The Problem with Traditional Mentoring

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

Black man mentoring young co-worker

Make the most of your mentors (Image: Thinkstock)

Mentoring used in the traditional sense is misleading. When I think of mentoring, I think of sharing time, wisdom, and heart with someone I know and care about. I think “mentoring” when I think about working with kids, or interacting with colleagues that I know–those with whom I have natural, pre-existing relationship and therefore a vested interest. But (and this is a really big “but”), in the marketplace, when I see someone who has wisdom that I respect and admire, I think about that person as an expert, virtual mentor, or consultant.”

It is time for a marketplace mind shift as it relates to mentoring. In the dictionary, a mentor is defined as, “an experienced or trusted adviser,” and as “one who trains.” Does that fit your supervisor’s job description? Probably not. In the thesaurus, mentor is synonymous with the words adviser, guide, guru, counselor, consultant, trainer, teacher, tutor, and instructor. Again, does that fit the job description of your boss?

Development is your responsibility. If you went to a consultant, you would naturally expect to invest in their experience and expertise. We strategically, however, use the word “mentor” (instead of consultant) because it tugs upon, and slyly manipulates, benevolent heartstrings.

Now, if you are accustomed to asking for “hook-ups” and the “let-me-pick-your-brain” strategy, you (again) are not going to like what I am about to say. Professionals must start treating development professionally. Quality professional development is an investment.

Naturally, you do get what you pay for. So if you want dedicated, personalized attention, hire a strategist or invest in attending a development event. Regardless of where you are at in your career or your business, my hope is that you will begin to think differently about your approach to professional development.

I’m not ready to give-up on the word mentor. A mentor just means that someone cares about your development, which is critical. We all need a coach, an adviser, and a professional mentor, but we also need to upgrade our approach to upgrade our outcomes.

I consider myself a virtual mentor to thousands of people internationally. Mentoring is a big topic, so in my column next week I plan to share some specific tips that you can use in strategically securing the right virtual mentor–one that is focused on your development and your success.

In the interim, let me know your thoughts below. What do you think of modern day mentoring? Don’t hold back. I love a lively debate!

Marshawn Evans a weekly career columnist for BlackEnterprise.com. She is Founder of ME Unlimited®, a corporate life-enrichment consulting firm focusing on reinvention, diversity, innovative leadership and peak performance strategies. Evans is an entertainment lawyer, entrepreneur and reinvention strategiest. The author of SKIRTS in the Boardroom: A Woman’s Survival Guide to Success in Business & Life (Wiley 2008), is also founder of The SKIRTS Network™ and The Work Your SKIRTS Awards.™ Follow her on Twitter at @marshawnevans and on Facebook at ME Unlimited by Marshawn Evans.

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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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