What is the Big Deal about Mentors?

July 2, 2009 by
Filed under: Mentoring 

MentorsIf 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.

Comments

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?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  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,

    Gil

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  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 […]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  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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