Leadership: The Ultimate Mentor


Imagine that you have a son and circumstances dictate you have to leave him in the care of another person for several years. This person would be entrusted with replacing you and teaching your son all he would need to know about life and how to survive on his own as an adult.

This was a task faced by Odysseus, in Greek mythology, when he left to fight the Trojan Wars. He entrusted the care and rearing of his son, Telemachus, to a wise old friend and teacher named Mentor. Thus, the term mentor was born. Used as a noun, mentor means: a wise and trusted guide, advisor or teacher. Used as a verb, to mentor, or mentoring, means: to serve as a trusted guide, advisor or teacher.

Being a mentor for newer members in a Toastmasters club is one of the organization's most-challenging, least-defined and often-neglected duties. Yet when done right, it can be one of the most rewarding, fulfilling and beneficial experiences in developing our communication and leadership skills.

If you're considering becoming a mentor, you should understand the following points:

  • Why be a mentor? The final step in developing our skills in Toastmasters is learning how to help others become competent communicators and leaders. Being a mentor may seem like it is all for the mentee, but the real benefit comes from knowing we can help someone better their life.
  • What does a mentor do? Take a look at people who helped and mentored you. What qualities did they have? What was it about them that you admired?
    • Chances are they were honest with you; if you did well, they told you so. And if you messed up, they told you so.
    • You probably got the feeling that they truly cared about you.
    • They were interested in you and in your success.
    • They understood what you were struggling with.
    • A mentor is a friend as well as a teacher and advisor.
  • Apply Toastmasters skills as you mentor others. As a mentor, observe and listen to your mentee. Speech evaluation develops the ability to give concise and constructive feedback and to inspire a person to continue to improve and achieve. In mentoring, it is more important to find and reinforce what the person is doing right than to find what they are doing wrong. Our actions should inspire them to keep going forward.
  • Toastmasters is a process. Toastmasters – like many of life's learning experiences – is a process. No one gets 100 percent 100 percent of the time. So as a mentor, your job is to help your assigned person continue to make gradual changes and avoid becoming discouraged.
  • Helping them identify and achieve goals. Help the person to identify and achieve his or her own goals. Be careful not to insert your own agenda, but instead encourage the person to create realistic objectives. Empower the person to think and act.
  • Keep the big picture of Toastmasters in mind. We all have a bad speech, lose a contest, or receive a negative speech evaluation. These can be upsetting, invalidating and discouraging. Help the person you mentor to keep the big picture of Toastmasters in focus. Toastmasters is a learning process, for everyone – including speakers, judges and speech evaluators. There is always something to learn from the experience. No matter how tough it may seem, the program prepares us to handle life outside of Toastmasters.
  • Toastmasters works if it is fun and friendly. Keep it fun and friendly for the person you mentor. Watch their body language. Be alert for any negative issues they might experience, and help the person tackle them.
  • It is okay to not know an answer. You don't have to have an answer for every question. Be honest, caring, interested and willing to make a mistake.

The ultimate benefit of Toastmasters membership is becoming someone who can help someone else become a competent leader and communicator. Are you ready to put these points into practice and discover this for yourself?

About the Author

Lance Miller

Lance Miller, DTM, is a member of the Renaissance Speakers club in Hollywood, California. He was Toastmasters' 2005 World Champion of Public Speaking. Reach him at lancemillerspeaks.com.