. They’ll make others, but hopefully not the same ones.
Scripture: My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Mentor Tip: Don’t wait to tell your failure stories. Include them when you tell your faith story. Remember your telling your whole story . . . and if you don’t include the rough parts, your mentees won’t either and your mentoring season will suffer for it.
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