Are You a Mentor or Mommie Dearest?

Hey manager Mommie Dearest…Could your mentoring do more harm than good?

I am a fan of mentorships.  I like to mentor people.  And, if I am trying to develop my employees, I always recommend they pick a mentor besides me, since in theory I mentor them every day.  Mentoring can be an easy way to develop a variety of skills for a variety of reasons.

But when asked, why do I suggest employees pick mentors?  Why do employees want mentors? Conversely, why do I choose to mentor employees?  Why do I presume that mentoring works or is even necessary? Do mentors really serve as a partner in learning? Or is it more self-serving?

From the employee’s point of view:  I think the main reason an employee wants a mentor is to get promoted.  Why?  They need an advocate.  They need to have as many advocates as humanly possible in order to politic into the role of their dreams.  Skills, hard work and drive are huge factors in promote-ability, but so is corporate politicking. I don’t make the rules.  I just report what I have seen over my career.  Finding mentors helps check this factor off the list.

From the manager’s point of view:  I like to mentor people because it makes me feel good. I really want to help and will continue to mentor. But am I helping them develop their own point of view?  Or am I subconsciously brainwashing them to mine?  In a way, could I be politicking them to be my own follower/advocate?

That is the Mommie Dearest worst case scenario.  Mommie Dearest had kids to serve her own agenda, not theirs.

So to answer the original question, do they do more harm than good?  Nah.  They aren’t harmful.  If done right, they help the learning process.  And they are free and simple.  But here are some things to consider before you ask to be mentored or agree to mentor.

1)  Employees:  You need to be the catalyst of the mentorships.  You theoretically want to be developed.  You should own it.

2)  Mentor:  If you are approached to mentor, insist the mentee be brutally honest about why they want a mentor. If they want to truly learn, fine.  If they want to be promoted that is OK.  You may want to guide them in other directions that may be more effective.  Which leads to…

3)  Mentee:  If you want to get an advocate to be promoted (which is fine), I think other “exposure” methods are more effective.  Taking on new projects within and outside of your department are better ways to show acumen, skill and passion more quickly.  Lead a taskforce, join the board of a career specific networking group, ask to shadow another department, present at a corporate-wide meeting.  Anything that may show initiative and leadership.

Most mentorships in my opinion help more with advocacy than learning.  But they are easy, accessible and free.  If you decide to be a part of a mentor partnership, just know why you want to do it.

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Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke (PHR) is VP of People at DAXKO. That's right - the very DAXKO that our very own KD is an alum of because there are only so many people (okay, just one) in the big B'ham who are worthy of that VP of People title. Dawn would be it. Former actor/singer/retail guru, her HR career has spanned the last decade. A true Generalist she’s done a little bit of everything, but recruiting and training is where she gets her mojo. She's based in the good 'ole blogging capitol of the south, Birmingham, Alabama, where you can frequently find her listening to the Beatles and REM, watching tons of Sex in the City reruns, drinking copious amounts of coffee and wine, and wondering how in the world this theatre grad ever got into football or HR…. Talk to Dawn via emailLinkedIn, or Twitter...

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