What is the Big Deal about Mentors?

July 2, 2009 by
Filed under: Mentoring 

 What is the Big Deal about Mentors?If you think you don’t need one and want to “Get Ahead” in your career or busi­ness endeavor, you may want to think again. Men­tors are prob­a­bly one of the most impor­tant peo­ple you’ll have in your life. They are peo­ple who have either already nav­i­gated the land­scape that you are cur­rently work­ing your way through or can sim­ply give you sin­cere con­struc­tive crit­i­cism to help make the most of a given sce­nario. Men­tor­ship refers to a devel­op­men­tal rela­tion­ship in which a more expe­ri­enced per­son helps a less expe­ri­enced per­son develop in a spec­i­fied capac­ity. The less expe­ri­enced per­son in a men­tor­ing rela­tion­ship is some­times referred to as a pro­tégé or a mentoree.

So what is the big deal about hav­ing a men­tor vs. doing it on your own with the help of your net­work? Accord­ing to Katharine Hansen, Ph.D in her arti­cle The Value of a Men­tor:

“Where a typ­i­cal net­work con­tact might be asso­ci­ated with quick intro­duc­tions, exchanges of busi­ness cards, and phone calls, your rela­tion­ship with a men­tor likely involves long lunches and time spent in the mentor’s office. A men­tor is often in a posi­tion you’d like to be in and has the clout and con­nec­tions to guide you to a sim­i­lar posi­tion. He or she is some­one you prob­a­bly have unusu­ally good chem­istry with who will share sto­ries with you of his or her own climb to suc­cess. An effec­tive men­tor isn’t afraid to crit­i­cize con­struc­tively.

The value of a men­tor in your life for work, busi­ness, or even fam­ily reveals itself through time. More impor­tantly the time saved by putting to use the input received from a mentor.

A Dif­fi­cult Sit­u­a­tion to Be In
A while back, in a posi­tion pre­vi­ous to the one I have now, I was hav­ing dif­fi­cultly with my new super­vi­sor. The issue of him trust­ing me was appar­ent within a cou­ple of months after he became my boss. For the life of me I could not under­stand why he mis­trusted me so much. In my eyes, there was no rea­son why he needed to.

Action items and deliv­er­ables assigned to me where always com­pleted on time and in appar­ent good order. When­ever there was a ques­tion of get­ting the task accom­plished, I would always have a con­tin­gency plan in place to help ensure the com­ple­tion of the goal. Even though I did every­thing he asked of me and then some, there was always ten­sion with my super­vi­sor think­ing that I was attempt­ing to usurp his author­ity and take his position.

Regard­less of what some of you may think, tak­ing my supervisor’s place that was not my inten­tion at the time.

A Men­tor to the Res­cue
One of my men­tors, Steve, was a Senior Direc­tor within the HR depart­ment of a large cor­po­ra­tion and we would meet peri­od­i­cally over lunch. I took the next time Steve and I met for lunch to go over the sit­u­a­tion I was fac­ing with my super­vi­sor. After dis­cussing it for a bit, Steve pointed out some­thing to me that I was not aware of at the time. I am the type of per­son who when asked to get some­thing accom­plished goes out of their way to get it done. This would include reach­ing out to peo­ple in other depart­ments at all dif­fer­ent levels.

What I wasn’t aware of was that by doing so my name was get­ting around the com­pany as a point of con­tact for my depart­ment. This would lead to peo­ple in other depart­ments con­tact­ing me directly when they had a quick ques­tion instead of my super­vi­sor. At the time I didn’t think any­thing of it, but Steve pointed out to me that my super­vi­sor may be the type of per­son who needed to be the focal point for his orga­ni­za­tion. To add to the issue, when­ever I reached out to peo­ple in other orga­ni­za­tions, I would not always tell my super­vi­sor every sin­gle per­son I spoke with (show­ing how green I was at the time).

Steve pro­ceeded to give me some ideas that I could try in order to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion with my super­vi­sor. He advised me of how impor­tant it was to let my super­vi­sor know who I’ve con­tacted out­side of the orga­ni­za­tion in order to accom­plish the tasks he assigned me to do. Even if the con­tact appears minor to me, my super­vi­sor may not believe so and by keep­ing him in the loop he would be able to feel more in con­trol of his orga­ni­za­tion. After all, being his orga­ni­za­tion, he is ulti­mately account­able for what goes on within it.

Another item that Steve pointed out to me was the pos­si­bil­ity of there being a per­son­al­ity con­flict. My per­son­al­ity is to be open and relaxed around peo­ple. Not talk­ing up a storm, but by nature I pre­fer to avoid long moments of awk­ward silence. If such an awk­ward moment of silence occurs, I am most likely to be one of the peo­ple who breaks the silence by ask­ing a ques­tion or bring­ing up a point that peo­ple may find inter­est­ing. My boss on the other hand was much more reserved and would not inter­rupt a long awk­ward moments of silence. Steve sug­gested using a mir­ror­ing tech­nique to help bridge the pos­si­ble gap the dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties my super­vi­sor and I had.

