I have been posting about role models and mentors this year; now it is time to change the focus to the best ways to leverage the mentor/mentee relationship. If you are fortunate enough to find a guide to the often confusing world of gears here are a few suggestions:
1. Do your homework. Anyone capable of teaching you probably already has full plate of responsibilities. Do not waste their time reviewing things that can be learned from reference books or other publications.
2. Frame your questions wisely. There is a fine line between asking how to do something and asking why something is done. I recommend mastering the “how” before testing your mentor’s patience with suggestions for improving the demonstrated method.
3. Keep good notes. I have posted many times about my “book of knowledge.” This 4” thick three ring binder started because my first mentor in machine design had a very short fuse for repeat questions. I learned this the easy way: I watched another apprentice get chewed out for not paying attention. Just because the “master” can recall the guidelines for a procedure from memory does not give you license to skip committing it to memory yourself. And until you memorize it, write it down.
4. Respect time commitments. If you are fortunate enough to have a regular appointment with your mentor, be on time. When conflicts occur, do not grumble about rescheduling. When you are the cause of reschedule, be flexible. Being mentored is a huge boost to your career not an obligation.
5. Help out where you can. Senior engineers and executives may appear to be ten foot tall and bulletproof from a distance. Close up, you will discover they too have long “things to do lists.” An offer to do some research or to whip up a rough draft will be appreciated.
6. Show honest appreciation. Long before the onslaught of self help books, we old codgers muddled through with only Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. A “first principle” of this classic book is letting people know you are glad to know them and appreciate their help. This is not to be confused with “sucking up to the boss.”
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