Three Mentors You Need Who Are Not Your Boss

Career mentor

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Every higher education professional could use a good mentor. Most of us rely on a mentor for advice or a reference letter when we’re embarking on our career or when we’re thinking about changing jobs. But you shouldn’t just turn to a mentor when you’re at a career crossroads. They need to be a part of your entire journey.

Research has shown the benefits of having a mentor go beyond career outcomes, from positive attitudes to avoiding burnout. You always need to be course-correcting throughout your career and mentors make sure you’re pointed in the right direction.

“Your mentor helps you realign your career to the goal you were meant to go to,” wrote Matthew Royse, marketing director at Syntax, professional speaker, and a former marketing instructor at Duke University. “Your mentor is someone you turn to for guidance, such as navigating a difficult conversation at work, growing into a leader, or expanding your industry or business knowledge.”

According to Royse, a mentor can come from inside or outside of your organization, and to choose the right mentor, you need to find someone you admire and get along with; who is wise, reliable, and honest; and who is happy in their career and wants to help you.

Chances are your boss doesn’t quite check all those boxes and you shouldn’t expect them to mentor you. Managing people is not the same as mentoring them. Don’t wish for a new mentoring boss or switch jobs to find one. And don’t settle for just one mentor.

The following are three reasons why your mentor shouldn’t be your boss, and three types of mentors to pursue instead. One of those mentor types could also be your manager, but that should only be a perk, not an essential criterion for accepting or remaining in a particular job.

Your Boss Has Competing Interests
Everyone working at the same college or university should have goals that support the institution’s mission, but functional areas have different interests that often conflict with one another when it comes to allocating time, attention, energy, and other resources. You might be asked to meet with prospective students for visitation day when you really should be working on getting your paper published. The same goes for managers and their subordinates within a department. Your boss might genuinely care about you and benefit from your success, but they might need you to do a menial task or stick to something within your expertise. There are often deadlines to be met when you could be trying something different that develops new skills or looks better on your CV.

You Need Advice About Managing Your Boss
Your relationship with your boss is one of the most important variables for career satisfaction. Managers account for at least 70 percent of the variance in employee engagement scores and many people leave good jobs because of bad managers. Navigating this relationship requires an outside consultant and turning towards someone who shares the same manager as you could do more harm, especially if that colleague is competing for the same influence. Having someone either with previous experience working with your boss or someone with an unbiased, outside perspective might be better equipped to assess your situation.

You’re More Likely to Fall in Line
If you want to someday leave your current position or take over your boss’s seat, they might not be motivated to guide you towards that goal. Even managers who are on the brink of leaving might be threatened by someone else and the thought of what might change to erase their legacy. It’s more likely that having a manager as your mentor means you’ll be guided to follow the same practices and the same career path as them, and adhere to their department’s status quo. You could be better off blazing your own path and innovating on your terms or by incorporating the ideas of other people besides your boss.

That is why you need multiple mentors and Joshua Hall and Daniel Arneman, hosts of the Hello PhD podcast, Recommended three mentor types for graduate students beyond their research advisers, but these can be mentors for all types of higher education professionals.

#1 The Other (Insert Your Discipline) Mentor
Hall and Arneman called this “The Other Science Mentor,” where another scientist who is familiar with a researcher’s work can help them resolve a conflict with a principal investigator or prevent the same lab experiments from being needlessly repeated. The same approach can be applied to higher education professionals in other disciplines. For example, if you work in residence life or admissions, it’s good to have a mentor who works at another institution and who doesn’t have the biases or baggage from being close to your campus’ issues. This “other” mentor can provide a fresh perspective about what they’re experiencing elsewhere while still understanding you and your strengths.

#2 The Career Mentor
Higher education career paths are often linear, such as going from graduate school to postdoc to assistant professor to get a tenure-track faculty position. To avoid being just like your manager, choose a career mentor from industry or from outside of your department or institution. “These are individuals who work in the fields you want to work in, or they have the job you hope to achieve someday,” Arneman said. “Even if you do want that tenure-track position, it helps to hear from a wide range of faculty members as their journeys may lend unique insights into your own path. Good career mentors not only share their experience, but they can also help you identify training opportunities, job offers, and network contacts.”

#3 The Life Mentor
You are more than your career and you bring your “whole self” to work. It helps to have a mentor to emulate when it comes to changing your lifestyle or adopting values ​​to live by. As you evaluate the big picture, and account for things like parenting, healthy habits, or hobbies, it’s important to have a role model or confidant to help you recalibrate your vision to make you focus on your career in a way that’s congruent with your entire life “Look for a person who has a holistic view of who you are and what’s important to you,” Arneman said. “Someone who can help you zoom out from your day-to-day trials and remind you of the kind of person you want to be and the kind of lifestyle you’d like to have.”

In conclusion
Once you have these three mentors in mind, don’t worry about formalizing the role with a check-yes-or-no mentor invitation. They don’t even need to know that you have assigned them a certain mentorship status. These relationships take time to grow but you still need to nurture them. Schedule a recurring lunch appointment every month or semester or call them just to catch up. Don’t just ask them for advice but share your experiences with them regularly so they continue to know you and understand where you are going. Having good mentors is like having connected data points on a coordinate plane that points to career success.

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