The tradition of a mentor helping a young mentee gain skill, hone talent and use it to successfully earn a living has been prevalent for centuries. With the robust changes in structures of the society and lifestyles, this practice too witnessed a decline, and apprenticeships – the biggest propeller of the mentor-mentee relationship – make way for savvy internships and largely impersonal employer-employee relationships; although some fields (like culinary and management) still have apprenticeships as an integral part of learning. This erosion of the concept of apprenticeship, and subsequent mentor-mentee relationship, has however not decreased the importance of the role of a mentor.
A lot of successful people swear by their mentors, who have and have not been their bosses. And since the chances of finding a suitable mentor for yourself could be totally dependent on factors outside of your control, it becomes pertinent to identify if your current boss or manager is playing the role of a mentor in your career, or if they possibly could? On the face of it, your immediate boss is one of the best people to take the role of your mentor, for they work closely with you; they identify your strengths and weaknesses, and help you further in the organisation as well. Hence, it becomes essential to identify if your current boss is also playing the role of your mentor. Here’s what you need to watch out for:
Target vs. Learning
What are you encouraged to do – Meet the deadline and move onto the next one? Or learn and apply that knowledge and learning? Do you think your boss is investing time and energy to inculcate value in you, and introducing you to experience based learning wherever possible? A litmus test for finding if your boss wants you to simply meet the targets, or do more could be to find out why they are sending you to conferences, seminars and events. Is it merely for the sake of representation and participation, or because they expect and want to expose you to maximum learning and networking opportunities?
Have you, one more than one occasion, found yourself talking to your boss about your career goals, future in the organisation and your plan, inside or even outside the company? Do your interactions go beyond the regular and formal, spanning industry and current affair related topics, engaging you in a meaningful discussion? Are you posed with questions, and asked to find answers and solutions to them? The kind of talk you have with your boss will indicate whether he/she can be your mentor or not, for it will tell you how open, honest, comfortable, like-minded, affable and respected your working relationship is with each other.
Are you able to talk freely in the presence of your boss? Are you guarded, or worse, scared to talk directly to them? Is there room for mutual feedback in your communication process, key word being mutual? Communicating with ease is critical to the development of a mentor-mentee relationship, so next time, make a conscious note of how you behave around your boss and vice-e-versa. You need to be able to ask the hard questions, answer the tough ones, without feeling intimidated. You cannot expect for your boss to take the role of a mentor in your life, when communication between the two of you is strained, especially if this is because of a difference in your designation.
Although not an indispensable variable in the equation, a personal connection or ‘clicking’ with your boss is important. One might say that with time, affinity and respect grows, but both these qualities need a solid foundation of trust and confidence. Knowing you boss/mentor outside of work just gives you an extra depth of understanding of each other, and help you progress. If you already happen to know your boss or manager pretty well outside of work, they could possibly take on the role of your mentor with a lot less difficulty, for they can work with you not only as a boss, but as a friend.
The jury is divided on whether an immediate boss is always the best person to be your mentor or not, but having a mentor (and not only a supervisor) can help you deal with challenges and obstacles with experienced and unique advice. One might assume that the boss makes for the best mentor, but as many opine, it is not always the case. Making a case against bosses as mentors, this text also suggests that finding a mentor should be dependent on the exact purpose of the mentorship, and shouldn’t be a generic person from the organisation or the industry. At the end of the day, everybody can affirm to the fact that having a mentor to watch over your career, and help you grow, makes an indistinguishable impact one one’s career. Hence, look out for a mentor if you can – and if you boss happens to be it, you now know how to identify.