Someone to Talk To


by Joanne Leitschuh

Have you ever faced a difficult situation at work, knowing that the decision that needs to be made involves experience beyond your capabilities? Perhaps you thought, “If only I had someone with more experience to tell me what to do!”

It seems these days that managers are getting younger. Perhaps they got the position because of a good education, or because they knew someone in “high places”. However, what they may lack is the wisdom that elder managers gain through countless trials, numerous decisions and years of experience. We all need advice and guidance at one time or another.

An informal relationship with a mentor, or someone to talk to, is invaluable in solving problems and becoming a better manager. Because the mentor is not directly involved, he’ll be able to listen to you carefully. Often he’ll see the situation “out of the box” and can suggest objective yet effective ideas. He could get you to analyze your situation systematically. He might encourage you to be honest and realistic about your goals and ambitions. Because of his own experiences, he’ll be able to compare your situation to others and reassure you that you are not alone. Perhaps you need help in accurately assessing your abilities and potential as a manager. Another benefit is that he has the resources to find other helpful people for you to talk to.

However, a good mentor won’t tell you what to do. He can’t make your boss like you or even make your boss more competent or more pleasant. He won’t make you feel worse about yourself and definitely can’t sort out all your problems.

A few insightful words from a wise person can make all the difference in how you grow in your job. Often, just hearing yourself explain your problem out loud to someone else can clear confusion in your own mind. It is natural that managers yearn to be in control at their workplace. However, they also need to feel comfortable in themselves and often that only comes through experience. Mentors are probably at this place and are willing to help and be sympathetic. Some businesses have recognized this valuable asset and even introduced mentoring programs.

In Richard Sennett’s book, The Corrosion of Character, a critique of the modern workplace, he says that we need to overcome our reluctance to ask for help and to seek the advice of others. “The fear of acknowledging that people need support seems adolescent, he says. ‘I need you’ seems a shameful admission of personal failure; whereas in business, as in private life, it should be the beginning of an honourable connection.”

Reference: S. Stern, Management Today, July 2002.

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