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The Servant Has Become The Master

May 29, 2015


Even in the best of mentoring relationships, eventually the mentee grows up. As a mentor, it’s important to allow those you are mentoring to grow. It’s part of the reason I enjoy working with interns. The relationship is set up to be temporary. 

Craig was the best intern I ever worked with. We called him Craig The Awesom Intern. I think we even set his email Display Name to show that. Craig was someone who made his own luck. He was a student at Brigham Young University and the CIO for our non profit spoke to a computer science class that Craig was taking. Afterward, Craig approached the CIO.

I’d like to go to work for your company.


How to I go about applying for an internship?

The CIO took his name and sent it to his VPs. The VPs send it to the directors. The directors sent it to the service managers. My service manager sent it to me. 

This guy hit up the CIO at BYU. Do you want him as an intern?

He didn’t have to ask twice. In addition to being bold, Craig was brilliant. He automated several of our processes. He helped design some of our systems. We got to talking one time about his role, and specifically how it related to me, his manager.

Yeah, I was telling my roommate about you.


Yeah, I said you were an old guy who told lots of stories.

Ouch. the generation gap just slammed shut on my ego. 

As Craig The Awesome Intern considered his career path, I sat down and talked to him. He had an opportunity to go to work for a local startup that would also allow him to finish school.

You’re doing a great job here, Craig. I could not be happier.

Well, that’s good.

But, you have to leave.


Look, I’ve been in this industry a long time. I’ve worked for Microsoft for nearly a decade, I’ve worked for small companies, and other big ones. You have the potential to have a fantastic career. But, you’re going to change jobs a lot. It’s the nature of the industry. Your time at this non-profit is will not impress future hiring managers looking at your resume. 

How do you mean?

I mean that someone looking at this position is going to assume it’s not as technical as it could be. Take the startup job. You’re at the point of your career that you need to work for a company that will build yoru resume.

Craig ended up leaving his intership early to take the startup job. As much as I would have loved to keep Craig as an intern and later to hire hiim as an employee, I would have been doing him a disservice. 

Make sure your teaching your mentees to recognize opportunities and take advantage of them when they come along. 

Marcus was one of my engineers at this same nonprofit. Marcus was very smart, but he lacked a couple key attributes that he needed to be promoted. And he really wanted to be promoted. Marcus and I worked on it for a year. I helped Marcus identify strategic people to find an opportunity to work with. I helped him improve his presentation skills. (Not the least of which was to turn email spellcheck on.) At the end of a year, Marcus was promoted to Senior Engineer. I don’t know who was happier, him or me. 

Things change. Marcus left the non profit to go to work for a large investment bank. About six months later I got a LinkedIn notification that Marcus had been promoted to VP at the bank. My friends in finance tell me that everyone at a bank gets to be a VP. Well, in IT, very few people get to be a VP. 

I had to consider how I felt about Marcus’ promotion. Ask me if I want to be a VP? 

and yet, I had worked very hard with Macus to help him learn the skills needed to succeed. It was amazing to see how quickly it paid off for him. 

If you are going to be mentoring someone, it helps to have an exit strategy. And it helps to consider how you will feel if that person eventually gets promoted faster than you do. Trust me, it’s not a feeling you want to try to deal with on the fly. Better to think it through first. 

Finally, a word of caution. I’ve seen some executives who choose to mentor someone for what it does for the mentor. They might tend to want to hold on to the mentee as long as possible. Remember the scene in Miracle on 34th Street when Kris Kringle confronts the “psychiatrist” Mr Sawyer, about asking how he’s affecting young Alfred? 

Sawyer was claiming to help Alfred, but really it was about maintaining control. He never intended for Alfred to be “cured.” He couldn’t let go.

Remember that an important part of mentoring is helping people to be successful and in some cases move on. Don’t be afraid of it. It’s the best part of what we do. 

Rodney M Bliss is an author, acolumnist 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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