Everyone Needs a Mentor

My job, when it’s boiled down to the basics, is to make my organization and the people in it successful. I make the organization successful through leadership, but I make the people in it successful through mentorship.

I completely understand our infatuation with leadership. I like to read about it as much as the next guy, and when my mentor and I sit, we often talk about our favorite writers and new leadership catchphrases. We also talk about the politics associated with our positions, community trends, and our individual challenges. As much as we talk about, read about, and think deep thoughts about types of leaders, styles, and theories, the thing that made me successful wasn’t the leadership. It was the mentorship.

The professional relationships with mentors above me that resulted in my setting the right goals, making the best career choices, and learning to communicate more effectively, are what I’m thankful for. Don’t get me wrong; I love talking leadership. Most of the connections to The Day Job on social media are about leadership since I just can’t seem to find the same passion for mentorship. The two are often part of the same discussion, but they aren’t the same. A leader can’t always be a mentor, and vice versa.

I lead people to accomplish the mission. Luckily, that’s not all I’m expected to do. The other side of the coin is that I mentor. Just as others continue to do for me, I help people set goals and work towards them. It’s a shaky distinction sometimes, but this is what I believe: One is no more important than the other, and both have pitfalls.

Leadership is more about an organization and it’s mission. As much as we want to talk about and think high thoughts about the distinctions between types, the practice of leadership styles has to do with organizational behavior, the organization’s mission, and its culture. Leadership is the topic of more books than I’ll ever be able to read, and more are being written all the time.

Mentorship is slightly different. First off, it’s hard to write about, which is why you don’t see many books on the shelves for it. It’s personal, about an individual, life choices, mistakes made, and some hard honesty we all need to deal with sooner or later. Mentorship can be messy at the personal level in ways that can’t easily fit into a system between two book covers. Mostly, it’s about experience, which I try to share here. Some of that experience is from my successes, but just as much is from failures and those hard life lessons that came from poor decisions.

Again, since we’re talking about what I believe, I’ll say that not everyone in the world needs to be led. Some organizations at certain levels don’t need the newest leadership fads, and trying to incorporate them for no reason will create unnecessary change. We only need a few leaders in defined leadership positions, but we need as many mentors as we can get. Whether you’re looking for your first job, pushing upwards in your career, or changing fields, I think you need a mentor. Here’s a phrase people who know me have heard before:

Everyone needs a mentor, but nobody needs one more than the leaders.

If someone near the bottom of an organization makes a poor decision, that decision can often be mitigated rather easily. When someone in a leadership position makes a poor decision, it almost always affects everyone. If your profession is leadership of an organization, mentorship can prevent decisions from being made in a vacuum and improve how those decisions are communicated.

There are a lot of mentors out there in the world, we just don’t call them that any more. They are coaches and counselors, social workers and outreach groups dedicated to a specific need, but they all make a personal choice to help individuals set and meet goals. I can tell you from personal experience that there are few more satisfying moments than seeing someone become successful and knowing you had a part in it. If you’re in a position to mentor, please consider it.

– Who mentored you in the past, and what successes did they have a part in?

– Who do you mentor, and what made you choose that person?

– If you’re not mentoring, who in your organization could probably benefit from some of your time?

Have a great week out there.

– JT


James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.