Your mentor isn’t The Answer (and isn’t supposed to be)

This year we’re having a monthly series on mentoring. Head here to read the previous posts.

This year I’m running a mentoring series here on the blog. I believe in mentors. I think you should find one.

But today I want to take a time out for a minute to share a caveat about mentoring, and it is this: Mentors are just people, too.    

Mentors are only human. They’re typically older, wiser, and more experienced humans, but they’re humans all the same.

Sometimes I forget this, and I fall into the trap of either:

1. not recognizing bad advice for what it is because it came from a mentor, or

2. having wildly unrealistic expectations that my mentor’s piercing insight or wisdom or connections will somehow enable me to steamroll through all my roadblocks, and suffering irrational disappointment when this inevitably fails to happen.

First, let’s talk about the bad advice: A few years ago, my husband asked his mentor a question about how to handle a situation at work. His mentor gave him advice, my husband followed through, and the situation got a little worse instead of better. In hindsight, it was bad advice. So why did he follow through? Because the advice came from his mentor.

True story, and it happens everyday.

Next, let’s talk about crazy-high expectations: Sheryl Sandberg’s take on mentoring in Lean In isn’t heard often enough. She says, “Searching for a mentor has become the professional equivalent of waiting for Prince Charming….Young women are told that if they can just find the right mentor, they will be pushed up the ladder and whisked away to the corner office to live happily ever after.”

I’m not a business luminary, but I see this happening all the time. This mindset–that a mentor will save you–isn’t limited to the workplace. Women fall into the same trap when it comes to thinking about work, or marriage, or faith, or parenting.

A mentor’s role should be to help you figure out your own path (and perhaps move down it with a little more speed and a little less frustration). A mentor is not The Answer, and she isn’t supposed to be.

I love mentoring; I think everyone should find a mentor. But these relationships aren’t fruitful–for either party–if we idolize the people we’re looking to for advice. If I view my mentor as The Solution instead of a valuable resource, I’m setting myself–and the relationship–up to fail.

Have you fallen into the trap of bad advice or crazy-high expectations? Share your story in comments so we can help each other do this mentoring thing a little better. 

Let's Talk About Mentoring: Your mentor isn't The Answer (and isn't supposed to be)

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13 comments

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  1. Tim says:

    I’ve had mentors, but never fallen into the trap of thinking they have all the answers. (Too cynical, I think.) Now I find that I am more in the mentoring role – I hope none of the people I help think I’m their Prince Charming, let alone their Savior. That job is taken!

    Cheers,
    Tim

    P.S. What do you call a person who has a mentor? Because mentee sounds like a food product, I refer to those I have a mentoring relationship with as my manatees.

  2. This makes me think that if we didn’t idolize these mentors we might be more willing to mentor others ourselves. If we saw them as real people, lowered the expectation, we might help others. And then it might not be so hard to find a mentor.=)

  3. Jim says:

    Such great thoughts Anne! I would think some “bad advice” might not even be bad advice–because no one can predict the future, right? Personalities and types (yes that was just for you as a Myers Briggs geek Anne haha) are a LARGE part of the equation too I would think…

    (By the way, I’m falling in love with DISC and Strengthfinder–love those and I’ve learned so much from them.)

  4. Rebecca says:

    There’s no magical mentor dust??? Bummer.

    Mentoring nightmare: I was asked to help develop a young mama’s parenting skills with a recalcitrant three year old. She neglected to mention that both of them were currently on psychotropic drugs and under the care of a psychiatrist. She needed nouthetic counseling, not mentoring.

    On the manatee side, I’m guilty of being a 3 day monk: I have laser focus or no focus. I’ve been working for a couple of years on having a “slow and steady” mentality.

  5. Sarah Beals says:

    I agree. Mentors are fallible. 🙂 I’ve been given some WILD advice in my time (from homeschooling to disciplining our kids) and I have to come back to the fact that God gave me a brain, and it the advice seems crazy, I have the right to dump it. 🙂

  6. Susan says:

    Great advice and I think it can also be applied to parenting. A good parent will put aside their ego and raise their children to be independent and have the ability to think for themselves. We do our children a great disservice if we try to make them believe that we are perfect, have the right answers to everything or are never wrong. I work to be a good role model that my children will want as their mentor while telling them from time to time that I don’t have all the answers, and always apologize if & when I’ve wronged them. I worked hard to accept the fact that even though I may believe a particular piece of advice or instruction I gave was golden, they are free to disregard it and learn from the school of hard knocks. We all learn from our mistakes – at every age and stage of life. I’m so proud, thrilled and in awe of their intelligence, insight, confidence, independence and maturity now that they are in their 20’s. And now the flow of advice goes in both directions! I’m honored to be their mom!

  7. Danielle says:

    Loved reading this. I have been on both sides thinking mentors know everything and being a mentor that someone believes knows everything (and giving some not so great advice at times….I am sure). It is so important to be able to filter everything through the lense of scripture and let God be the shepherd in your life. Good input is critical for everyone. We all need someone a little wiser and further along than us, but ultimately we need to learn to listen to HIM! Really enjoyed this!

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