3 tips for evaluating a mentor’s advice

3 tips for evaluating a mentor's advice

Previously I’ve written about how to find (and keep) a good mentor. In this article I explain why (and how) you evaluate their advice.

Oscar Wilde once said, “The only good thing to do with good advice is pass it on; it is never of any use to oneself”. If you read between the lines, he’s also making the point there is bad advice, and you have to be discerning about what you accept, and pass on.

Obtaining this level of understanding hinges on the answer to this question – is mentorship actually a two way street? If your answer is no, if you think that it’s just a process of the wise older colleague recanting tales of yesteryear, you’re on the wrong path – and the fast track to taking poor advice, because it’s not contextual.

A mentor relationship only functions properly when the mentee and mentor play off one another. This does two things – it builds trust, and it frames the conversation with specific detail that is essential in shaping the exchange. There will be times when one listens a lot more than they talk. It may in fact alternate, meeting from meeting, but the point is, it’s two-way. Allowing one another the space to express themselves without interjecting is a skill we need to work hard on in the West.

When you have context and trust, you have a foundation from which to evaluate advice. I find there are some simple rules that aid this process:

  1. Does it line up with what you have been reading? I could say, ‘does your mentor have the expertise to have an opinion on that specific area’, but it’s not as black and white as that. Just because your mentor is not an accountant, doesn’t mean they have no value to add to financial conversations. Therefore, take on board what they have to say, but don’t let it be the sole source of insight. Remember, you are in the job, because your organisation values you. Keep up-to-date with your industry periodicals, the latest research, and opinions of others you have access to online. YouTube is a great resource, as is LinkedIn, particularly when it comes to groups focused on exploring specific content, like Finance. And when it comes to business, reading HBR and Forbes should be routine. As an Aussie, I also enjoy BRW.
  2. Does it seem fair on the basis of conversations you have with other people you trust? Mentoring is important because it gives you perspective. There’s not one way to look at things. In fact, there’s not two. Having more than one mentor is helpful. Even if you don’t call them a mentor, the people you engage with and respect should help fine tune the advice your mentor has for you.
  3. What does your gut say? Finally, this is key, because the advice you take from your mentor really only affects you. It’s your credibility on the line when you take their advice and run with it, so remember your intuition is valuable. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not. Back yourself. Back yourself in light of your mentor’s advice, what you read, and the other people around you, and you have fulfilled your due diligence. Don’t get paralysis by analysis. Just as there is more than one perspective, there is also often more than one right answer!

One other thing – how do you handle it when a mentor has challenged you or told you that you were wrong? Simply – breathe. Everybody gets it wrong from time to time and by the very nature of the mentor relationship, you are inviting them to tell you when you are on the wrong track. It’s implicit permission to counsel you, not just pat you on the back and say “good job”. After all, they’re a mentor, not a cheerleader. The point is you take it on board, and move forward. Fold in your learnings and know it’s not an exact science, but within reason, they are your mentor in the first place because you believe they have a value that currently exists outside of yourself. It’s a journey, through successes and failures.

This of course leads to my next post on mentoring, and final in this series – how your mentors help to define your own personal brand – how your mentors help to define your own personal brand.

More reading:

How to find (and keep) a good mentor
How becoming an expert can boost your career
Look up, listen, and learn – career inspiration is all around you


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