I used to work with someone that I liked and respected. We became pretty good friends, getting coffee together and going to lunch occasionally. He had a few more years of experience than me and I enjoyed picking his brain for ideas every once in a while.
Once while we were talking shop, I told him that I considered him a mentor. It kind of went to his head. He apparently decided to take me under his wing and become my full-time mentor.
He would stop by my desk frequently and provide me with unsolicited advice. At least once a week I would receive emails with articles that he thought I might be interested in. He would then question me about the article perhaps to make sure I read it.
His over-exuberant approach began to wear on me. I felt that we quit being friends when he became my mentor. I no longer asked him questions knowing that I’d get more information than I wanted or needed.
Many companies institute formal mentoring programs where people are assigned to formally mentor others. The mentor is supposed to share their knowledge with the mentee that has been assigned to them.
But all too often, the mentor is the one that decides the agenda. Let me tell you what I think you need to know, whether you like it or not, whether you’re interested or not.
How to deal with it
If you’ve been assigned to be a mentor, it is important to customize your advice to the mentee. Find out what their goals are and what information they are interested in learning about.
Speak with other people who have worked closely with the person. Ask if there is any type of help and advice they think your mentee could use. Finally, give the mentee time to talk. Letting them talk and ask questions will give you a better idea of where their interests lie.
There are two major categories of advice. Information that will help the mentee with their weaknesses and information that will help them grow to the next level. Focus on both areas to make sure they improve and grow.
Related post: 4 Ways to Offer Unsolicited Mentoring
If you’ve been assigned a mentor or even is someone has “taken you under their wing” and you feel that they are going a little overboard, I would recommend a dual approach.
First, listen and be patient. I can now admit years later that some of the information my over-eager mentor gave me was pretty good advice. I may not have realized I needed it at the time, but there were some snippets of information that helped me to develop.
Secondly, become diplomatically vocal about the areas you would like to learn. If they insist on covering information you are not interested in, listen to what they have to say for information you can use. Then tell them something like, “Thanks, that’s interesting information. I’d also like to learn about…”
This does not provide guaranteed results. Your mentor may not know anything about your areas of interest. He or she may be so inflexibly focused on their own agenda that they may ignore your request.
See related post: How to Be Mentored
If that’s the case, no one is saying that mentoring is supposed to be a monogamous relationship. Seek out the advice of others that are more willing to help you. You may receive contradictory advice, and that’s okay. Decide for yourself which is the best advice and move forward.
Some people have a lot of knowledge but are very poor at dispensing it. Being a good mentee involves getting multiple points of view and deciding for yourself what is best for you. Being a good mentor means doing what is best for the mentee, and letting them have some voice on what they are mentored on.
I welcome your questions and comments.