Active and Passive Mentors and Why You Need Both

Many of my work supervisors have acted as a mentor to me: the boss who was excellent at written and verbal skills and showed me how to work my way out of sticky client situations; the boss who modeled how to navigate the corporate good ol’ boy network of automotive design. These were active, on-the-job mentors, teaching me skills and how to adapt to the work culture. Active mentors teach and model valuable skills. You can find them at work, through LinkedIn, word-of-mouth and many other places. They are the people in the career in which you want to be, albeit it further along the path, but in-the-know. They have many of the same career goals as you, and are willing to invest the time to help you reach those goals.

Now, many career professionals will tell you if you are looking for a mentor to try and engage a KOL, a key opinion leader in your career on LinkedIn, Facebook or some other social media site. But the reality is these KOL’s have so many demands on their time that they will likely never even reply to your request for mentoring.

Meet Your New Mentor, YouTube

This is where passive mentoring comes in. There are different types of passive mentoring: mentoring that takes place inside your career and mentoring that comes from other areas of interest. You do not get to be passive in finding active or passive mentors. It is up to you to do the leg work. KOL’s are all over the place. They lecture and record it on YouTube; they offer webinars; they blog; they speak at conferences. They are passive mentors in the sense that they  do not know you, but every time you watch, listen and read their words, they are mentoring you. Often, they are giving you valuable intelligence about your career that you would not get from day-to-day work interaction.

The other type of passive mentor comes from your interests. Again, they do not know you, but you know them. They are the NASCAR drivers, the opera singers, the sports figures, the gamers, the artists and actors whom you follow, whose careers you are passionate about. You hunt for their videos, their blogs, their games, their concerts. You avidly keep up with what they are doing, where they are going. These people often give you valuable information too. They model ambition, good and bad work-life balance, how to communicate and work as a team, and even how to stay out of jail.

So why do you need active and passive mentors and why must you actively seek them out? Active mentors help you acquire the career skills you need to be successful. Passive career mentors can do that too. Passive mentors in your interest fields can pass along knowledge that may not be direct career skills, but still can help you get ahead in your career. For example, I definitely know I do not want to be an opera singer. However, watching some of these singers in their careers gives me motivation and determination to succeed in my own career. All of these skills from both types of mentors may make your career path easier and more successful. You need to be proactive in seeking out both types of mentors because I can practically guarantee that:

This May Never Happen to You:

There is a now-famous story in opera circles that Renee Fleming tells about how Leontyne Price ended up mentoring her. Ms Price literally contacted her and said, “I think I can help you.” You can watch Renee talk about her experience here. It is a wonderful story; however, it almost never happens that way for the rest of us. But do not be discouraged: most people genuinely like to help others and are gratified to be asked for their expertise. So do your research and ask. Your active and passive mentors are just waiting for you to find them.

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