The Problem with Traditional Mentoring

Columnist Marshawn Evans tells you why being more assertive is crucial to your career success

BlackEnterprise.com columnist Marshawn Evans (Image: Courtesy of Evans)

Most professionals, executives and entrepreneurs alike, recognize the value of having a mentor. On the other hand, securing a mentor, a good one, is usually far more challenging.

Traditional mentoring in the workplace usually derives from one of three methods: (1) a mentor is assigned to you; (2) you secure one on your own; or (3) a mentoring relationship naturally develops with someone you know and trust.

I can tell you from personal experience that the best mentoring relationships happen organically; but in this day and age, there are reasons you may need to be more assertive.

For one, budgets are tight. Managers and supervisors are under tremendous pressure to deliver more results with fewer resources. While most leaders would like to mentor, marketplace realities make it difficult to make mentoring a top priority. You, however, need a mentor who makes you a priority–someone who is focused on your development and committed to helping you grow.

The good news is that there are a ton of resources available to you. While I would never undermine the importance of cultivating mentoring relationships in the workplace, it’s time professionals realize that all of your development cannot happen during your 9-to-5, during happy hour, or on the golf course. Your most thorough development will occur after hours, and probably from multiple sources, wholly outside your workplace.

Have you ever noticed that most individuals in supervisory, management, or leadership positions leave the office for training? They leave the office for conferences, networking events, seminars, and meetings. They also tend to hire an outside coach to give greater perspective. Then after receiving developmental and educational deposits, they return to the office to either share or execute what they have learned. Leadership is developed; not delivered.

This kind of development takes work. It takes time. And it takes commitment. You may not like what I am about to say, but I’ll say it anyway: Most of us want development to be easy. We want someone to take us under his or her wing, pour out all of the wisdom they have worked an entire lifetime to develop, and then promptly fast track us to success.

In my view, it is a bad expectation–one rooted in laziness, and one that is a bit insulting, too. Think about it. How would you feel if you had to sweat and struggle to build a home from scratch and with your bare hands, and then someone else wants come in and live in your home without ever paying you rent? Believe it or not, that’s how we treat most mentoring relationships. We are looking to “live” in someone else’s mind or world without properly respecting the price paid by that person to become a brilliant success.

Here is my point: Mentoring is important. No debate there. How we approach mentoring as a professional has been rather, well…ignorant. (I said you might not like what I have to say about this!)

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  • Crystal

    Great article! I agree the that traditional mentorship model is outdated. It seems like Gen X and Gen Y believe that there is a short cut to knowledge, not including spending time, money and years developing skills and insight. Personally, I think mastermind groups are a better solution, at least for business owners- http://crystalwashington.com/mastermind-groups-vs-mentors-can-you-guess-which-model-is-outdated/.

  • Marisa

    It is true that mentoring relationships at work are becoming more and more challenging. Budget cutbacks don’t leave room for managers in higher positions to mentor other employees or time for employees to learn new things because everybody has so much to do on a tight schedule.

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