Listen to your mentor . . . even if you think you’ve grown

Dear Joan:
I have been working for a company for approximately seven years. During that time, my boss and I have developed a good working relationship. In many respects, he has served as a mentor to me and I have learned a great deal about business in terms of the operations as well as the politics. Over the years, I have credited him publicly for the people skills that he has taught me. However, lately, there is an aspect of our relationship that bothers me. I would appreciate your comments and advice on the subject.

In some respects, our relationship is like one of father and daughter. Because of this, I feel as though he tries to protect me. I will admit that I have fed this relationship by running to him for help in the past. However, I have learned to take more responsibility and solve my own problems. Now, however, he seems angry and tells me that I don't keep him informed. In addition, he has started to give me personal advice such as suggesting that I keep a man I've recently started dating at work away from my office. He feels as though my professional reputation is at stake.

The question is, how do I maintain a good relationship with my boss while trying to assert myself as an adult?

In many respects, a mentor relationship between an employee and an experienced manager is like a parent/child relationship. At first, the employee eagerly listens to everything the mentor has to say but as the younger person seeks their own place in the organization, there comes a time when they want to break free. It's almost like professional puberty because the younger person thinks they have learned everything they need to know to make adult decisions and they resent the advice of the parent figure.

Remember when you were an adolescent and you thought your parents were just being over-protective? You probably look back now and realize that you weren't as grown up as you thought you were at the time. I think that experience may give you some insight into the situation you're in now. Although you may be better at solving problems and becoming a professional in your own right, you are not listening to your mentor's advice and I think you could be making a serious mistake.

The advice he is giving you about keeping the man you date away from your office isn't "personal advice," it's excellent career advice. He is trying to tell you that showing poor judgment on this issue can mar everything you have done to build your career. He's been around long enough to know that people's perceptions are their "reality" and those perceptions can sink your career ship in the company. He can't defend you if you blow this one and he knows it.

You may protest and say that it's no one's business who you date and that you can talk to him in your office if you want but be forewarned-people above you think that you are not showing sound professional judgment. If you are spending work time talking with your boyfriend, they will wonder what else you might do. For instance, what if you had to make a decision that would negatively affect your boyfriend...could you be objective? What if you break up...will your productivity be shot? Will there be a scene in the office? These are the questions going through their heads. If you keep your personal relationship outside of work, they will be more likely to assume you will be able to stay objective at work.

In your effort to become more independent, you seem to be withholding information from your boss. He is angry for a good reason; if you don't keep him informed, he will look out of touch with what is going on in his area and he can't be on top of the politics surrounding the issues. The number one rule any boss has is "no surprises." If you aren't keeping him informed he's in trouble and so are you.

You have learned a lot. You're lucky to have a mentor who cares about your career and is trying to coach you and help you through the political land mines. He can't deflect the bullets and run interference for your projects if you don't work with him. It isn't a sign of dependence or weakness to listen to your mentor's advice. In fact, many top executives continue to listen to the advice of their mentors long after they've achieved their goals. None of us makes it in business world completely on our own.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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