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Mentors 101: Finding, Maintaining, and Outmatching Your Mentor

Mentors 101: Finding, Maintaining, and Outmatching Your Mentor

Caravaggio studied under Titian, Donald Trump learned from his dad, and Audrey Hepburn had Marie Rambert. Budding talents, whether they’re artisans or entrepreneurs, learn their trade through apprenticeship.

You probably already know that a mentor can be your strongest support as you grow in your field, but why should you get one, how do you keep that person, and what do you do as your relationship grows? Below, I’ve compiled three lessons from best-selling authors in business and growth who break down the intricacies of this most hallowed of teacher-student liaisons.

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Lesson 1 with Keith Ferrazzi of Never Eat Alone: Surround yourself with the right influences

In her essay, The Eyedropper Sample of Friendship, Facebook Product Design Director Julie Zhuo explains the eyedropper sample of friendship. “In designer terms, if the world is one glossy, 7-billion pixel image, what color you are is likely the average of an 11X11 eyedropper sample of those around you.” Here, the eyedropper sample of friendship describes your social and personal ties, but it applies to your professional influences, too.

Getting close to pioneers in your field teaches you the tricks of the trade; at the same time, their “color,” or traits and proclivity toward success, rubs off on you. And the benefits of making smart allies don’t end there, because doing so also helps you develop the all-important personal network. Keith Ferrazzi, author and CEO of consulting and research institute Ferrazzi Greenlight, explains it in Never Eat Alone: if your personal network comprises people with many good contacts, you’ll find your own list of contacts beginning to improve and grow. And the better these people are doing, the likelier it is you’ll start to take on the color of success.

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Lesson 2 with Sheryl Sandberg of Lean In: Be a partner, not a parasite

Remember that kid at school who cozied up to you whenever test day rolled around? Like an unbottled genie or a door-to-door salesman, he’d materialize, grinning and dragging his desk close to yours. For five minutes you had a new best friend, but as soon as the bell rang, where’d he go? Who knows? But he no longer needed the answer to #23.

In Lean In, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg advocates for not only finding a mentor so you can excel, but excelling so that you can find a mentor. Mentors – even when they are your peers (and they can be!) – select their protégés based on performance and potential. This means doing well is a first step toward getting the right person in your corner.

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Whatever you do, take this to heart: mentoring is a reciprocal relationship. Ideally, the mentor learns from you, too, and feels a sense of pride from watching you grow. Respect your mentor’s time and expertise, and don’t just meet to “catch up,” exploit, or complain – or for the answer to #23.

Lesson 3 with Robert Greene of Mastery: For real success, pace, then outmatch, your mentor

Ah, Alexander the Great: famous fighter, strategist of war, and governor for the ages. The man is a monolith of history, but what you might not know is that much of the wisdom upon which he called and later embellished came from the teachings of Aristotle. Without the great philosopher’s influence as a foundation, Alex might be entered in Wikipedia today as Alexander the Kind’ve Alright or Alexander the Passable. His determination to learn and improve upon what Aristotle taught him is what moved him from good to great.

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In Mastery, author and Renaissance man Robert Greene advises choosing a mentor who will teach you their ways, but upon whose work you’re able to riff and improve. The goal should be to learn the path from your mentor, but rather than stop when you arrive at the destination they’ve described, blaze the trail even further. Your mentor can show you the way and even provide help on the journey, but ultimately, you choose how far you’ll go. Set your watermark higher than your mentor’s rose, and you’ll be well placed to bring up the next generation of outstanding talent.

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Sebastian Klein

Sebastian is the co-founder of Blinkist, a serial entrepreneur, consultant, speaker and writer with a passion for management-free organizations.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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