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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

Is Your Mentor Giving You Bad Advice?

There's no denying the power of mentors—people who know you, who understand the ropes of your field, and who can give you advice on the career twists and turns you've never encountered before.

But something else to keep in mind? Mentors are people, too—so their advice isn't going to be 100% right, 100% of the time.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Stanford professor Robert Sutton reminds us that it's our responsibility to think critically about the advice and feedback we're given, and at times, even choose to ignore it. His biggest case study? Sheryl Sandberg. "Although mentors played a key role in her success," he writes, "mentors had advised her not to take the job as an executive at Google and not to take the job as Facebook COO—the very roles that have made her rich and famous."

There are many reasons that mentors, even with the best of intentions, recommend paths that might not be the best for you. Maybe your mentor doesn't fully understand your ultimate career goals, or perhaps he has a different appetite for risk than you do. Perhaps your mentor thinks you should follow in her footsteps and is always going to recommend to you the same strategies for success that worked for her.

While you certainly shouldn't approach every interaction with your mentor with skepticism, it's wise to remember Sutton's bottom line: "If you want to get the most out of mentoring, don’t take it as marching orders. For you and your mentor, the greatest success comes when you decide wisely for yourself."

Image of man talking courtesy of Shutterstock.