Category Archives: Life Lessons

The Myth of Human Potential.

Showtime. Bad Boys. Come Fly with me.

If those phrases connect at all with you, we are perhaps kindred spirits, children of the days when the NBA was made of real men. (Except to my knowledge, there are no fake men, and it’s still a male dominated league. But I digress too quick.)

One of the great mysteries of that era was a giant named Darryl Dawkins. Mr Dawkins was one of the very first to jump from high school to the NBA, long before “One and Done.” Dawkins was known for 2 reasons. First, he broke a few backboards with powerful dunks, bringing in a new era of break away rims.

Secondly, the consensus feeling was that he never reached his potential. When you looked at him and saw this athleticism, his height, and his skills, those around Dawkins felt sure he was destined to dominate the league. He never did.  Almost every conversation around DD would inevitably lead back to this word: potential.

And Dawkins never got there. He had an above average NBA career, where he managed a championship in a minor role before exporting his talents to the European leagues. He is remembered for giving names to his dunks and breaking backboards.

Wait. I want you to pause here. A man with no more than a high school education leveraged a basketball skill to providing very well for himself and I’m sure a considerable number of other people. He managed to travel the world, and become NBA champion.  30 years later, he isn’t one of the myriad of forgotten players from the 80ies.

Darryl Dawkins was not potential, or even wasted potential. He was a man trying to make his way in the world. His choices made him the man he became.

As someone who has had others give me opportunities, I recognize the head start that comes with. Yet every slick salesman who wants you to sign up for their new thing sells us on potential income, not on actual income of the average person who participates. No one is sold on the average weight loss of a program, or the average money earned on Multi-Level marking scheme of the day.  We are sold on potential.

People have gifts and talents, not potential. Occasionally, those are undeveloped and undiscovered. But you my friend, are not potential. You are a person. I see in you gifts and talents.  But whether you develop what I see or not, I’ll still value you for who you are today.

4 Low Cost Gifts Any Father Would Love

Father’s Day. A day to celebrate dad’s. But unlike Mother’s Day, gifts are much more difficult. Favorite foods maybe, but flowers and a card don’t usually work. Dad toys tend to cost a whole lot of money. Go big or go home, right? Well, if a new jet-ski, boat, or truck isn’t in the budget, here are a few ideas that anyone can give their father.


My daughters current favorite TV binge is a show called “Leverage.” Last night’s  episode featured an old man who passed up on millions of dollars for a chance to get the one thing he wanted. Respect. In the old days, branding a man a coward was to destroy him. I don’t understand the psychology behind the need, And not that the honor and respect need isn’t common to us all, but seems to be particularly strong among men.
“What should be done for the man whom the King delights to honor?” Ahasuerus asks Haman in the book of Esther, chapter 6. The King understands that the highest compliment and the greatest gift to a man isn’t  money or power but honor. Yet culture and media seem to portray the dad as the buffoon, the emotionally unintelligent, mentally slightly inferior, well intentioned but deficient man. This is as far from honor as you can get.
Honor your father and mother is the first commandment with a promise. Jesus takes the Pharisees to task over their maneuvering out of honoring.
How do you honor?
Speak highly of. Recognize contributions and work. Affirm identity.
But we also honor our fathers by stewarding their reputation. We represent our family. We reflect on our fathers well when we do well in life, leading an upright, Godly life.  Our lives honor or dishonor the reputation of those who raised up. For better or worse, a man is judged by his off spring. Yeah, i get the crazy kid thing and all that, we are responsible for our own choices. But there is no greater way to honor your Father than live a life worthy of honor.


Man do I feel like a strew up. I mess up all the time. And having worked with young adults for a couple decade now, I know there are no deeper wounds that can happen to a child that can be inflicted by a father. A man’s anger can be fierce, his tongue sharp, his physical presence felt.
In every man there is an battle. But even the most arrogant among us approaches fatherhood with trepidation.
Grace is unmerited favor. It’s forgiveness and understanding and gentleness towards. Every father I know needs an extra measure. Our expectation is that Superman never messes up, but Superman occasionally doesn’t get there on time, drops the ball and can’t dodge the bullet. He isn’t from krypton and bullets don’t bounce off his chest. Our fathers carry their own scars but their humanity and frailty is scary to us. So i know what I do. I hide it.
Grace says “I accept that you aren’t perfect and I forgive you in spite of my unmet expectations. “

But even the most arrogant among us approaches fatherhood with trepidation.


