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What a Safe Mentor Looks Like

When a leader doesn't listen, he will, at some point, be surrounded by followers who have nothing to say.

It’s been said that the only way to keep a secret between three friends is to kill two of them. Whenever I say this, people look at other people in an accusatory way. But we all need to evaluate ourselves, first and foremost.

We live in a day and age where people don’t feel very safe to talk about the deep things in their heart. Change is the essence of life, but one of the missing ingredients in the process of change is safety. I think this is an area that mentors need to address more than most.

The doctor can’t make the right diagnosis without knowing the symptoms. There is no change without the truth, but truth without grace is brutality, and grace without truth is enabling. Truth with grace is safety.

A sense of safety is a basic human need. Many of the relational issues in our culture today persist because people experience and create emotional violence. Social media and chronic texting has kept people connected, yet they are still isolated, relationally shallow, and feeling alone.

People need to feel safe more than ever before, because they are often going through secret storms. I believe that even holding onto painful secrets is a form of trauma.

I’ve had the privilege of working with people from all walks of life. I am no longer surprised at the level of secrets that people carry and are willing to unload once they feel a sufficient level of safety. I am privileged—but frankly, also burdened—with the pain that people carry and share with no one. As I hear deeply personal stories, my question is always, “Who have you told?” The response is often, “Only you” or “You and one other person.”

Many people tell me their deepest secrets because they don’t trust in those closest to them. People who are deeply wounded will often look to you for evidence of trustworthiness and safety. As such, we need to be safer for one another and confront the ways that we are unsafe for people, so that we can help facilitate healing.

As the saying goes, hurt people hurt people—but healed people heal people. Fortunately, pain always brings with it a gift. That gift will never be uncovered if people remain stuck in their pain due to fear of betrayal, judgment, or condemnation. More than ever, we need courageous, competent, and emotionally mature leaders who can help others find safety, healing, and an on-ramp to their destiny.

Emerging leaders—also known as mentees—need mentors who have depth of knowledge, critical thinking, and moral and emotional maturity to live in a wise way. Mentees are at the mercy of their mentors to provide this emotional safety.

This framework is designed to help you become more aware of your level of safety. To bolster the integrity of your work, you will want to do a thorough self-assessment, to ensure that you have the support necessary to serve in the best way possible.

One caring person can change someone’s entire destiny by being a safe, non-anxious counselor who has an overall positive presence in the mentee’s life.

Here are the ways in which you can be a safe leader.

1. Be mindful of your words.

a. “The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27, NIV

b. “Observe the people who always talk before they think—even simpletons are better off than they are.” Proverbs 29:20, MSG

A pre-condition for the progress of any group of people is that they have a sense of inner peace, a sense of stability, and the confidence instilled by the mentors.

2. Be a great listener and control your anger.

a. “Remember this, my dear brothers and sisters: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and should not get angry easily.” James 1:19, GW

b. “Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.” Proverbs 29:11, NLT - Total honesty is for God, your support group, and your therapist.

c. Read Chapters 42 of Bridge the Gaps.

3. Keep secrets.

a. A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much. Proverbs 20:19, NIV

4. Don’t judge. Practice what you preach.

“Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” Matthew 7:1-5, MSG

5. Restore people who make mistakes with gentleness.

“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived.” Galatians 6:1-3, MSG

6: Be discerning and don’t believe everything you hear.

“Only a simpleton believes everything he’s told! A prudent man understands the need for proof.” Proverbs 14:15, TLB

7: Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say

“You need not swear an oath—any impulse to do so is of evil. Simply let your “yes” be “yes,” and let your “no” be “no.” Matthew 5:37, VOICE

8: Don’t brag about your help. Do your work quietly. Attention is only required to highlight the work.

a. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—‘play actors’ I call them—treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.” Matthew 6:2-4, MSG

b. You can adjust your brother’s collar without telling the world that it’s crooked.

9. Don’t be swayed by anyone’s opinion.

“Teacher, we know that You are true. We know that You are teaching the truth about God. We know You are not afraid of what men think or say about You.” Matthew 22:16, NLV

10. Commit before you correct

a. “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” John 8: 7:11, NIV

b. As a mentor, you are an advocate. You are in a young person’s life to point them in the right direction and to get to the root of and curb destructive behavior.

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