Finding the Right Mentor

I’m a bit of an introvert, and by a bit, I mean when I’m at a party, you’ll find me in a corner hanging out with the dogs. So when I think about a mentoring relationship, the hardest part is starting the relationship. Who do I ask? How do I ask? In this NPR Lifekit episode, Lisa Fain, CEO of Center for Mentoring Excellence, discusses finding the right mentor and how to ask them to be your mentor.

3 Fun Resources (About Mentoring)

For a change of pace, here are a few resources (2 that are unlikely) related to mentoring.

#1 – A great Ted X talk

Check out this great TEDx Talk by University of Maryland professor Dr. Kimberly Griffin. There are great references to Marvel comics and reality TV, as well as three critical takeaways:

  • Remember mentoring is about relationship.
  • Don’t seek one mentor to provide answers to all your questions. Instead, create a group of mentors who can provide a variety of guidance.
  • Be mindful of the rule of reciprocity — Think about what you have to give to your mentors, not just what you have to get.



screenshot from her TEDx Talk via YouTube.

Dr. Kimberly Griffin during her TEDx talk

You can find Dr. Kimberly Griffin on Twitter: @doctorkag

screenshot from her TEDx Talk via YouTube.

Find Cara Allwill Leyba on IG: @thechampagnediet

#3 – A Classic film

I first saw Cinema Paradiso when I was a teenager, and I remember getting goosebumps then.  I still love this film, which reminds us how a mentor’s voice can shape us, stay in our heads, and guide our decisions long after the mentoring period has passed.



    #2 – A Poem

    This poem reminds us that we are constantly evolving the importance of taking ownership of our learning and growth.

    Worthy by Cara Alwill Leyba (from the book, Stripped),

    You must aggressively
    detox yourself
    from negative thoughts,
    poisonous people,
    and disempowering beliefs.
    You must believe
    with every thread of your heart
    that you are worthy.
    You must make your personal evolution
    a full-time job.



    Mentors Are Not The Super

    Sometimes mentors and mentees think that it is on a mentor to provide all of the solutions to all of a mentee’s problems. Check out this video on why that may not actually be the case!

    Why can’t my manager by my mentor too?

    There are some really great managers in our workplaces today. These managers understand the importance of focusing on the development of their employees.  They take the time to build relationships with the people whom they manage.  They create a safe space for learning, inquiry, and even for making mistakes.  They are great role models, advisors, and coaches.   

    So why do I discourage mentees from choosing their supervisor as a mentor?    

    Before I answer, here is an important distinction.  I DO believe that good managers should develop the competency of mentoring.  I DO believe that when managers mentor others, it helps them become even better managers. But while it is important for managers to be mentors,  I DO NOT think that managers should mentor people who work for them.

    Here’s why:

    There are two characteristics of a supervisor/employee relationship that make it less than ideal for a mentoring relationship:

    A manager’s primary accountability is to the business’s success, not the employee’s career.

    Ultimately, a manager is responsible for their team’s performance and must put the organization’s interest first, even when it conflicts with the employee’s interest.  Managers are hired to perform a specific job and to make sure their team’s performance is in service to the outcome they are hired to achieve.  Sometimes, an employee’s interests might be at odds with that responsibility.  Perhaps the employee’s best career path would take them out of that team, out of that company, or in a different role.   A manager’s allegiance to the organization compromises their impartiality when they mentor their own employee.

    A mentor’s primary accountability is to the development of the mentee. Since a mentor is not tethered to performance metrics, they can provide an additional unbiased perspective that can help a mentee develop in a way that is authentic to their own needs.

    A manager is responsible for evaluating their employee’s performance and job security, which includes determining their compensation and career trajectory.

    No matter how good the manager, ultimately, they have a say in their employee’s compensation.   For mentoring to be effective, a mentee must feel safe sharing their challenges and shortcomings.  It isn’t easy to build that safety when one’s job or livelihood is at stake.

    There are some essential roles a manager can play in mentoring, however. 

    Mentees:  Enlist your manager in your mentoring by:

    • Asking for help in finding a mentor. Share what you want to learn.  Ask them who they know who might be a good learning fit.
    • Helping you identify learning goals. Ask your manager what skills, competencies, or knowledge they think you can strengthen or amplify.  If those recommendations resonate with you, use them as a basis for setting goals in your mentoring relationship
    • Giving you feedback on your progress. Share your mentoring goals with your manager.  Ask what improvements they have observed.