Updated: Oct 10
Author Bethany Nunnery is an active-duty Army Quartermaster Officer in Vicenza, Italy where she currently serves as a company executive officer. Bethany is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and a member of our fifth eMMissary cohort. Serving overseas has provided her with an appreciation for multinational operations as well as coalition building between teams. This message certainly resonates alongside the themes of Valentine's Day.
As a young leader starting my mentorship journey, I was lost on the best way to mentor those in my formation. As time went on, I realized that it was not so much about how I mentored others, it was how my mentees best received mentorship. What I thought was the best way to mentor certain individuals was not working as I had hoped. However, once I altered my mentorship style to fit their needs, the relationship blossomed and became much more productive and successful. After some reflection I knew I wasn’t speaking their “love language” causing there to be a weak connection.
The Five Love Languages
What’s your love language? Have you explored what it may be? How can your answer be applied to other areas of your life? Gary Chapman, author of The Five Love Languages argues that each person has a primary and secondary love language (Chapman, 14). These love languages include: Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch (Chapman, 10). Chapman argues that learning your love language and your partner’s love language can strengthen relationships.
Although The Five Love Languages focuses on romantic relationships, the foundation is learning how receiving love and giving love strengthens relationships.
So, how does this relate to mentorship?
First, the mentor relationship can be extremely vulnerable and intimate. Secondly, it’s important for mentors and mentees to understand their own Mentorship Language and how their partner speaks in the relationship.
The Vulnerability and Intimacy of Mentorship
Successful mentor/mentee relationships are vulnerable in nature. Both parties share who they are, their backgrounds, core values, etc. Mentees share their life goals, issues they struggle with, and times they have failed. Mentors in return use their life experience and lessons they’ve learned. For example, a mentee may share with their mentor that they did not receive a great yearly evaluation. The mentee shows their vulnerability by sharing the report with their mentor in order to learn and grow for the next year. The mentor may share a time where they went through a similar experience and steps they took to improve. Both parties show their vulnerability with one another through their own experience and struggles.
People may shy away from the word ‘intimacy’ when discussing mentor relationships. After all, when most people hear the word ‘intimacy’ they tend to think of the definition that describes romantic relationships. However, Merriam-Webster defines intimate as “marked by a warm friendship developing through long association”, “of a very personal or private nature”, and “marked by very close association, contact, or familiarity”. These three definitions describe the true essence of a mentor relationship. Without sharing personal experiences and goals or communicating regularly to gain familiarity with each other, a mentorship relationship would not exist. When mentors and mentees are vulnerable with one another, sharing their emotions, struggles, and dreams it turns the relationship intimate. This intimacy leads to a stronger connection between the mentor/mentee.
The Love Languages are not Just for Love
What’s the best way you mentor others? What’s the best way you receive mentorship? These two answers may be different. They also may need to adjust based on the other party in your relationship.
Out of the five love languages, four can be applied to mentorship (excluding physical touch which would cross those professional boundaries):
Words of Affirmation: As a mentor you can show your mentorship love by expressing that you are proud of those that you mentor. A simple “I am proud of you for how you handled the situation” or “Your preparation and hard work led you to success” can satisfy a mentee’s need for words of affirmation. As a mentee, it can be important to verbally express your gratitude for the help your mentor provides which gives your mentor the confidence that they are providing value in your life. Words of affirmation are a simple way to express appreciation for the relationship.
Quality Time: Whether you meet once a month in a coffee shop or virtually over Zoom it is vital to be deliberate and spend quality time with your mentor/mentee. Not only should these meetings be routine, but they should also be planned deliberately to steer away from too many side conversations. Quality is always better with quantity. Blocking off time with your mentor/mentee prevents distractions and allows both parties to be present and vulnerable with one another.
Receiving / (Giving) Gifts: Not the best with words? Giving your mentor/mentee a gift is a way to thank them in a meaningful way. A mentee may give their mentor a gift showing their deep appreciation for the time and wisdom they provide. A mentor may give their mentee a possession, for example a journal, to encourage their leadership journey. Even a personal possession that aided in their own mentorship journey would show their vulnerability and commitment to ensuring their mentee becomes the best leader they can be.
Acts of Service: Arguably, mentorship itself is an act of service. Mentors pour time and energy into their mentee to develop them to be the best they can be. There are many other specific ways mentors can provide acts of service to their mentees. A mentor may help their mentee by reviewing a piece of writing they want to submit or proofread a presentation they are giving to their boss. This act not only provides an opportunity for development and coaching through the writing process, but it also shows the mentee they are just as invested in their work.
Mentorship is a deliberate process. If you feel like you are not connecting with your mentor/mentee, take some time to reflect on the relationship. Maybe you are not speaking your mentor/mentees Mentorship Language. Start a conversation with them; ask them how they best communicate. Is it more quality time? Is it words of affirmation? Altering your mentorship style to fit your mentees’ needs may benefit the relationship and make it stronger. Once you find your mentor/mentees’ Mentorship Language, establish the foundation on how to move forward and enhance the relationship.
Whether you show your mentorship love through words of affirmation or quality time, it is important to establish your Mentorship Love language. Understanding your mentor/mentees “Mentorship Language” will only aid in the development of the relationship. Knowing this, deepens the connection allowing each to open up and become vulnerable. Mentorship is not always easy. You look deep into who you are, your flaws, your life goals. This is as intimate as it can get and to be successful, it is important to allow your mentor into this journey to allow you to succeed.
Chapman, Gary. The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts. Chicago, Northfield Publishing, 1992.
“Intimate.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, Intimate Definition & Meaning - Merriam-Webster.