Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Silent Mentor

Shh! (Photo credit: .Andi.)
This post was inspired by a great blog post by LaRae Quy entitled "The Many Faces of Mentorship". In that article she discusses several varied aspects of mentoring. One of her themes that I'd like to explore is that of a person who mentors you without an explicit or traditional mentoring relationship in place.

This is a bit unusual as I've always discussed mentoring in terms of meetings, conversations, questions and 2 way interactions. So I am stretching the term 'mentoring' here. However this approach can be absolutely invaluable in the right context.

Because this kind of mentoring is not centered around conversations with your targeted individual I call it silent mentoring. The silence doesn't mean that you don't speak with the person at all (although that's possible) but rather it refers to not having typical, ongoing mentoring conversations.

So what is a Silent Mentor?

A silent mentor is someone in your life you select to learn from without telling them or having a formal mentoring relationship with them. In LaRae's article she states "a mentor can be anyone you learn from". She tells the story that as a young FBI agent she learned from a seasoned co-worker who actually did not want to work with her. He even looked for ways to get her transferred to another team! Yet she gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about her field from that person.

Anyone one of us can have multiple silent mentors. You just need to quietly decide for yourself the set of people you choose to learn from and model. Then observe, analyze and learn from them. You can select "negative" silent mentors too! These are people from whom you learn what not to do and how not to act. Those kinds of people are powerful teachers in their own right if you frame it that way in your mind.

I've personally had and currently still have numerous silent mentors throughout my career. For example I have several silent mentors who teach me how to be a better public speaker. By analyzing how they present I've come to incorporate their methods into my own technique. I've learned from several past managers how to deftly navigate rough political waters without asking them a single question on that topic. My best friend continues to demonstrate how to connect with and be compassionate towards others. And for every "positive" silent mentor I have about 2 "negative" ones which I won't go into here.

So whether you have a formal mentor or not I'm pretty sure you can look around at people in your life who can be your silent mentors. There's a rich set of lessons those people are providing you and they don't even know it!