You have much to learn…

This post was a suggestion from my colleague Michael King in response to my last post. There I discussed being a better mentor. The thought never occurred that there are some great lessons to be shared about being a better mentee as well. So, I got to thinking.

My first thought was that I’m usually a terrible one. Through the years I’ve been cocky, overly talky (still am), and stubborn (my wife insists that I am still that as well). In spite of those things, I’ve had the honor of learning from some I consider greats. A few even had the patience to put up with me.

This is what I’ve learned

  • Understand your mentor is human
    • I considered putting this lower on the list, but I think it deserves top spot. It may be because I’m still a bit cocky, but hey, it’s my list. Every so often I catch a glimpse of doubt on the face of someone I respect and look up to for guidance. It’s a sobering thing to realize, but even the wisest among us is still just one of us. The best leaders are those who realize that and accept they don’t have all the answers. So trust but, never idolize. That leads to disappointment.
  • Shut up and learn how to listen (even when your mentor isn’t right)
    • Hear, process, then respond.
  • Know what you’re worth (and what you’re not)
    • I remember sitting in a McDonald’s on Broadway in Nashville back in 2002 when a girl came in sobbing about some terrible, mean man named Simon. She buried her head in a friend’s shoulder and inconsolably drooled. Mascara ran onto her friend as the girl explained that Simon had no idea what he was talking about. She was amazing. He didn’t understand what he was passing up. Months later I saw the girl again on a new show called American Idol. Let’s just suffice it to say that Simon was not wrong. Just as that girl needed a dose of reality, often the mentee does as well. Learn to be honest with yourself, about yourself.
  • Ask questions
    • Even the best mentor doesn’t have the omniscience to understand all of your needs. Give them a hint once in a while.
  • Be self-sufficient
    • A good mentor will empower as much as they enlighten. One of my proudest achievements was doing just that. During my stint in facility management, I was given responsibility over parts and supplies. To that end I hired a young technician who had little experience. I sent him to training, bought him an expensive inventory management program, and then showed him a picture of what I wanted his parts room to look like. For days he would call (from upstairs) and ask me things like where I wanted him to put the crescent wrenches. At first I would talk him through it and give advice. Then one day I realized what he really needed. The next time he called to ask I responded with: “I don’t care, Joe. Make it look like the picture.” He did, well. Shortly thereafter he was hired as an assistant manager at the corporate warehouse.
  • Have the hard conversations
    • Admit when you’re wrong, argue (respectfully) when you’re right, and say the things most people aren’t willing to say. Your mentor will respect you for it, and you’ll grow as a result.

Now go forth and do great things

I’m not really that zen, but the six things above have helped me. Some of them are deceptively hard. You won’t always get it right, but that’s why you need a mentor in the first place. Keep working on it.

Hi. I’m Jason. I’m the author of the book A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit from CRC Press. I’m excited to get to share it with you all and hope it will be as valuable a tool to you as it has been to me. There is no other safety book out there like it. That’s not me being arrogant and assuming you’ll love it. You might not. But at least we’ll be able to have a needed conversation about the change needed in the safety profession. It is available now! Email me at Jason@relentlesssafey.com

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