By Dr. Daneen Skube
Tribune Media Services
Q. I have a mentor at work that I profoundly respect, and I've tried to have her be my role model. The problem is that we have dramatically different personalities, and I just can't make some of her habits work for me. Do you have any advice on how to learn from a mentor who is very different than you?
A. Judy Garland once advised, "Always be a first rate version of yourself instead of a second rate version of someone else." When we have role models and mentors at work, we need to be inspired but not limited by their example.
Each person in your workplace has strengths and weaknesses. If you are an extrovert, you think well on your feet but often stick these same feet in your mouth. If you're an introvert, you think before you speak, but that time thinking may make you miss golden opportunities to influence others.
You will never be an effective carbon copy of your mentor. You can be a first rate version of yourself. Instead of copying the way your mentor arrives at her success, look at the results she obtains. Next, consider how you might use your unique strengths to get that same result.
I remember reading books in my 20s on selling and influencing others that were written by men. I remember thinking that there was no way these same approaches would work for women in the workplace. In reading these books, I realized I needed to forget about emulating a man's approach. Instead, I needed to use the unique strengths and benefits of being a woman to influence and sell what I did effectively.
Even aspects of your personality that you judge or don't like can be assets if you think creatively. If you think you're too critical, realize that you probably see problems faster than anyone. If you think you're too easygoing, you are probably top notch at bringing a group together. If you think you are too disorganized, you probably excel at creative approaches.
The trick is to use all your strengths and weaknesses to be superb at what you do. A mentor can encourage, inspire and motivate you, but no one knows what you bring to your career more profoundly than you do.
If our admiration for a mentor slips into hero worship, the problem is we sell ourselves short. Good mentors use the respect of their proteges to help them discover their unique talents. Good mentors know that there will come a day where the mentee will become a peer, and they look forward to that day.
Bad mentors demand and expect proteges to make up for the mentor's lack of self-esteem by only seeing the mentor on a pedestal of perfection. Bad mentors expect their proteges to be carbon copies of the mentor.
The fact that you have a talented superior in your workplace who wants to mentor you means someone highly skilled in your industry thinks you've got the right stuff. Now your challenge is to come to that same conclusion yourself!
The last word(s)
Q. If I'm asked to do something ridiculous at work, can I just tell my boss that no one could what he's asking?
A. No, instead tell him you'd be happy to help, and ask him to tell you how step-by-step he wants you to do it. Let your boss come to the conclusion that it is impossible.
Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). Contact her at www.interpersonaledge.com
or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.
This was printed in the April 22, 2012 - May 5, 2012 Edition