Do Mentors Matter More than Bosses and Parents? How to Establish Mentor/Mentee Relationships

“Not having a mentor is just stupid,” said a young and successful sales professional in a meeting I attended a few weeks ago.   She was giving the group advice on how to be successful in sales.

I couldn’t agree with her more.  Not having a least one mentor (and seeking to be a mentor to someone else) is just about the dumbest mistake you can make in business.

I was fortunate to have a wonderful academic and professional mentor in college (he passed away a few years ago and I still miss his sound advice), and I continue to have a few professional and personal mentors.  They may not even see themselves as my “mentors”- we haven’t been so specific as to have a DTR aka high school code for “Defining the Relationship”- but they are.

I’ve never thought about how important having a mentor is in all aspects of life until reading Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant.  Like most things, business books end up teaching me more about parenting than they do about business!

In his book, Grant states:

The paradox of encouraging children to develop strong values is that parents effectively limit their own influence.  Parents can nurture the impulse to be original, but at some point, people need to find their own role models for originality in their chosen fields…. If we want to encourage originality, the best step we can take is to raise our children’s aspirations by introducing them to different kinds of role models.

But how do we establish mentoring relationships for our kids, and ourselves whether in business or in personal relationships that grow us as people and as professionals?

Sheryl Sandberg in her book, Lean In, emphasizes that asking someone to be your mentor isn’t the right approach; instead these relationships should grow naturally.  I do think, however, you can set-up some framework to help these relationships grow organically:

  1. Find or establish common connection groups. I’ve found that my interests in business start-ups, running, faith and talent development have led to meaningful mentoring relationships.  Help yourself, your company and your children seek out or establish common interests groups and grow relationships through them.
  2. Realize that mentoring doesn’t have to be the “old” mentoring the “young”. Often people call this “reverse mentoring”, but mentoring should be a relationship where one who has wisdom through expertise and experience can help another person.   If strong relationships are established, often the role of mentor and mentee can be reversed at times during the course of the relationship depending on the circumstances and topics.  For example, I may be able to be a mentor for someone younger than myself about how to start and grow a business, but that person may be more tech savvy than I am and can teach me a thing or two about establishing business scalability through the use of tech tools.
  3. Understand that mentoring relationships may have more of an impact on outcomes than close familial and/or working relationships. If you’re the parent or the boss, you may be thinking that it is your job to be the mentor.  However, as Grant’s research points out, you may be better off helping your child or employee establish a relationship outside the home or your workplace or department to help them grow and become more successful.

Diversity of ideas and thoughts can help people grow more than the familiar.   Like I hear many parents that come to us for career advice for their kids say, “You don’t have a dog in this fight”.  What they mean by this is since we aren’t so close to it, we can give more objective advice that people are more receptive to receiving and acting upon.  The kind of wisdom that comes from a mentor is not the carrot or the stick approach on advice that often comes from our parent(s) and/or our boss.

What the best advice you’ve received from a mentor?

Mary Ila Ward

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