What is the gift of seeing Your father? Fathers fill many roles. Provider. Protector, driver, coach, disciplinarian.
If you called your father by his first name, how well could you describe him? There is a temptation to see our dads as a role rather than a person. Giving someone the gift of seeing them is recognizing them as an individual, a person uniquely created in the image of God, with all the complexity and beauty that is built into that.


There is something powerful when you believe in your kids. Something incredible happens when we look our kids in the eyes and let them know we truly believe in them.
Fathers still have dreams. Affirmation and encouragement go a long way in a man’s world. “Out there” it is a “prove it, show me, I’ll believe it when I see it, you gotta believe in yourself (because nobody else will)” world. Many men have locked up dreams, but unlike the kid who dreams of being the fireman or starting a business, the Father’s in our lives often see their dreams at worst maligned, at best ignored by those around them.
The thing with all these gifts is their only cost is thoughtfulness and action. but they are worth more than gold.
I realize that not everyone had the same privilege I had, of growing up in a loving, nurturing environment where it’s easy to honor my father. If that’s you, remember this. Every person is created in the image of God. Without exception. There is something in them you can honor, there is certainly areas you can give grace, and there is alway room someone who sees you as you wish you were and believes with God all things are possible, even seeing dad change.
So to all the dads out there who are mess ups like me, who fail but get back up, who swallow hard and try to be a better man than before, who recognize your failures and brokenness but still keep trying, I honor you today.
And to all you out there, tell me how you are going to implement these ideas today? I’d love to hear practical applications. Please add your thoughts to the comments below.

How to know if you are adulting

I had never heard of “adulting” until recently. The phraseology is interesting, and I was to take it one more step.

As an immature teenager, I drove my sister crazy, annoying her about who was more mature. Proving, in hindsight, that I was less mature than my younger sibling. Maybe. That’s still up for debate.

Having spent the last 25 years “growing up,” becoming a father, and working with young adults, here is how I would answer my 16 year old self.

OK, so you think you are mature. I think if you can answer these questions with a yes, you are on your way to adulting in a healthy way.

  1. Do you Do without being asked?

My kids have chores. It’s a constant uphill battle to get dishes put away, the table cleared and the carpets vacuumed. They will do them. One now does without being asked. The other fights it Every. Single. Day.

I remember once trying to do an exercise with my staff around this idea. I asked them to look around the room and tell me what they sae. Confused, they mentioned the obvious: large furniture items, the lights, simple things. None of them mentioned the little pieces of paper I saw on the floor that needs to be picked up, the carpet that was askew, and a whole list of things I saw that needed to be done to make the room ready to receive guests. Admittedly, I had not prepared them for the task, so the results were not what they might have been.

Asking for help isn’t a sign of immaturity. Having to be told how to help constantly is. The mature see and do without being asked.

  1. Do you act in the face of injustice?

Dar Es Salaam Tanzania used to have this great little ice cream shop at a place called the Slipway. Lines were always long. One day, my wife was calmly standing in line behind a number of African ladies, when a woman from another ethnicity that sometimes looks down on locals, arrogantly cut in line. The African ladies were used to this, but my wife was having none of it. Posting on facebook, wearing a shirt, doing a run, those are great. But faced with injustice, my wife let this lady know in no uncertain terms that her arrogance and superior attitude was not acceptable.  When I heard of it, my conflict avoidance personality cringed. The more I think about it, the more proud I am of her. She didn’t post about it on facebook, she confronted the lady. sadly, the store owner didn’t stand with her. The other women in line though, I hope they maybe felt a little more dignity that day.

The mature don’t make excuses for injustice. They act. Racism doesn’t go away with good wishes. Mysogyny, bigotry, and the other ills of society must be engaged and confronted.

  1. Do you do for rewards or do you do from responsibility?

For a brief time, I did this thing called “Daddy Bucks” with my kids. It was a reward system where I paid them for doing tasks I wanted done. Picking up dog poop, vacuuming the stairs. Soon, nothing got done without a request for “Daddy bucks” or the question of “how much will you pay me?” My wife wisely shut the system down.

The mature don’t do things for rewards. They see their responsibility in the greater picture, either of a family, towards society, or many other different areas. And they respond. Rewards are nice but not necessary. No one would work for no money, so don’t take this the wrong way. (Work without reward is slavery and that’s evil.) But helping with chores around the house is not work, it’s part of being in a family.