After apply­ing the advice Steve sug­gested, I noticed the level of mis­trust begin to dimin­ish. What was most sur­pris­ing for me was how quickly my supervisor’s mis­trust of me dis­si­pated. Within a cou­ple of weeks my super­vi­sor was appear­ing more com­fort­able around the things I was doing. I kept him more ‘informed’ by let­ting him know every­one I spoke with in order to get the tasks he assigned me done. After a while, he became com­fort­able enough with me reach­ing out to so many peo­ple in dif­fer­ent depart­ments (and them con­tact­ing me directly) that he even­tu­ally told me he didn’t need to know every­one I spoke with. As long as the job got done, he was fine with the way I did it.

Look­ing back on the whole sce­nario, I real­ized that I was very for­tu­nate to have Steve men­tor me at this time. Had he not given me his advice based upon his own past expe­ri­ence, the sit­u­a­tion would have most likely resulted in a dif­fer­ent end­ing. One where the mis­trust my super­vi­sor had for me could have turned into a rea­son for him to push me out of his orga­ni­za­tion. The input from Steve allowed me to have a suc­cess­ful track record with that com­pany that even­tu­ally led to me receiv­ing a promotion.

If you Decide to Choose a Men­tor
There is no limit to the num­ber of men­tors you have in your life. Some peo­ple have one, oth­ers many more. Some men­tor­ing rela­tion­ship last for less than a year, oth­ers last a life­time. The num­ber of men­tors you decide to have is ulti­mately up to you. Just like with all mutu­ally ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ships, men­tor­ships require time and need to be nurtured.

If you choose to find a men­tor, and a men­tor decides to choose you, it may be one of the most valu­able and prof­itable rela­tion­ships you ever have.

Feel that the above infor­ma­tion was valu­able to you, or that some­one else may find this infor­ma­tion use­ful, then feel free to share this site with them.


5 Intelligent Opinions, Leave Yours on What is the Big Deal about Mentors?

  1. Anonymous on Tue, 14th Jul 2009 1:09 pm
  2. This is very inter­est­ing and I acknowl­edge the value of a Men­tor, but how do you go about get­ting one?

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  3. Gil Pizano on Thu, 16th Jul 2009 12:15 am
  4. Some of the ways I found my own men­tors was sim­ply by ask­ing. One thing to keep in mind is that a men­tor­ship rela­tion­ship is a two way street. I per­son­ally have found that most men­tors have a com­mon inter­est in shar­ing the knowl­edge and wis­dom they them­selves have learned. The key is that they don’t want to waste their time with some­one who may not be open to use that knowledge.

    I found one of my busi­ness men­tors by meet­ing him at a net­work­ing event I chose to attend. After meet­ing him and speak­ing with him for a lit­tle bit, I real­ized we had a com­mon inter­est in a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject. The dif­fer­ence here was that he had been involved in the sub­ject of inter­est for a lot longer than me. A dif­fer­ence of 30 years in com­par­i­son to my own 10+ years. I pro­ceeded to ask him ques­tions to find out more about him and his under­stand­ing on the topic. In doing so, and “sin­cerely lis­ten­ing to what he was say­ing”, I learned that he could be a valu­able men­tor to me. I pro­ceeded to ask for his con­tact infor­ma­tion so we could talk more. (If they are hes­i­tant in giv­ing you con­tact infor­ma­tion, that may be a sign to not ask the per­son to be a men­tor.) Later on as the rela­tion­ship grew a lit­tle (a few more brief con­ver­sa­tions and ask­ing him very brief ques­tions to get his quick thoughts on a cou­ple of things) I asked if he wanted to get together for a cup of cof­fee or lunch (with me buying…that always helps). He was open to that.

    Dur­ing our get together for cof­fee, I asked if he was open to being a men­tor to me (within a par­tic­u­lar area). He said he was open to being a men­tor to me in that area and that he would be “glad to help me be suc­cess­ful in that sub­ject area”. Granted, this was for a busi­ness rela­tion­ship, but a men­tor could be for a sport, or a faith based orga­ni­za­tion or other areas of one’s life.

    Hope the above story helped!

    Also check out one of my other arti­cles on this blog titled Find­ing Infor­ma­tion about Mentorships

    Best Regards,


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  5. Anonymous on Thu, 16th Jul 2009 4:33 am
  6. Gil,
    Thank you for the story on how you chose one of your busi­ness men­tors. I am about to start a new job and will seek a men­tor within the orga­ni­za­tion, using your suggestions.

    Like or Dis­like: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    […] so can I.” I just didn’t under­stand how they did it. After speak­ing with a cou­ple of my men­tors, and con­sult­ing with some of my vir­tual men­tors as well (books), I real­ized a common […]

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  7. Stacey K. on Sat, 27th Feb 2010 9:09 pm
  8. Hi Gil, Thanks for the post. I never real­ized how valu­able a men­tor could be. I wish I knew about this ear­lier on it my career.

    Like or Dis­like: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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