The Pros and Cons of a Workplace Mentor

Posted January 27, 2011 by

As Hallmark so aptly-and annually-reminds us, this coming Sunday is Father’s Day. For many families, there’ll be the usual barbecue, perhaps a gift or two, and of course a greeting card. More likely than not, the card will depict a Waspish, American-ideal family gathered around ‘dear ole’ Dad,’ as he relaxes in an almost Archie Bunkeresqe easy chair. Though the smoking pipe and hunting rifle are now gone from today’s scene, the general idea has remained consistant.
Corny? Sure it is, yet the whole idea of this holiday, and the cultural accoutrements that accompany it, are really pretty damned nice. It is, after all, about love, and the safety and security that a warm, healthy father son/daughter relationship brings to the overall family dynamic. Despite social engineering mantras to the contrary, guess what? Fathers do indeed still count-just ask their children.
It’s ironic, if you think about it, that not only are we always told at work how we are really one big happy family, but also how we never, and I mean ever, believe even one single word of it. Yet, the fact remains that the existence of mentors, patrons, sponsors or the like have existed in every workplace for, well, forever. While it may be too much of a stretch to say that a mentor is really a father surrogate, the fact is that there are a number of similarities that may well warrant some thought here. And so, the one big happy work family routine may well be, in part, actually true.
A mentor-student relationship may typically begin as two people, at differing ages and status in an organization, who are most likely a junior-senior mix. They come to know and genuinely like/respect one another. It may be that there’s a natural, unspoken need on the part of both for mutual support, so that a kind of symbiotic interaction begins. And, as with almost everything else, there are benefits as well as deficits in such a relationship.

Don’t get me wrong-having a mentor at work is generally a great thing, and if you can actively recruit one, so much the better for you. It’s even better, though somewhat unlikely, if you can maintain control over the relationship. But here’s just a few of the plusses and minuses that you need to watch out for, should you be able or willing to expand your work family to include a mentor:
*Protector; a mentor has both a psychological and practical need to watch your back at work. He/She can sing your praises, defend you against unfair attack and pave your pathway to promotion in a variety of ways.
*Guide; not only can he help you to learn the ropes and negotiate the bureaucratic process, he can also provide you with the ‘book’ on your peers, bosses and assorted other stakeholders who can have an impact on your career. Guaranted that, armed with such intelligence, you’ll become a more powerful player, quicker.
*Advisor; happy to assist you in general decision-making, he is also usually adept at formulating strategies and developing those winning tactics that assure you a place at the table.
*IOU; as the recipient of such largess, it’s fully expected, though usually unspoken, that you owe your mentor a debt of, at least, gratitude. And be real wary of any protestations to the contrary-they’re likely nothing more than a manipulative technique to reinforce a sense of control over you. If you don’t like being in debt, than the patron-student game isn’t at all for you.
*Compromisability; this is where the flip side of the loyalty issue comes in. It can come to pass that you may confront ethical, legal or even moral issues, and have make the unenviable choice of personal loyalty or personal honor. Trust me-this can happen more often than you think. And when it does, it’s no fun at all.
*Dependence; as great as you may think you are, the reality is that, without the help of your mentor, you would very likely be lower on the organization food chain. And so, as you continue to expect all kinds of assistance, you may just get mentally flabby. You start to lose that edge, that extra bit of creativity or critical thinking, that made you somewhat unique to begin with.
As Fathers’ Day approaches, let’s give a shout out to that mythical mega-mentor, Gepetto (of Pinocchio fame). If you recall, and after a series of mis-adventures, the wooden Pinocchio fulfills his ambition to become a real boy. Yet, the true hero of this classic story is Gepetto, who was more than happy to surrender the control that being a puppet-master entails, to become a real dad.
Article by, Victor Kipling and courtesy of – your cure for carbon copy career advice!

Originally posted by Candice A

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