I love books whose contents far surpass their titles, and this one fits that bill to a tee. At first glance, it seems to have a gimmicky organization. I’m not a big personal fan of reading lists, and the thought of trudging through 75 short recommendations on mentoring frankly reminds me of having teeth pulled. However, upon second glance, I discovered that the book is in a third edition, so someone must have liked the first two enough for a publisher to invest in a third. After being recommended the book and pondering further, I took the bait and got it. Almost 250 pages later, I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

This book reminds me of religious devotional books that I read as a high school student, except this book doesn’t deal with personal character directly but instead one’s ability to develop others’ professional character. Each of the 75 chapters consist of a handful of pages – short but power-packed. I actually had to limit the number of chapters I could read in one sitting because the book left me with so much to think about! It easily can fit with the practice of reading one short chapter per day…if you can limit yourself to only one.

The book’s title takes inspiration from Strunk and White’s famous Elements of Style that, decades after publication, remains the go-to book for good writing in the English language. Spinning off that legacy, these authors want to identify what skills make a good mentor. The authors, both professors of psychology at research universities have reviewed 2,000 publications to identify specific reasons why mentorship is so effective.

Chapters are organized into seven larger sections on topics like skills, style, starting, diversity, and integrity. I’m involved in a handful of professional and personal mentoring relationships, and even though topics explicitly veer towards workplace concerns, readers can easily extract life concerns for personal betterment, too. The best way to develop better mentees, no matter the field, is to become a better mentor.

Mentoring is tough. To the uninitiated observer, mentors seem to receive tons of adulation from adoring mentees. In truth, mentors, like teachers, often are underappreciated, aren’t financially well-rewarded for their mentorship, and give to mentees way more than they receive. Yet almost universally, mentoring yields satisfaction and happiness that aren’t easily quantifiable. Research says that good mentorship leads to more career success among mentees. As the authors put it,

Mentoring becomes a way of life for outstanding mentors for two basic reasons. They delight in seeing their mentees succeed. … They also reap rich internal rewards; they know that few things compare in personal fulfillment as the positive outcomes of their investment in mentees.

This responsibility can elicit some nervousness among mentors. Educating oneself on how to mentor can calm those nerves and identify good practices to cling to. This book is easily the most thought-provoking, concise reference that I’ve read on this topic. It’s suitable for researchers, academics, and leaders who spend their lives developing the next generation’s professional skills.

The Elements of Mentoring: 75 Practices of Master Mentors, 3rd Edition, by W. Brad Johnson and Charles R. Ridley.

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