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Mentoring process - How to be a good protégé

I'm reading As Iron Sharpens Iron, which is a classic book on Christian mentoring. Written by Dr. Howard Hendricks and his son, Bill, the book is split into two parts. The first part is for the one who wants to be mentored (also known as the protégé). The second part is for those who are or might serve as mentors. I started it yesterday so I'm still in the protégé portion. As I was reading yesterday, I came across five key ares that Dr. Hendricks lists that are essential in a protégé for most mentors. If a protégé doesn't have these qualities, there's not a whole lot a mentor can do, which amounts to a waste of time and energy. Those five qualities are:


  1. A protégé must be goal-oriented.
  2. A protégé must be looking to improve and grow.
  3. A protégé must be an initiator, taking action on his or her own accord.
  4. A protégé must be eager to learn.
  5. A protégé must be responsible and accountable for his or her own development.


All of these are common sense, but let's look at each briefly.


If you don't have goals, you aren't going to go anywhere. It's hard for a mentor to help someone without goals. How do you know you're moving that person in a positive direction? How do you measure impact? And if a would-be protégé doesn't have goals, what's to stop said person from spending effort in one direction one day and in a totally different direction the next? So if we're looking to be mentored, we really need to know what our goals are (like here from Tom LaRock). Otherwise we're wasting our mentor's time in addition to our own.

Growth and Improvement:

Protégés must have goals that lead to growth and improvement. If your goal is to stay out of sight and not do a whole lot, there's not much a mentor can do to help you. This gets into those kinds of things like, "Where do I want to be when I'm 50" types of discussions. Mentors are going to look to get the most out of their time and effort. So if someone isn't looking to grow and improve, why would a mentor waste the time with that person? That person can stay the same perfectly okay without a mentor. For instance, if Andy Warren can look to grow his networking skills, then we all can work on something important in our lives.

Being an Initiator:

When a mentor invests in a person, that mentor expects the person to heed the advice given and do something about it. For instance, if Brent Ozar says, "You really need to read this book," there's a reason he thinks you need to read the book. It has some impact on the mentoring he is trying to provide. He can't read it for you. You've actually got to go get the book and read it yourself. That means you need to initiate some action in the mentoring process. You can't sit back and be passive. Then you won't accomplish your goals.

Eager to Learn:

This is something I beat into the heads of my junior high youth all the time. If you come to me and tell me you're doing terrible in math and then when I ask you about the subject you respond with, "I hate math. I hate doing my homework," my next question is going to be, "Yeah, I could have guessed that. But did you put the time in to actually do your homework and understand the concepts?" And if you come back with, "Didn't I say I hate math?" then what you're really telling me is you have no desire to learn the subject. Hate it or not, you've got to be willing to learn it. You'll likely do a whole lot better if you change your attitude and want to learn. Case in point: look what Jack Corbett did with a little mentoring because he wanted to learn how to do something in Powershell.

Being Responsible and Accountable:

No one is going to do the work for you. It doesn't work that way. And no mentor is going to be perfect about seeing you grow. You've got to take charge of your own growth and development. You can't depend on your employer, the community, or your mom and dad to ensure you have opportunities to increase your knowledge and skills. If you are serious about improvement, it's on you to make it happen. Mentors and others can help along the way, but final responsibility and accountability are on you. As Steve Jones points out, with the resources available (especially in the SQL Server community) there's no excuse for not improving.


What I take from this list of five is that if I want to be mentored, I've got to be a good protégé. That means I've got to demonstrate these qualities. If I don't, I'm just wasting time and energy. Not just mine, but my mentor's as well. To make the most of a mentorship, these five qualities should describe me.


K. Brian Kelley - Databases, Infrastructure, and Security

IT Security, MySQL, Perl, SQL Server, and Windows technologies.


Posted by Jack Corbett on 14 December 2009

Great post Brian.  I'd say I have the most work to do on 3 and 5, especially 5.  I tend to do better when pushed, whether by someone or a specific deadline.  It's easy to work on learning something when you plan to use it/present on it at a specific date.

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