I was reading an article on my favourite professional social media platform the other day encouraging readers to name their favourite manager and a question, actually several, came to mind: Why a manager and not a mentor? What’s the difference between a mentor and a “Favourite” manager? When does an experienced professional stop needing a mentor?
Let me just give that last question some context:
- Professionally, you’re approaching fifty, you’ve already had a career change or two, your current job can be a bit stressing but voluntary work helps you decompress and you’re climbing the ladder nicely so all in all, the outlook is positive – and why shouldn’t it be?
- At home, the family unit’s established, you’ve paid off a couple of major budget-restricting debts, you’ve got your emergency fund tucked away and your mortgage / property / investment plan is coming along nicely so why would you need mentor at this stage of your life, after all, mentors are for those just starting out, aren’t they?
Well yes and no. Every newbie, recruit, fresher, blue or beginner should have a mentor. I did and I’m glad I did but I’m also glad I’ve continued to meet mentors and people over the years who’ve influenced my career. And just how do you recognise a mentor? What differentiates a mentor from a manager or even a leader? Does taking someone under your wing and teaching them the trade make you a mentor? Does being a certified trainer?
Forget Google, Find Your Own
Mentors aren’t unicorns (the legendary animal, not the overvalued start-up kind) but they are rare and you need to be perceptive and receptive enough to find one. Once found, mentors come in all forms: willing, or not; benevolent or manipulator (because helping you helps them); empathetic or paternalist; guide or leader (the best lead from behind, they say); there are old school mentors and there are mentors who mischievously play with a concept to see if you’re on the same wavelength.
I define a mentor as being someone who, whether by chance or design, crosses your path one day, redefines your thought process and having got you used to going beyond your comfort zone continues on their way leaving you with the impression that what you just learned will influence the way you think, work and coexist with others for years to come.
Now, do I think experienced (read: senior) professionals still need mentoring? Is mentoring the solution for assuring senior employability? Yes, a mind should stay curious and hungry because there is always one more obstacle to overcome; one more objective to reach; one more target to hit… and one more lesson to learn.
… Oh, and by the way, to answer the question posed in the LinkedIn article. No, I don’t have a favourite “manager” but yes, there are several “Mentors” I’ve worked with and who I’m grateful to for provoking a change of attitude over the years… debout mes ami(e)s.