September 2, 2011
What Is a Mentor and Does It Matter?
I am not a mentor!
Never have been. Never will be. Don’t care to be.
I’m a lawyer. I’m a co-worker. In some cases, I may be a friend. But I’m not a mentor; I have no time for that crap.
It's an interesting article, written exactly as you would expect from the author of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. Mr. Herrmann makes some very good points, and provides some good advice. He notes in his conclusion:
Don't be a mentor!
Just be a decent human being who respects the feelings of others, and work collegially with people to achieve your common goals. That’s plenty. That’s really all there was before they invented the concept of “mentoring,” and it’s really all there’ll ever be.
Mr. Herrmann takes issue with the current concept of mentoring. He explains, "Mentoring means that you go out of your way to help people. . . . Surely 'mentoring' isn’t just working with colleagues in a way that makes sense. That’s just doing your job; it’s not mentoring." I appreciate his point, at least in one sense. In my experience, both as a faculty member and as an attorney, formal mentoring programs usually involved someone with more experience (a little or a lot) taking another person to lunch and talking awkwardly about things loosely related to life and career. Sometimes the programs provided "mentors" who were only participating because they had to do so. Other times it meant providing an already needy mentee another person to torture with their laments. Sure, the program worked once in a while, but it was usually what my wife calls "forced fun," which is really the former and not the latter.
Unfortunately, I think some people (especially lawyers) use calls "not to mentor" like Mr. Herrmann's to shirk their duties. That is, as an excuse to treat people poorly and harshly, rather than being "a decent human being who respects the feelings of others, and work[s] collegially with people to achieve [their] common goals." The people who I think of as mentors were not, I don't think, actively mentoring me. They were doing exactly what Mr. Herrmann describes. They were working with me so that we could produce better work product, and serve our clients or students, depending on the setting, better.
Regardless of their intent, I think of these people as mentors. But perhaps Mr. Herrmann is right -- maybe they weren't mentors. Maybe they were (and are) facilitators, teachers, colleagues, counselors, or friends (or some combination of those). Whatever you call them, I'm glad they were there, and I hope to make them proud by being whatever it is they were to me, to others.