Could a Mentor Help You Focus on
What You Care About?
Leslie Godwin, MFCC
Joan, a Human Resources Director, enjoys certain aspects of her job, like helping new hires feel comfortable and coaching employees to take on new challenges like learning leadership skills.
But there are things that make her job quite stressful. She's often asked to settle employee disputes, and she coordinates her company's legal team when an employee sues.
Joan would like to learn how to better handle the stressful aspects of her job, and she'd like to focus more on the parts she finds most interesting and rewarding.
Eliza is just out of college and new to full-time work. She has a job that she enjoys but doesn't know what her career path will be yet.
Eliza would like to learn how to approach her career so it works for her and still allows her to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up.
These women are at very different places in their careers. Yet they each could benefit greatly from having the right mentor.
WHAT IS A MENTOR?
A mentor is someone who has some or all of the following qualities:
- The ability to see your situation as an outside observer, and who won't get overwhelmed by what overwhelms you
- Some wisdom, not just intelligence and experience
- The desire to be of service
- The ability to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear
- May have experience or contacts in your field
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: lives based on their values, and has values you respect
HOW A MENTOR COULD HELP SOMEONE LIKE JOAN
Joan needs some perspective on the stressful parts of her job. The right mentor could help her:
- Develop a different approach to handling the stressful lawsuits and dispute-resolution
- Decide if she should restructure her position, and help her strategize how to present her ideas to her boss
- Help her further develop her skills in the areas she enjoys
- Keep her in touch with her own values so she spends her time and energy on what is important to her, not just on work
HOW A MENTOR COULD HELP SOMEONE LIKE ELIZA
Eliza needs help finding her career and life path. The right mentor could help her:
- Define and clarify her values
- Clarify who she really is as opposed to what her parents, teachers, and culture assume or hope she'll become
- Think through whether she'll want children someday and how that will affect her career path
- Offer her encouragement to be honest with herself and others as she finds out who she really is (in her essence vs. on the surface)
HOW COULD A MENTOR HELP YOU?
A Mentor May Be A:
A Mentor is Not A:
ATM machine or loan officer
Usually not a friend (in order to stay most objective and tell you the truth!)
You may already have a mentor in your field. Someone that can help you see where to avoid business problems before they start. Or someone who will listen to your "pro and con
list" when you're making business/career decisions.
But you may not realize that a mentor can help you stick to your values, or grow your business/career in a way that lets you have a life outside of work. If you choose a mentor that has
values you respect, and lives by those values, this opens up the possibilities of the relationship to offer you more than just practical business/career advice.
One of my mentors always listened very carefully when I'd present my situation, and didn't rush to give the first piece of advice that came to mind, as I used to do. His thoughtful way of
listening made me feel that my dilemma was worthy of his time, and it was a lesson in weighing my reactions instead of "thinking out loud." This may not be something you are concerned
about. We all have our blind spots, and our strengths come with downsides. This was one of my strengths that came with a downside. I am able to respond quickly to most questions, and
that makes me good at responding articulately at the 'Q&A' part of a workshop, and when I give feedback in a consulting session. But I needed to slow down and think more deliberately, rather
than just react.
We all say that we want to live by our values, but it's hard to do in day-to-day life sometimes. We have pressures to make a living, to complete a project on time, and many other short-term
needs that seem to overshadow the big picture. When I was first studying to become a psychotherapist almost 20 years ago, and was more impressionable about these issues, I learned a lot from a
supervisor that was very clear that you don't keep people in therapy because you need a paycheck. She held her personal life and needs far apart from advice she gave patients. This helped
me develop good habits, so that I was much more objective with patients (and this holds true for my coaching clients in my current work,) and helped them make the right decision for them, without
making them feel that they would be disappointing me. They felt I was there to help them do the right thing for them.
Having a mentor who understands your long-term goals, and appreciates the importance of living by strongly held values, can help you develop these good habits. And they can make you feel like
no matter how unpopular it is to do the right thing sometimes, that you should persevere. So, don't ask your mentor a business question and only listen to their practical advice. Ask how
your actions will fit into your big picture. And how to get through the fears and anxieties of your short-term needs to make sure you take care of what really matters to you.
HOW TO USE THE ADVICE YOUR MENTOR OFFERS
Ivern Ball said, "most of us ask for advice when we know the answer but want a different one." If that's true, how can you not only find the right mentor, but make the most of their
advice and feedback? It's important that you don't use your mentor as one of many people you ask for advice about a topic. Let's say you are trying to decide if it's time to hire your
first employee. You do some research and review your business plan, and pretty soon you begin to see the pros and cons involved. You could ask all the colleagues, friends, and associates
you come across in the next couple of days to alleviate your anxiety. Then when you get a chance to talk to your mentor, theirs is just one more opinion you'll add to the pile.
Or, you could do the research I mention above, and then ask your mentor for their input. You can then weigh it carefully and do some follow-up questioning of colleagues who have experience
with this. But you're not letting your anxiety guide you to take a tally of anyone and everyone.
We aren't used to looking up to others and truly valuing what they have to say. Our culture encourages us to expect more information than we can handle, and to move quickly. Our cynical
point of view makes us feel that most people are just out to do what is best for them, and that we can't expect someone else to be helpful unless they are going to selfishly benefit from the
exchange. Having a mentor that you respect, and approaching them with the proper reverence, will help you grow as a person. Growing this part of yourself is maybe the most important
benefit of having a worthy mentor. Their advice could be the icing on the cake. Or as John Churton Collins said, "To profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it."
Leslie Godwin, MFCC is a Career & Life-Transition Coach, Writer, and Speaker. She publishes a free email newsletter on career and life transition. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org and mention that you'd like to be on the email newsletter list.