Could a Mentor Have Changed Things?

One of the Mama Kat prompts this week is: Tell us about a job you quit…why did you do it?

I drive past the office that housed the position I “quit” several times a week. It is right across from my daughter’s high school; it’s on one of Tallahassee’s main thoroughfares, and it is less than a mile from my office. It houses something else now, but in 1988, the building housed the “Family Life Center,” where I had my internship for my Master’s degree in Counseling and Human Systems.

I suppose taking an “incomplete” in an internship is not exactly the same as “quitting.” I intended to go back. From the vantage point of all the intervening years, I can’t remember what was so horrible about it that I felt led to take the incomplete. I did feel utterly lost partially because there was very little supervision. Counseling these families in crisis was a lot different than role playing with a classmate or handling a short-term crisis over the telephone at the local suicide hotline.  My fellow interns and I unanimously decided the experience was going poorly; one of them even drew a satirical cartoon with the building name modified to say, “Family Death Center.” The cartoon featured adult women (us) running away as rapidly as we could.

I wonder if a mentor could have made a difference. I wonder if, with the application by our manager of some principles of effective mentoring, the situation could have involved more learning and less griping. (And of course the clients we were supposed to be serving probably weren’t getting our best either; we were busy being dissatisfied.)

Mgrs Mentors

Chip R. Bell and Marshall Goldsmith have just released a Third Edition of “Managers as Mentors – Building Partnerships for Learning.” In this dramatically revised edition, Bell and Goldsmith introduce 12 new chapters, new tools, and case studies. They focus on a hands on approach that takes the mystery out of effective mentoring and teaches leaders to be confident coaches.

One illustration the authors included is the comparison of mentoring to panning for gold. Bell and Goldsmith talk about how successfully panning for gold involves gently moving the sand-filled pan “back and forth as you let small amounts of yellow sand wash over the side of the pan.” If you rush or show impatience, the tiny gold flecks escape over the side along with the common yellow sand. At the Family Life Center, my heaps of yellow sand overshadowed any gold flecks of skill that were there to be discovered. I recognize that in a non-profit mental health setting, the supervisor is pulled in more directions than he or she can possibly go. To look back on the situation with bitterness because that particular supervisor did not have or take the time to be a part of my development beyond making sure patients got seen would be futile. But twenty-five years later I still wonder how it could have been different (and better). (When I took the incomplete, I was told I could return at a later date to finish the internship. When I tried to do that, an administrator said, “I don’t have time for that.” I completed my internship in a totally different venue (career counseling)).

Another favorite passage of “Managers as Mentors” occurred in a case study that involved an interview with Mark Tercek, President and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. Tercek described his most important mentor as someone who “never offered me the easy way out.” In advising Tercek how to deal with tough interpersonal issues, the mentor told him, “Don’t make it complicated; just get in front of it.”

Would my career (and life) have been different if I had stayed at the Family Life Center? Although I really do believe “things happen for a reason,” I can see when I play those months back in my mind that it could have been so much more. By applying some of the principles Bell and Goldsmith discuss in their book, by my leader at the time being able or willing to invest at all in my growth, I may have found a way to say, “never mind on that incomplete. Let’s keep going.” I complicated things (as Tercek was in danger of doing) in a situation where conceivably, I could have gotten “in front of it.”

Have you had a mentor make a difference in your career? Tell me about it in the comments!

You can read a sample chapter of Managers as Mentors by clicking here.

Chip is the author of nineteen books, including Wired and Dangerous (co-authored with John Patterson). He is a senior partner with the Chip Bell Group and serves as a consultant, trainer, or speaker to major organizations. Chip’s new book, Managers as Mentors, co-authored by best-selling author, Marshall Goldsmith, is available on Amazon and at select bookstores nationwide.

Mama’s Losin’ ItNote: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.