Maturity receives generosity without shame

This what what my grandfather received for serving, for being injured in WWII. He did not do it for the reward.

My grandfather fought in WWII. My father has his flag in his office, a reminder of the lifelong cost he paid when he was injured by a landmine. The soldiers who went and died, fought not because they would be rewarded but because they felt a responsibility to their nation and to the future of their children. The mature respond out of responsibility, not rewards.

  1. Do you pay, or look for others to pay?

In 2004, I served under a friend at a University work in Nairobi Kenya. Several years later, I spent a little time in town. One of the young men who worked for the organization, making a starting salary, asked if he could take me to breakfast. We sat at Java house beside the United Nations complex and talked about life. To my surprise, Eric insisted on paying. At that point, I knew Eric was going to do well in life. He valued our time together enough to pay.

I love buying breakfast or lunch for young people and investing in them. That’s not my point. The point is that some things are worth investing your money into. 

maturity engages generosity as well as responsibility. 

I know 40 year olds who try to angle to get their parents to pay for small stuff. Listen, I’m as cheap as the next guy, but when I can, I want to pay. Maybe it’s a pride thing.

I have to say this too. I’ve had many seasons in life where I couldn’t pay and others did for me. Once, a friend paid for my broken transmission. Another time, a friend paid for my fishing trip. I’ve had more than one vehicle given to me over the years by generous friends. Needing help is not a reason to feel shame. Maturity receives generosity without shame. Maturity also engages generosity and responsibility.

That’s my quick list. What are some of the things you see as true signs of Healthy Adulting?

46 lessons I learned this past year

This blog started with 40 life lessons I learned before the age of 40. Those blogs became the basis for the book.

Yearly, I spend some time reflecting on lessons learned. Some of these are obvious, others may require explanation. A few are derivatives from other leadership lessons.  And because we need graphics, i’ve thrown in some animal pictures to enjoy.

But without further explanation, here they are.

1 Accept people as they are, not as they were.

2 Empathy is not feeling what someone else feels but being with a friend and allowing them to feel deeply while remaining completely present in the moment.

3 The attitudes we pick up accidentally are frequently the most destructive. We took the wrong lesson away from the experience.

4 Memory is a malleable putty, shaped by access and our attitude when accessing it.

Taking a break by Charles Porter on

5 “Stuck” is another way of describing trauma.

6 Growth is disjointed. My daughters physical growth has been explosive, her emotional growth- steady. Don’t expect consistent growth in all areas.

7 God answers specific of prayers. I asked for a specific kind of car and I ask for a certain person to come pray for me. Both happened and were clear answers to prayer.

8 People who say “I just can’t do this anymore“ usually figure out a way to.

9 Having multi generational friendships is sweet.

10 I used to not know what I did not know. I’m increasingly realizing I don’t know what I do know that’s useful to others. Investing in others is figuring out what you do know and transferring that knowledge.

11 Self disclosure does not equal trust.

12 Grace is the balm that prevents the infection of unforgiveness.

13 Adults need to ask others to be their friend. If it works in preschool, it works in your 40s.

14 Tell your friends that you love them.

15 Tell your friends you’re proud of them.

16 Codependency only requires one person.

17 Being the dumbest person in the room should be a rich learning experience, not an intimidating one. 

18. Being the smartest person in the room (consistently) is dangerous to the soul and the path the arrogance.

19 Lose weight. Find it again. Lose it again. Important thing is to not give up.

20 Invest in your future, not your fears.

21 The first story is rarely the whole story.

Lion straight on by Charles Porter on

22 Don’t see the silver lining in the clouds. Ignore the clouds and see silver in the sky.

23 If you’re losing it might not be you. It might be how you were playing the game.

24 Even a 15-year-old referee has the power to issue a technical foul.

25 If “you fail, try, try and try again” is bad advice. If you fail “train, train, then try again.

26 Anticipating negative dynamics can often diffuse them.

27 Confidence comes from competence, (not false verbal affirmations.)

28 If anonymity your problem, humility is your answer.

29 influence is the new drug of society.

