What Does a Good Mentor Do for You?

KevinEKline.com Mentors

These would be good mentors – me plus Adam Machanic, and Klaus Aschenbrenner

Not long ago, John Sansom (Twitter | Blog) kicked off a SQL Community Project #DBAJumpStart by asking 20 successful and experienced SQL Server professionals this exact question:

“If you could give a DBA just one piece of advice, what would it be?”

I wrote up my Advice for the Aspiring DBA post here, while John collected the entire set of responses here within the DBA JumpStart collection. Part of my advice, indeed of several of the contributors, was to find and build a strong mentor-protege relationship.  But what does that really mean? What does a mentor do for you?


Meaningful Mentors

First of all, a successful mentor acts on behalf of their protege, with an eye to the their profession development and, if they work for the same company, for the betterment of their mutual employer. Here are several things successful mentors do:

  1. Model the behavior a protege should emulate: In the IT world, there are few areas where the protege has bigger blind spots than in handling interpersonal situations. Yes, we’re great at handling technology, but not so good with politics and persuasion. So when you encounter a mentor who effectively models confidence, competence, professionalism and integrity, you can be certain that his is a person to emulate.  (And as a potential protege, keep in mind that you don’t want a mentor who acts in a way that you don’t want to emulate).
  2. Move the mentor-protege relationship forward:  I personally believe that the onus is upon the protege to initiate and carry most of the water in the relationship. But a successful mentor will stay cognizant of the status of the relationship and help to keep it moving in a positive way. We want a mentor who notices when we’ve disappeared or gone quiet for a couple months.
  3. Introspection: It’s rare for a mentor to be approached by a person without ambition. The flip side is that ambitious people are often somewhat less introspective and attuned to their own flaws. Just like with coaches in sports, mentors in your profession help the protege understand their strengths and weaknesses and how to amplify or mitigate them, respectively.
  4. Sponsorship: Good mentors know that learning skills takes practice. Consequently, a good mentor is on the lookout for ways to apply the skills and abilities of their proteges. In my own case, I frequently try to connect my proteges with speaking and volunteering opportunities that increase their prestige, introducing them to important contacts, and helping to broker new relationships.
  5. Wisdom: Sometimes a protege needs help with personal matters that aren’t work or career related. In many situations, a good mentor will help their protege work through emotion issues and explore, in a respectful way, an open dialog that can help the protege gain perspective on their situation. This might be a scenario like working through a confrontational work situation which is actually motivated by a emotional reason that is simmering just beneath the surface.
  6. Teach: Depending on the work environment, good mentors can teach key technical skills needed to be successful in a particular job. In a sense, they teach competency.  But in technology, so many of our successes are driving by non-technical factors. I’ve found over time that my mentors taught me important lessons in setting priorities, recognized the true motivations of people I interact with, and focusing on results-oriented activity.
  7. Inspire: Whenever I begin a new mentor-protege relationship, I begin with values and passions. What does my protege really care about? What get’s them excited about the day ahead? Many times proteges don’t even realize why they’re earning their daily bread, aside from the paycheck. And many other times, proteges have no idea what they can achieve. As a mentor, we want to awaken creativity and inspire the protege to act upon those creative impulses. “I want to become a recognized authority and speak at events all over the world!” is something I hear frequently from proteges. Yes. It’s definitely in your grasp. But how does the protege react after their first disastrous presentation. Many, who don’t have a mentor to bolster their spirits and make the ordeal an uplifting learning experience, throw in the towel and vow to never make that mistake again.  Good mentors can help them to see through the hard times to the even better times ahead.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably digesting all of the recommendations. And perhaps you’re thinking about times in the past where you had a mentor who you respected and who provided you with a lot of help.  I’m sure that they didn’t do every single thing on the list.  But they probably did several if not most of the activities on the list.

Whether you’re currently a mentor, or a protege, or hope to be one or the other in the future, keep in mind the behaviors that enable a mentor to succeed. As a protege, look for these behaviors in your mentor. Ask for them, if need be.  As a mentor, take an inventory of whether you do enough of these to truly be a valuable and trusted confident of your protege.

By giving of ourselves, as mentors or proteges, we build much stronger relationships based on amity and intimacy. In our go-go, hyper-fast internet-driven world, that’s one thing I never get enough of.

What’s your opinion? What was your best mentor like?


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