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Mentoring

I put my hand up for the Department’s mentoring program recently. They’ve matched me up with someone a couple of levels above me and working in an area that I’ve been interested in, which should at least allow me to check out exactly how green that grass is.

I’ve had… interesting experiences with mentoring. The first was cross-departmental group mentoring. The idea was, four new hires from completely different departments would be matched with a senior executive from yet another department. I guess the idea was that we’d have fertile cross-pollination of ideas and viewpoints. In practice, we had one meeting where the executive, a nice enough guy, spouted platitudes and bragged about his golf handicap. Not long after our one and only meeting, he was sacked/left under a cloud because his staff basically stole every single phone, laptop, PDA, pager, radio, stick drive, Sticky Note and stick of charcoal that wasn’t actually in his hands at the time. Basically, if you could communicate with it they stole it. I hear a few blankets and bundles of kindling went missing.

My next encounter with mentoring was through a professional association, and could be considered anti-mentoring. At first, I fell head over heels in love, as I have a bad habit of doing – “OMG we’re like TWINS!!1!”. Unfortunately, the main benefit of this experience was unintentional. I’d asked the mentor to help me with my professional conduct – the fact is that while I have a few very close friends, I’m widely considered obnoxious, which is why I’m a junior public servant despite being in early middle age.

This turned out to be the one thing my mentor absolutely would NOT help me with. Happy to tell me what I should eat, buy, rent, wear, etc, but not to help me with my one specific goal for the mentoring. It was didactic, condescending… and obnoxious. The lesson learned was “holy shit – people think I’M like that??1!?”. Which, to be fair, is an extremely valuable lesson.

I’m currently reading First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You, by Ann Demarais and Valerie White. It’s extremely good in that it breaks down into very basic components the factors that make people like you (and the converse). It’s like the parts of speech – you use the building blocks all the time, but you use them more effectively when you know what they are. The best part of them being building blocks, of course, is that you can choose the ones you need.

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