30 Excellence without maintenance fails.

31 Forgiveness only requires one person. Reconciliation requires two people, a process, and evidence of change.

32 If you want people to remember what you say write a song. If you want them remember what you did, kill Giants.

33 Our greatest moments are connections with mystery not solutions. Data is interesting, mystery is enlivening.

34 Crowd source wisdom for simple solutions. Data mine Elders for deep complex problems.

35 To preserve your legacy, insure the future, don’t enshrine the past.

36 Leaders don’t say “yeah I know.”  They say “tell me more.”

37 Ask for help. You might be amazed by those who feel honored to be asked.

38 Memories are not accurate mental records of our experiences. Memories are emotional pictures heavily filtered through interpretations of our experiences.

39 If you can’t figure out what to do, think back to last time you knew with certainty what to do, then start doing that again.

40 No one is too old for encouragement and affirmation.

41 The distance between who you are and what you say is your integrity gap. Closing that gap is the leader’s most important task.

42 Success does not cure insecurity.

43 A failure in one area of life doesn’t mean a teaching in another is wrong.

44 Anxiety is rooted in a lack of trust.

45 Learn what awful-izing is. Then don’t do it.

46 I didn’t think losing my hair would bother me. It does. 🙂

If you enjoyed these, as always the highest compliment to an author is to share with someone else.

Please stop empowering Africans. And pretty much every else as well.

Lets have a conversation about power. Who has it and who doesn’t?

 as long as I’m the one giving away the power, the power actually still is mine.

Empowerment as a concept is so ingrained in the leadership literature that to dare question is to invite scorn and reprisal.

But first a story.

As the leader of a multinational church in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I was privileged to work with brilliant people from all over the globe on a daily basis.

And then it happened. A problem was brought to my attention.

“The Tanzanians are saying that the Kenyans are getting favorable treatment in regards to leadership positions. You need to raise up the Tanzanians.”

This kind of accusation had the potential to undermine all the effort we had put into creating this amazing community. This was emotional, hitting at some of my deep fears, of being a white man leading a church made of predominantly of Africans. And certainly, an extremely diverse group. My gut told me to jump in with typical empowerment language in leadership.

“What can we do?”

“How can we empower more Tanzanians in leadership?”

Here’s the accidental solution that forever turned the conversation in our community. My response?

“How can I raise up someone who is my equal?”

The eyes around the room woke up. The dynamic in the room immediately changed. The conversation moved from accusations of ethnic favoritism to solution based ideas about why more Kenyans were finding our leadership paths than Tanzanians. Partnership, not power differentials.

How can I raise up my equal?

The language of empowerment is based on upon one dangerous subtle problem with empowerment. Empowerment is based on power differentials. Someone who has more power gives some of that power to someone who has less of it. That’s empowerment.Think Nuclear generator gives power to substation, gives power to transformer, gives power to your house, gives power to your cell phone. Where does the power truly come from? The battery on your phone? No, it comes from the reactor, dolling out bits and pieces of its power to dependent devices. 

 Partners all bring their power to the table. 

But the Tanzanians I knew were powerful people. In our community, they were often more educated than me. Engineers and MBAs, statesmen and women, and UN representatives. Lawyers and Doctors and lecturers populated our community. But entrepreneurs and street survival PhDs as well. To make it in the dense urban jungle of Dar es Salaam, you had to be powerful.

By abandoning the language of empowerment, with myself as the one in power, to be given to those “under” me, I accidentally stumbled on the greatest leadership lesson I know. We were PARTNERS in this venture to create a new kind of community. And partners all bring their power to the table.

The language of partnership is one of equals coming to a common table. Sure, there are junior partners and senior partners at times, but the power dynamics and differentials take on an entirely different dynamic through this lens.  We don’t empower women and people of various ethnicities because as long as I’m the one giving away the power, the power actually still is mine. But when we partner together, as equals working towards a common goal, I don’t have to minimize myself to help others succeed. And they don’t have to bring a subservient mindset to the table because they received this gift of “power” from me.

To my community, I brought my creativity and positivity. I brought technical skills and years of living internationally. I brought my full self.  To our partnership, my Tanzanians friends brought insight, and funds, and education and knowledge that I didn’t have. My Kenyan friends, my Zambian and Dutch and British friends brought their uniqueness and insight and beauty and genius. Together, as equals, we worked towards a common goal.  As partners.

Empowerment then comes in the form of junior members of the team being given opportunity. Those less experienced in leadership were shown pathways that allowed for the learning and growing that needs to happen for all of us.  True leaders recognize the dignity and power pre-existing, and simply partner with partners to see growth and development.

Because here’s the thing. The Africans and internationals I served empowered me. They gave me their love and care and attention and friendship and loyalty. As a leader, what greater gift can you receive?

