Limits in Mentoring


Too often in our world-engaging cultures, limits are viewed as an unfavored topic. Limits are often considered as a negative instead of a necessary positive. Seriously, that is a false presumption.

For instance in the world of music of any type, limits, pauses, rests between notes, are crucial for the delivery of the powerful cords, runs, and emotion of the music that has been written. Itzhak Perlman, world famous classical violinist and conductor, is credited with this statement of value: “The drama of silence between notes is important.”

Limits in Mentoring

Wisdom comes from setting limits in mentoring. Though I’ve been mentoring now for several decades, sometimes I get confronted with life issues beyond my levels of experience. My limits need to be quickly owned, or damage may be done, yes, unintentionally, but still done to the valued person being mentored.

In part because of owning my limitations, I stress that I can be a person’s primary mentor, but rarely can I be someone’s only mentor. The significant statement from our friends in African cultures that it takes a village to raise a child, informs us all that the best of mentoring often needs to be a team effort.

Healthy Mentors Know Their Limits

No one person can do it all in encouraging another forward in their lives. We mentors must pay attention if, as a mentor, we feel uncomfortable with a life topic. We need awareness of where we have experience, and where we don’t. We cannot fake it. We must develop a solid list of others who can support us in mentoring those who are looking to us for forward guidance in whatever life issues they may be experiencing.

When presented with an issue or question or concern that is beyond me, I will often let the person I’m mentoring know that is not in my wheelhouse of mentoring experience…but…I will do my best to help them get connected to someone who knows where to head next. It is that kind of “mentoring partnership” that builds confidence in the mentoring process.

Limits in Whole-Person Mentoring

In our mentor training within Leadership Design Group, the best of our mentors will keep in mind that each person is made up of 8 life dimensions that are continually interacting with each other. Just as our physical body is made up of many interactive parts, so is the best of mentoring.

Therefore, Am I, As a Mentor, Aware Of My Own Strengths and Limitations?

My own self awareness can be one of the finest gifts I bring to the mentoring friendship. Of course, we do not do mentoring for our benefit, but for the life-enhancing benefit of the person who has sought us out. Mentoring moments need to be about the mentoree, but our own admissions to strengths and limitations will add congruence to the process of discovery.

If you, as a mentor, don’t know what to say or do…own that. But then do your best to help them get the information, the help or the necessary connections that will take them where they need to be.

What Are Some Practical Limits to Mentoring?

It’s hard to believe that time has moved this fast, but now with 50 years of mentoring experience, a hard, but good lesson learned is that the best of mentoring takes honest, thoughtful time. From trial and error, I have found that the best of mentoring is often done in 90 minute segments.

One hour is rarely enough time. The gift of that additional 30 minutes so often brings the mentoring moments to a more full expression of what needs to be talked over.

I also ask those I mentor to let me know, 24 hours in advance, what they want to share, talk over, experience. Sure, some times that changes due to life circumstances. But since asking those I mentor to do this, the mentoring experience is much more fulfilling and life-enhancing.

I ask those I mentor to let me know what are the 2-3 topics, based on their understanding of where they are at in living out their 8 Dimensions of the Circle of Life. This has helped maintain a consistency of conversation that takes us to where we need to go. This “limit” fuels the moments shared with purpose, focus, and ultimately growth for them and for our mentoring friendship.

Depending on our mutual schedules, and the needs at hand, I find that limiting our mentoring moments to every 2-3 weeks seems to work best. However, as those I mentor do the work of progressing with their lives, if they need a few minutes in-between, they are feel to let me know.

Continuity is Crucial To the Best of Mentoring.

Honest life-giving limits, purposefully planned and agreed upon, will always allow the best of mentoring to be expressed and experienced. No doubt, you have your own creative wisdom to share concerning limits. I would welcome hearing from you in the comments section below, so that we all may learn and grow together. The best of mentoring welcomes the limits that make a difference.

What are your honest limits that will help you to be a better mentor?

Where do honest limits need to be a part of your generous care?

What are the best limits you have to offer those you mentor?

How do honest limits help you to be the best mentor you were designed to be?

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Written by

Founder/CCO/Master Mentor Leadership Design Group. Wes is uniquely designed to encourage, grow, prod, and challenge others. He is wildly creative and able to imagine better futures for others and himself. Since 1967 his leadership mentoring has helped shape the future of individuals and organizations to grow their dreams into reality. Wes exercises his unique personality to serve others as Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Leadership Design Group, Leadership Design Associates and Three3rds Media. Wes has been mentoring individuals and teams since 1967 from a variety of backgrounds and on every major continent. The unique mentoring model that has deepened, enriched, challenged and changed many lives—in every third of life, is a cornerstone for all that takes place within Leadership Design Group, Leadership Design Associates and Three3rds Media.

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