Monday, July 14, 2008

Wanted: One Good Mentor

Since starting my professional life eleven years ago, I have been looking for a good mentor. Someone like Jack Donaghue on 30 Rock, who would spend some time guiding me and helping grow my skills and abilities. Sadly, finding a mentor is a lot harder than you think.

My first great mentor was my first boss, Dr. Bob Mutch. Bob was one of those people who just knew the right way to phrase a questions or mold a conversation to help you understand what you had to do. Or that you had gotten off the path, and how to get back on it. And he always did this without making you feel foolish or stupid. Some day I hope to be able to have that sort of insight and ability.

Since then it has been pretty sparse. I have had people I have worked with that I admire and have learned a great deal from, but not what I would call mentors. A mentor is someone who purposely spends time with you, with the goal of helping you grow by sharing their experiences. It seems to me that many people you work with would rather be a logger heads with you then help you grow. Many times I have found that instead of being viewed as a person who would like to learn, I am seen as competition. Others often mistake my professionalism and easy going personality as weakness, that I'm a door mat. I'm not, I just think there are only a few hills worth dying on. I believe that most issues can be solved through compromise. I would rather nurture a positive working relationship then have to go to work and dislike the people I am working with. Besides, I have always found that when you are nice to people they are nice back. If they like you, you are more likely to get that extra help you need at those crucial moments.

But that still doesn't explain why there are so few people who are willing to mentor. Maybe people are just too busy. Maybe, others confuse leadership as mentorship? Maybe I just haven't been up front enough about the fact that I would like this type of help. Whatever the reason, it does seem to me that mentorship is seriously lacking in most workplaces.


Squirrelly Girly said...

I think alot of it has to do with information hording. They figure if no one knows what they do and how they do it, then they can never be fired.

They must lead sad, scared lives.

Unknown said...

Girl, I couldn't have said that better myself.

I did have a job in NC for three years, and my "boss", Peggy, was the best thing that ever happened to me. She was kind, patient, taught me so much, and not just with work. I wish I had a boss like her every where I have ever worked. It would make things so much easier.

Heidi Schempp Fournier said...

Information hording is just another way to have control. I agree with you though, I think it is also fear. So sad. I am a humanist and believe that most people are happy to help you, or to scratch your back if you scratch theres, but there are always some who want to be different.

Anonymous said...

I so agree with you on this. I, too, would love a mentor, and am almost feeling, at this point in my career, that I would be ready to mentor someone else. I'm not sure why formal programs don't exist for things like this.

As for information hoarding, that's just fear. I think more people need to realize how quickly a career stagnates if you never share information. If you don't teach others what you do, how do you ever expect to move on?

Anonymous said...

I think we tend to discover mentors along the way, sometimes in hindsight. Early in my career, I learned a great deal from a few people, some positive, some not. I respected and admired the way some people did their work, handled challenges, approached life, etc - I am very thankful for them. I also learned from people I didn't respect, challenging myself not to do things the way they did. Early in our careers, we tend to know we have a lot to learn, and we tend to be quite teachable. We have to be, or we'd never survive. Later, it sometimes gets harder, since we have had successes and may know our strengths, but perhaps, we are not as aware of how we are perceived by others. I know that I sometimes have a hard time receiving constructive feedback, since depending on who it's from, I have a tendancy to get defensive. It is also difficult to give constuctive feedback (that could be taken negatively) to someone if they don't ask for it, and sometimes even if they do. It takes a great deal of trust on both sides. And trust is a challenge, not only in organizations, but also in our personal lives and society overall.

Heidi Schempp Fournier said...

What wonderful advice! Thank you so much for sharing. I do worry about stagnation, the world has changed.