Unintended Consequences: There’s an app for that

Unintended consequences: There’s no app for that.

In the smartphone, uber connected world in which we live, every problem can seemingly be solved by an app.

Don’t do accounting? No worries, there’s an app for that.

Don’t do scheduling? No problem. There’s an app for that.

Apps for staying in touch with family and friends that aren’t facebook? Check.

Apps for solving complex math problems? Check.

Apps to entertain 2 year olds: check.

And now with voice activation, Alexa and Siri will take care of all that with your voice.

Apps for introverts wanting to meet introverts but afraid to come out and play? Don’t know, but I’m assuming ithey’re out there.

And while these apps are wonderful and useful, something subtle is happening to us. We no longer know how to solve problems. The Handyman is gone. The struggle is gone. The guy or gal who knows how to do a little of everything. The biggest problem of this is that when we solve all our problems with apps, we are stuck in an increasingly deeper rut of “one solution”: There’s an app for that. But we never know the satisfaction of having to struggle through and overcome our problems. Because someone already solved that problem. There’s an app for that.

And yet loneliness is increasing. Depression is increasing. Anger and outrage are all over the place. More information, less knowledge.  There’s no app for that. Some research even strongly connects “that” with the apps.

 Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Because it’s the PROCESS that grounds the learning. The PROCESS that moves growth. The Process that takes learning in one area and applies it in another. A process that must people. Someone wrote that app. Someone had that problem that was solved by that all.

Sure, there’s an app for that.But

But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

You can learn a language using an app. But you can only speak a language by interacting with another person.

You can learn music on youtube, but you can only enchant by playing music. By yourself in your room, or better yet, for an audience who loves you.

You can find a date online, but you go on a date with a person.

You can find a house online, but you only find a home by personally being present.

I’m always on the lookout for easier ways to do things. Maybe, just maybe though, sometimes the easy way out isn’t the best way, and the hard way is more fulfilling and personally satisfying.

Leadership and the rubber band effect.

On any desired leadership traits questionnaire, invariably those being lead want their leaders to be flexible. Adaptable.

And while I agree 100% with this desire, there is a current reality faced by most leaders that is destroying flexibility.

Demands on leaders across the board have increased. Do more with less. Stretch yourself. Live in the tension.

Rubber bands are perhaps the perfect example of flexibility. The strange circular strings can adapt their shape to the need. They can grow and then shrink back on demand. Except…

Except when you put a rubber band under constant tension for an extended amount to time.  Then we all know what happens. They lose their flexibility and easily break. Extended seasons of tension take the flexibility, take advantage of it, and you end up with something that is certainly not as durable as other forms of string, and very often far more fragile.

The Ancient Jewish system of Sabbath became an abused religious duty. Yet the understanding behind it is light years away from the greatest leaders of yesterday and today.

Sabbath was rest. Not because life didn’t go 24/7 then. Nomadic herdsmen with thousands of cattle and sheep to look after. Tents that needed repairing. Food that must be prepared daily. Because of limited storage, you are one harvest away from starvation. Raiders, invaders, being called up to fight in the army at any time. Life certainly had constant tensions.  A day off made no sense, unless it makes complete sense.

The idea was that once a week, the tension comes off. There is an acceptance that “today, I can’t do anything to change my situation. Today, I must let it go and rest.” Sabbath was a forced rest. Jesus called it a gift to mankind.

No one can be under constant pressure forever and not lose flexibility. If you find yourself not able to bounce back, not able to be flexible, perhaps ask yourself these questions.

  1. Where is the constant pressure in my life?
  2. Have a stretched myself too thin?
  3. Do I believe the myth that “If I don’t, no one will?”
  4. Am I afraid of losing control?

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Stop offering to help others..


Because you know you can’t, and if they call, you gotta answer.

NBC has this new medical drama called New Amsterdam.

Based loosely on a true story, the hero is a doctor who wants to get the hospital back to caring about patients. Multiple times per show, Dr. Max will ask someone “how can I help?”

This line, “how can I help?” is a common leadership teaching. But like so many leadership maxims before, nuance is key to credibility.  Because Max is offering to help everyone, while he is losing his marriage and can’t tell his wife that he has cancer.  The tale is classic, the driven male ego face to face with losing his family. At work, he’s this great guy. With his family, not so much. He can’t give his wife and unborn child the help they need because he is so busy helping other. The viewer can’t help but see this contradiction.

