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Mentoring up: Giving the boss a professional edge

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in Your Office Coach

Question:  “My boss, “Debra,” has been a wonderful mentor. As a result of her mentoring skills, I was recently offered a job with another company at a 30% pay increase. I would like to repay her by doing some “reverse mentoring.” Debra oversees a department of 125 people, manages a $3 million budget and has an MBA. She is also one of the smartest people I know. However, top management here frequently fails to recognize excellence.

After 27 years with this company, Debra finally seems ready to move on. She has been asking me questions like “What else do you think I might be qualified for?”  How can I help her?” —Grateful to My Boss

Marie’s Answer:  How ironic that Debra can guide you toward a better future, but can’t do the same for herself. Suggest that she consider these steps:

•    After 27 years in the same place, Debra may lack confidence in her marketability. To get an idea of her worth, she should contact recruiters who specialize in her field. Most of them will be glad to talk with an experienced executive who has an MBA. 

•    Before making these contacts, Debra must create a well-designed résumé that highlights the most marketable aspects of her background. By consulting job search books and web sites, she can learn how to make her résumé sparkle.

•    Debra should also increase her involvement with professional associations, management groups or civic organizations. The best job opportunities are usually transmitted by word-of-mouth, so networking contacts are essential.

If Debra is responsive to your “reverse mentoring,” perhaps both of you will have exciting new jobs in the future. For Office Coach suggestions on mentoring relationships, see What Should You Look for in a Mentor?.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Bender Phelps August 1, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I also agree the suggestions for Debra are good. In addition to making suggestions, good mentoring is also about stimulating powerful thinking, more than simply telling someone what to do. A person with her credentials may benefit from doing some new thinking. The writer could brainstorm with her in a conversation designed to clarify what Debra wants that her current position or organization don’t appear to provide. Once those things are clarified, she can follow Kristy’s recommendation to talk with management and explore what could be or is possible.

Talking with recruiters might be the prelude to a deeper conversation between the two about what is or is not attractive about the potential new directions that might be revealed. This conversation could lead to a powerful insight that would then engender a new course of action for Debra. What’s best is she would arrive at her own answer with support from a trusted friend and colleague.


Kristy Scaletta July 29, 2009 at 2:53 pm

While all of the suggested ideas for Debra are good, I’m surprised that nothing was said about Debra approaching management within her current organization to discuss possible advancement there! The answer may to Debra’s discontent may be right there in Debra’s current place of business.

If she is as dynamic as “Grateful” has indicated, the first thing Debra should do is find out how valued she is at her current place of employment. The old adage “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” may be appropriate here; has Debra spoken to anyone in Management and expressed her desire to change her career path or be promoted?
Upper management may not be the type to hand out praise liberally, but generally, they recognizes excellence and they don’t want to lose an employee who helps the bottom line and keeps the business running efficiently and smoothly. If upper management isn’t aware of Debra’s discontent, they won’t have the opportunity to advance their valued employee. Good luck to both Debra and Grateful…


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