what is a mentor and why do I need one
Professional Development

What is a Mentor and Why Do I Need One?

Mentors are a great resource for everyone, no matter the level of their career.

“I’d like to be your mentor”, said my father.  I was a young adult, in my 20’s, and dismissed this suggestion.  Today I regard this decision as a mistake. Below we will answer the questions of what is a mentor and why do I need one?

As a young adult, I did not feel the need for a mentor.  I felt that I knew it all or would figure it out.  I also felt that my father’s experiences had come from the dark ages and were no longer relevant – what a mistake. 

Although our career paths were very different, there were many overlapping areas, such as working with superiors, peers, subordinates and the corporate entity. 

So, if this situation sounds familiar, put your pride aside and consider a mentor.  

Why should you consider a mentor in your first decade of practicing accounting?  

As you navigate through the corporate workforce, it’s important to understand there is still a lot to learn that the classroom environment did not teach you. 

You wouldn’t play soccer or any other organized sport without a coach, or take up skiing or golf without lessons, so why take chances with your career? 

The corporate workplace is your new game that may span three decades or more. This new game is on a different playing field, with different rules, and multiple answers or approaches to countless situations.

You will need a strategy to leverage your hard-earned education and propel your new career forward so that you can get the most out of all that you’ve invested in yourself so far. 

What are some issues a mentor can help you with?

Let’s look at a sampling of issues that a hired accounting professional may be exposed to or asked to act upon in the corporate workplace:

  • What if you have the boss or subordinate from hell?
  • What if you planned a three-day weekend vacation, and the boss asks you to work the weekend to make a deadline?  
  • How do you handle a new subordinate that has twenty years of experience compared to your 1 year of experience?
  • Why did you not get the promotion, and how do you get promoted next time?
  • What are you doing that you should not, and what are you not doing that you should?
  • How do you motivate your team?
  • How do you handle ethical issues, like being asked to post an accounting entry that isn’t completely accurate, and your boss justifies the entry as ‘for the good of the team?’ 
  • Strategic issues, especially if you start your own business or are involved with your family’s business; what are ways you can grow the company?

Gaining perspective and direction from a mentor can help you maximize a positive outcome from various situations that arise in the workplace. 

There are no easy answers, and any answer will require more information and discussion.  Having someone you can go to who has lived and breathed these issues far longer than you only makes sense. 

How to choose the right mentor? 

There are no hard-and-fast rules on choosing mentors and it doesn’t have to be a pairing that lasts for the life of your career.  Your start may be as simple as occasionally making a call to one or more of your contacts to discuss an issue you are having at work.

If you work for a large organization, you may find someone in the company who could be an exceptional mentor. A contact who is a been-there-done-that person and has had at least one responsibility similar to your responsibilities is a good mentor prospect. 

After that contact spends time sharing experiences with you, be sure to follow up with them and share your progress. Continue developing the relationship by periodically checking in and discussing various issues, always being respectful and asking if they have time to talk.

You need to do most of the listening and be sure not to overstay your welcome. The critical point to take away from mentor relationships, is that they are reciprocal. A one-size-fits-all mentor is generally a leader who is successful in a changing environment. This would include turnarounds, mergers and acquisitions, reorganizations, or systems changes. This type of mentor has a broad understanding of what makes people successful. 

What is a Mentor and Why Do I Need One – Summary

Understanding what a mentor is and why you need one is crucial in your career, no matter the profession or industry. Keep your eyes open and be sure to network – you never know who you may run into who can then become a mentor.

For more articles like What is a Mentor and Why Do I Need One, check out the professional development section of the blog.

May this help propel you forward in your career.   

Alan L. Oppenheimer, CPA, MBA has worked for both large and medium size companies and experienced a variety of management styles and business situations over his 40+ years of professional tenure.  Alan has also consulted for several companies in situations such as mergers and acquisitions, bankruptcy, bank loans, forecasting, and year-end audit preparation.  

For more insight and direction for productively handling issues that are encountered in the workplace, learn more in his quick read, Workplace Secrets Revealed (Passing the Baton to the Next Generation).

5 comments on “What is a Mentor and Why Do I Need One?

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