How to care for your mentor

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When I first started out in my career, I chose a manager in my firm that I wanted to be my mentor.  He had several years of business experience.  I went to him regularly for advice and he was very open to sharing his knowledge.

I wasn’t his direct report, but a friend of mine was.  Once she told me how he had unfairly humiliated her in front of some peers.  I was surprised that he would treat someone like that.

Because of that, I quit turning to him for advice.  Moreover, I quit believing in the whole mentoring thing for a while.

I had this concept in my mind that a mentor was a single person that you developed a relationship with and that person imparted their wisdom on an as-needed basis.

As I progressed through my career – and matured, I worked with other people who became mentors.  It happened without my even realizing it.  It caused me to learn a few things about mentoring.

Mentors aren’t perfect

Some people tend to think of a mentor as an authority who knows all and sees all.  Mentors are actually human beings.  They make mistakes and do things you disagree with.

I was disappointed in the way my first mentor talked to my co-worker, but I didn’t have to cut ties.  He could still have coached me on career management, customer service and our industry in general

I expected him to be perfect. And when I found that he wasn’t, I couldn’t –deal with it.  I could have continued to learn more from him in spite of his perceived flaws.

Related post: How to Deal with an Over-Aggressive Mentor

You can have many mentors

You don’t have to have a single mentor.  If you know someone who is great at sales, you can develop a relationship with her and learn more about selling.  If you know someone with great leadership skills, develop a relationship with him to learn some leadership tips.  Everybody has strengths and weaknesses.  Work with people with varied strengths to maximize your learning.  Additionally, you might learn by observing your mentor’s mistakes.

Mentors change as you grow

Just because someone knows more than you now doesn’t mean that will always be the case.  Peoples’ careers progress at different rates.  Some people start out strong and then level out.  Others may start slow and gain momentum later on.  At some point, you may eclipse your current mentor’s career advancement.

Your mentor’s five years of experience might actually be one year of experience, five times over.  You might be able to switch roles and mentor back to that person, but as you grow, you need to always seek out mentors that are ahead of you in knowledge and experience in the areas that you want to grow.

You can mentor your mentor

When you were in school, if you were good in science and your friend was good at math, you could help each other in your respective strengths.  Everyone has some capability in some area that someone else may be interested in.  If you work with someone that has complementary skills to yours, there’s nothing wrong with learning from each other.

See related post: How to Be Mentored

A mentor’s advice is optional

Some people may want to be your mentor whether you’re interested in their advice or not.  Even people that you entrust to be your mentor will not be right 100% of the time.  Advice is simply a suggestion.

If an approach worked for someone else in one situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you.  It’s not a sign of disrespect to take a pass on a mentor’s advice.  A good mentor understands that.  If they don’t and are offended by your resistance, you may be better off finding a mentor who doesn’t see their own advice as gospel.

Be a mentor to others

If you only take the knowledge and experience from others without sharing yours, you end up depriving others of valuable knowledge.

Sharing your knowledge with others, whether it’s a direct report, a peer or a manager, generates a more intelligent and more collaborative work environment.  You might also find that it feels good to help people out in their career like you have been helped in the past.

My first mentor – and all of my mentors after that – had flaws.  We all do.  But that doesn’t mean he couldn’t provide excellent advice. I deprived myself of opportunities for good advice because I disagreed with his management approach in one instance.  Mentors don’t know everything, but everyone has something they can share to help others out.

What has been your experience with mentoring?

If you would like to learn more about mentoring between Millennials and Baby Boomers, get Lew and Jeff’s book The Reluctant Mentor on Amazon.

I welcome your comments below.

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