The idea of “How can I help?” is essentially the heart of leadership. Servant Leadership, as defined by GreenLeaf, is ““The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…” (Greenleaf, 1970)

Servant leaders want to help so they offer to help. The genuine desire is not for influence or power, but a desire to help. To Serve. Here is where the problem begins.

I worked for a leader once who often used this kind of terminology. One day, I called in the offered help. I felt I needed help. But her perspective on my request was that I would have to figure it out myself. And I did.

A couple weeks later, I tried again. Again the same response. And at this point, a trust barrier was put into place. The refusal was well within her role as my supervisor. I could, and did again manage the task by myself. My take away though was that my leader had been well coached in leadership parlance, but that the truth was “how can I help if I think you need help? How can I help if it doesn’t interfere with my plans and goals.

The sentiment may be true but critically, the offer of help must be legitimate, not just a leadership gimmick. Even if you as the leader don’t always agree. Coaching can come later.

Both requests for help were not end of the world requests. At the time though, there was considerable emotion attached to the request. Both tasks I managed to figure out an alternative way. The experiences grew my independence as a leader. And honestly, at other times, she was a helpful leader. My concern for those who want to lead is this.

Offer what you can genuinely contribute. If you can’t help, don’t offer a blanket statement . I have a feeling Dr. Max is going to run into problems with hiring more nurses and not having the budget to do so.

Maybe …

“If I could help, what would it look like?”

Stop trying to find a great mentor.  Do this instead to advance your career and life.

What’s your question?

I can tell within 2 seconds of asking that question whether our mentoring session will be of any use to me or the mentee.

“Find a mentor. Find a mentor!”

The mantra of those who give great advice on how to advance, improve, get anywhere in life. And it is great advice. Otherwise, why would the same advice be dispended over and over again on blog  after blog after article  after article ?

“Ladies, find a mentor who will help you know how to navigate being a women in the work place. “

“Entrepreneur, find someone who has walked before you and lived to tell the story.”

All wonderful advice but then what?

Imagine you meet the mentor of your dreams. (Bill Gates, Jay-Z, Denzel Washington, you make your own list) That person agrees to mentor you. You show up, all nervous for your session. You are warmly welcomed in, share personal anecdotes, your newly minted mentor looks at you and asks

“So what do you want to talk about?”

And then it dawns on you. You know less about being a mentee than the mentor knows about being a mentor. Because let’s be honest, you chose the mentor for their awesomeness in some area. Business, leadership, marriage, finances, whatever. You might have gotten lucky and accidentally chosen a mentor who has a history of mentoring. 

You know less about being a mentee than the mentor knows about being a mentor.

The odds are though that your mentor might not be an expert at mentoring. And you walk out of your mentoring sessions disappointed, with maybe a book to talk about together.  Three sessions later, you find yourself dreading the mentoring sessions and wondering why you asked in the first place. You begin to sense your mentor may have the same feeling.

How then should one approach a mentor, particularly someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience mentoring but is excellent in his or her field?

I’m sure the first year was pretty much a waste of their time.

For the last three years, I’ve been privileged to have a couple dozen young people sit in my office and ask for mentoring. I’m sure the first year was pretty much a waste of their time. Until I discovered this tool. I ask everyone to come with a question. The question can be about anything of interest to them. The question must be something they genuinely want to learn.

Our mentoring sessions now begin with “What’s your question?” I know we are in for a particularly dynamic session when the mentee shows up and pre-empts my introduction with “Ok, so here’s my question.”

If my mentee comes with a question I don’t have the answer to, I can hopefully refer them to books or articles to read. Walking out of my office without a reading list is pretty much impossible. Because I’m generally not the expert, but I can point you in the right direction.

By framing your mentoring experience about real, relevant questions that are of interest to the mentee, the mentor feels like they are truly adding value. The mentee in turn walks away more engaged.

What kind of questions should you ask a mentor?

Here are some suggestions.

  1. Ask specific questions.

    1. “Tell me about life” is too vague.
    2. “What steps did you take during the recession in 2008 to secure your assets?” Much better.
  2. Ask interesting questions

    1. “I’ve heard you say this a million times. Repeat that for me and explain it would you?” No, I’d rather not. If it’s in the public domain repeatedly, odds are I wont be adding anything new to your database by repeating myself. Rather ask
    2. “I’ve heard you talk about X. What haven’t you shared, either for time, or that you are still researching?“
  3. Ask questions above your learning level.

