So You Want to be a Mentor

Not long ago I had the pleasure of partaking in another outstanding and informative sermon from Pastor Scott Brown at the Colts Neck, NJ, Reformed Church. The concept of shared knowledge was at the heart of his message to our flock. One of the primary...

Not every mentor is good. How can you tell if you are dealing with a bad mentor? My research has armed me with a number of critical clues for which you should be looking. Poor mentoring skills may be demonstrated by the mentor in the following ways:

  • Delegates unwanted duties to the student.
  • Noticeably dislikes his or her job and/or the student.
  • Lacks knowledge of the pre-registration program.
  • Demonstrates poor teaching skills.
  • Lacks expertise. · Breaks promises.
  • Throws the student in at the ‘deep end’.

Some of the things which a poor mentor shows to the world include:

  • They are distant and unfriendly.
  • They do no allow people to approach them.
  • You cannot rely on them to do their job.
  • They have a habit of overpowering and Intimidating people.
  • They are unpredictable.
  • They are overprotective and do not let people try their wings.

One of the most important aspects of a mentor program involves the development of a personal relationship between the mentor and the person being mentored. This is critical because the person being mentored will be expected to develop into a professional associate of the person charged with mentoring them.

One of my favorite things to do is to welcome a new member into my fire department and then adopt him or her as my newest associate. I try to share what I have learned over the years with them in a non-threatening manner. I learned a long time ago to do my mentoring away from the bright lights and glare of a group setting. People tend to trust you more when you take the time to learn about them and then treat them as individuals. People need to see your sincerity and not think that you are just showing off in front of others.

I have heard it said that in order to be successful you must have a goal in mind. Your efforts in striving for that goal are what drive your efforts. In the world of mentoring I see the following items as a necessary combination to shoot for. You must have a solid message about what you wish to accomplish. You need to have a willing learner to receive your message. You must be a competent mentor and teacher. Most importantly, you must have the opportunity to share.

Please be aware that you cannot force feed the person you are mentoring. You need to offer knowledge and guidance and then listen to the student in order to get their feedback. It is critical for you to stick with what you know best. Be sure to stay within the comfort zone of your areas of expertise. I do not teach pump operations even though I am a pumper driver. I stay with the leadership, management, and educational topics with which I am most familiar.

Like I said earlier in this commentary, the future will come in spite of your best efforts to live in the past. You can make an important impact on your department if you work to create a way to share the experience of your veteran members with the new folks who join with you. Mentoring is critical. Work hard with your fellow experienced associates to share what you know with the new folks. Trust me, it will make a real difference.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his A View From my Front Porch blog. He recently published several texts, including Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at