How to Survive Inverse-Mentors

Posted by on Aug 29, 2018 12:00:00 AM

One of the pillars of a successful gift planner is being a mentor. Unfortunately, there is no playbook with a list of steps. Instead, you look to your mentors for other pillars, or traits, that will help you become a successful fundraiser.

I hold a black belt in Shotokan karate, and that practice led me through a variety of Eastern philosophies to the writing of Thich Nhat Hahn, a Zen Master who taught me (and many others) to practice meditation. A professional mentor is in some respects like a Zen Master, and I’ve had some great mentors over the years. From them, I learned a few key lessons that have surprising connections to mindfulness.

A mentor provides patient guidance. A mentor teaches by example and remains humble while sharing nuggets of wisdom. A mentor provides encouragement. A mentor teaches the importance of listening by modeling listening. A mentor enjoys the relationship with a mentee. And most mentors feel that they themselves have gained something positive from serving as a mentor.

But what do you do if you are confronted by the arch-nemesis, an inverse-mentor? Fear not! While I don’t recommend that you voluntarily sign up to be a mentee (would you volunteer to catch a virus so your body can create antibodies?), you can learn from inverse-mentors just as you can learn from mentors. Mostly, you’ll learn what NOT to do.

An inverse-mentor usually tells you to do something, with little guidance. Or, an inverse-mentor tells you how you should do something, but lacks the knowledge or experience to guide you. An inverse-mentor may be more concerned with gaining something than with sharing knowledge. You may be misled—actually, you probably will be early in your career.

While your instinct may be to run from inverse-mentors, choose instead to stay the course and remain watchful. An inverse-mentor may take actions that you should not emulate. Learn from their mistakes—that way you can avoid repeating them.

An inverse mentor might not recognize when you are going in the wrong direction or might choose to let you proceed. A true mentor, on the other hand, will occasionally let you stumble, but will always extend an arm to assist. A true mentor recognizes that you—the mentee—are a reflection of the mentor.

I don’t know the names of the mentors who guided my mentors, who in turn passed their knowledge and wisdom down to me. And I likely will not know the names of all my own mentees, who will continue to pass along our collective knowledge and wisdom. I’m happy to report that while inverse-mentors did play a role in forming this knowledge base, their names have already been forgotten!

Topics: Professional Development