    1. “What would you do in my position?” is a question that will only get you information about being on the level you are at. A mentor hopefully operates at a higher “level” whatever that means to you.
    2. Ask questions that reflect thinking to the point where you no longer know the answers and need genuinely new thoughts, not opinions that confirm your thinking.
  4. Ask unexpected questions.

    1. “What do you think about the Facebook scandal?” Everyone is talking about that, the opinions are all over, the ground is burned over. This isn’t a place to spend your valuable mentoring time touching on. Rather…
    2. “I saw company Q has 2 CEOs. Have you run into this, and how do you make it work?”Leveraging the Mentor’s expertise will gain you the most benefit from the relationship.

      Oftentimes the key to finding a good mentor is being a prepared mentee.

Doing your homework as a mentee will show the mentor that you value the investment of time. Consider the profession of the mentor. Would you pay their hourly rate to have the same conversation?

Oftentimes the key to finding a good mentor is being a prepared mentee.

This is part 1 of MENTORING, a new series on

What questions would you bring to a mentoring session?

Stop saying this when friends are in crisis…

Another random Facebook post. A friend asking for vague help, their circumstances not allowing them to share publicly whats really happening, but nevertheless, they fling a desperate cry out into the void.

Stop saying “How Can I help” say this instead.

A diagnosis. A crushing blow. A job loss.

Condolences and “prayers” come flooding in. Along this flood of well wishers, perhaps this phrase is more used than any other. And you need to stop using it.

“Let us know if there is anything we can do to help.”

Listen, when you are in crisis, and life is upside down, you don’t know what you need. You are simply trying to breathe. Until the moment of crisis passes, your body just goes into instinctual survival mode.

A number of years ago, my wife came down with an attack of pancreatitis. The diagnosis was missed two days prior in Dar es Salaam, and upon arrival in Kenya, we went to the emergency room. She was hospitalized.

At that moment, well wishes and prayers for her healing were all good. But I had an 18 year old intern from the states, a new born and a 4 year old. But I couldn’t think straight enough to formulate what I needed from the community around me.

When friends and loved ones are in crisis, stop saying “let me know.” You already know.When the ship is sinking, having crew members ask “how can I help” doesn’t help. In crisis, the captain needs crew members who “See a need, fill a need”

What do all humans require?

  1. Food prep. While someone is in crisis, they and their family still need to eat.
    1. Suggestion: Ask instead: What’s your favorite meal, favorite restaurant? What do the kids like to eat? From gift cards to home cooked meals, these are always needed!

      Listen, when you are in crisis, and life is upside down, you don’t know what you need.

  2. Childcare: If the friend is in crisis, the whole family is affected and if multiple children are involved, they get a huge emotional hit. My older son was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when my youngest was 2 months old. The youngest struggles with deep anxiety. Could it be that the emotional trauma during his first months of life is connected? We don’t know.
  3. Companionship: At this level, you need to have more than a surface relationship. But there are times when you simply need to get in your car, get on the bus, get on a plane and go be.

Living in Tanzania, funerals were more part of my life. One beautiful lesson I learned from Tanzanian culture was that when someone dies, you don’t’ wait. You don’t ask. You GO. And you sit. That’s it. You offer small words if the grieving family needs. But generally you just sit. Give the gift of presence. Loneliness is tough.

  1. Bills. This is a bigger step, but very few people that I know are going to ask for help with their bills until they are in major crisis. So navigate this one with tact, but there are bills that you can take care of without having the ackward conversation. Gas in the car. Oil Changes. Is school upcoming? New shoes and clothes for the kids. New backpacks and school supplies.
  2. Lawncare and carcare. Taking care of the yard, the weeds, the snow blowing (for those in northern countries), the little things.
  3. Prayer. Everything throws the word around. But prayer is more than wishful thinking. It is more than desiring good, or “thoughts.” If you believe, then Prayer is engagement with the Divine Creator of the Universe who actually cares. Your prayer then should be written out, communicated clearly. Share scriptures (not the generic Jeremiah 31, but pray Psalms and great prayers of the ages for your loved ones. And then communicate that to them.

“Let me know what we can do” put the onus on the person already dealing ith too much. How about if we tried “let me do this for you…”

What are some other ideas? What do you do in your culture? Share you thoughts and feedback on our Facebook page..