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You Mean That Fishing Analogy Isn’t Even About Fishing?

May 27, 2015

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and ou feed him for a lifetime.
– 12th Century Spanish philosopher Maimonidas

I love fishing. My dad taught me that any time spent fishing doesn’t count against your alloted time in life. 

But, I don’t think Maimonidas was talking about fish. 

Business requires all of us to both cooperate and compete constantly. I’m in competition with my competitors, of course. But, as a project manager, I’m in competition with my other PMs. There are never enough engineering resources to fully support all the projects that IT dreams up. It’s not unusual for PMs to loan resources like you might loan a tool. 

Russell, I need Jet on my call at 2:00 tomorrow, but he’s already committed to be on your call. Can I have him for that hour?

Okay, but only this week. I’ll need Telecom resources starting next week. 


Today, I want to talk abot the other side of competition. 

Have you ever had someone take an interest in you or your career? Someone like a senior manager? Someone who wasn’t in your chain of command, they just wanted to share some of their experience? 

I’ve worked for companies that had formal mentor programs and I’ve worked for many more that didn’t. Microsoft had a formal mentoring program. Applicants were matched with mentors who would meet with us once a week or so and help us by answering questions, or sharing ideas. 

It was a less than fulfilling experience, and I’m not sure why. I don’t even remember my mentor. I do remember that I was in the middle of the mentoring program when my manager’s manager decided to fire me. My mentor didn’t do much to help me foresee or head off that unpleasant event. 

I think the problem was that the mentor/mentee relationship was forced. I think to be truly effective, a mentor relationship has to be somewhat selfish on the part of both the mentor and the mentee. The mentor has to care about the person they are mentoring. It takes time and energy to mentor someone. If you don’t have, or develop a personal friendship with the person you are working with, it becomes an hour long classroom lecture. 

The mentee needs to be selfish too. They are want to see their career advance. They want to get a better review. They want to know how to climb the corprorate ladder from someone who’s already been there. But, like any dynamic relationship there needs to be a give and take. The mentee is going to bring youth and enthusiasm to the relationship. They also may bring contacts in other departments. 

Microsoft insisted that mentors/mentees not come from the same teams, or even departments. Everyone involves get some cross pollination. And while you may like your boss, and she might be a fantastic resource, she will be a terrible mentor. . .for you. A manager needs to be able to hold you accountable for tasks and reprimand you if they don’t get accomplished in a timely manner. 

That action is completely at odds with the mentor role. The mentor is designed to help you learn from mistakes and figure out what happened and how to keep it from happening again. You want a mentor who is 100% on your side. A manager, by her very nature, cannot be that person. 

A mentor can even be from a different company. Of course, it can’t be someoen from a direct competitor, but the IT world changes so often, that it’s very likely you will have contacts at multiple companies. A mentor at another company can be a great asset. Of course, you will have to be more careful in what you share. Mentor relationships should never trump company confidentiality. 

Mentors can help you in multiple ways. They can help you to

  • Learn vital industry skills
  • Introduce you to industry leaders and collegues
  • Offer advice on problems
  • Provide direction on career choices
  • Simply be someone to ask questions of

Metors can be a great asset to you and your career. However, you have to ask. A formal mentor/mentee relatioship doesn’t happen by accident. You need to pursue it as you would a job or promotion. Do your research. Identify the type of person you would like for your mentor, and then formally ask them. 

They can help your career in ways that might take years otherwise. 

To return to the fish for just a moment, my friend Howard interjected his own humorous take on Mainonidas’ quote into his Schlock Mercenary comic.

Maxim 21. Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Take his fish away and tell him he’s lucky just to be alive, and he’ll figure out how to catch another one for you to take tomorrow.
Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2015 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved 

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