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  • Linda R. Taliaferro

You Think You Have a Mentor, But You Don’t

I’ve spoken before about how powerful mentorships can be in your career, but having an effective mentorship is like any other relationship. It takes work and nuance, and it’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all type of thing. 

So today I want to talk about the types of relationships that seem like mentorships but are really something else.

The first “mentorship” that isn’t a mentorship is a structured, corporate program. 

It goes like this:

One day, your name pops up in the inbox of a higher-up employee with a note that says you’ll be their mentee. Congrats! They now are supposed to meet with you regularly and guide your career. 

But here’s the thing, these types of mentors usually give you high-level, generic advice, because they’re not personally motivated to see you succeed. 

They wouldn’t have signed up to mentor you voluntarily, so their heart isn’t in it. 

Plus, an assigned relationship like that is essentially pulled from a hat. That person doesn’t know anything about you or career, your goals or your struggles, or anything about what you want out of life. And you don’t know them, either. You’re an item on their to-do list, not someone who they care about and want to guide and support. 

Another person who can’t be a good mentor? Your boss. 

I can understand why a boss might feel like a mentor, especially if you like them. You talk to them all the time, there’s mutual trust, and you probably know each other pretty well. 

But the problem is that your boss can never be a true advocate for you and your career. There’s always a line that has to exist between boss and employee, which means that an unbiased relationship is impossible. You’re reporting to them, so there’s a power imbalance there that means you can’t be peers. I think that kind of imbalance means it’s difficult to have that openness and vulnerability.

So, how should you find a mentor?

Start with the relationship. Seek out people in your organization at multiple levels and see who you click with. Look for people who you like and would like to emulate, and get to know them outside of a mentorship relationship first. I love one-on-ones, but there’s always coffee dates and plain old water cooler talk. Once you have a fundamental relationship and feel that your person has vested interest in you, then they should (hopefully!) be honored if you asked them to mentor you.

Again, the key here is that it has to be someone who cares about you in an unbiased, fundamental way. Professional growth is all about relationships, and mentorships are a really wonderful way to move forward.

Are you looking for some help taking that next step in your career? Let’s connect! Schedule a free consultation with me, and we can come up with your game plan for finding a mentor, getting that promotion, or making your mark in your career.

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