A quick Google search for the word mentorship will deliver you this definition: “The guidance provided by a mentor, especially an experienced person in a company or educational institution”.

In my earlier post, I wrote about three kinds of mentors you might not have realized you already have. As promised, this second post will expand on the first kind of mentor I mentioned: Superiors.

Years ago, when I was still a rebelling teenager, my father was working as the CFO for a subsidiary of a public company. All seemed to be going well, until the unexpected happened. My father was instructed by senior management of the parent company to record certain transactions, which in his view, equated to tax evasion. My father did not comply with the instruction. He was threatened with the loss of his job if he didn’t comply. Nothing was written, or explicitly said, but the implied threat was clear. Still, he did not comply. Shortly thereafter, he did lose his position, and the company appointed someone with an inferior qualification.

While this was obviously a terrible experience, I learned loud and clear from my dad that integrity matters. I also learned that life can sometimes be cruel.

There are at least three ways you can learn from the superiors in your life, even if you don’t have a formalized mentor relationship. To recap from my earlier post, “superiors” are people who are naturally placed above you, such as parents, teachers, or coaches.

You can learn from superiors in these three ways:

  • Learn from what they say
  • Learn from what they do
  • Learn from what they avoid

Learn from what they say

Superiors can provide you with great advice and wisdom from their years of experience. A coach will not only teach you the rules of the game, but can also teach you how to deal with disappointments and successes along the way. Parents are inclined to give you instruction and advice, often by pointing out risks or mistakes to avoid. When I qualified as a Chartered Accountant, my father said to me: “Now you can start the process of really learning how to be an accountant”. I didn’t understand this until about five years later, which was when I realized how little I knew when I first qualified.

Learn from what they do

Superiors will model how you should conduct yourself. For example, your mentor might be someone who always – always – arrives five minutes early for every appointment. You will want to observe them closely to identify the behaviours to emulate and those to be avoided. Sometimes when superiors lead by example, they will show you how to avoid making the mistakes they made. In my first job after qualifying as a CA, I had a very difficult boss. Believe it or not, he spent his days playing Spider Solitaire and browsing porn. He allocated his work to me as well, to prevent himself from falling too far behind. When I couldn’t complete everything, or wanted to go home without working overtime, he’d get upset with me. He even called me in for a disciplinary hearing. Among other things, I learned from him to never expect from others what you are not willing to give yourself.

Learn from what they avoid

Thanks to having lived longer than you, your superiors have learned that some things in life need to be avoided. You might see your mentors avoiding sugary food or drinks. They will avoid getting fatigued by scheduling their day so that they regularly get a good night’s rest. You will seldom see them in poor company. Becoming good at avoiding things, people, or actions that limit your progression is as important as doing the right things to grow.

Superiors should be the first place you look for a mentor relationship. Reach out to a superior you think is worth emulating, and start building the relationship with them. Come back next week to read more about aspirational leaders.

Are you thinking of a superior who has been a great mentor to you? Leave a comment to let us know how they impacted your life.

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