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Young architect taking direction from senior colleague (Ryan McVay/Getty Images)
Young architect taking direction from senior colleague (Ryan McVay/Getty Images)

Leadership

Are you a manager or a mentor? Here's how to find out Add to ...

For junior employees learning the ropes and managing their own insecurities, guidance from senior people can make all the difference.

A wise account director once told me “digital [work] is hard, once you can do that flawlessly, anything else is easy.” I’ve also been told: “never say no to a beer, that’s a CLM (career limiting move).” Advice I enjoyed for obvious reasons.

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Throughout my career, I’ve been able to soak up the calm, cool leadership of mentors. These are the people who I look up to; the ones who take you under your wing, treat their teams like family, and want to see their co-workers grow as individuals. The best mentors are those who can inspire creativity and originality, and genuinely want to further the careers of their employees.

During my time at the bottom of the advertising food chain, I’ve had some good mentors, and now as a digital strategist who manages teams, I try to remember to pay that advice forward. My agency is a team of extremely hard-working people and I wouldn’t expect anything less – there are only seven of us after all. As eager as I am to move up in the organization, our co-ordinators are just as hungry. The promise of upward movement and career growth can sometimes be a better motivator than, say, a pay raise, so now I’m taking a vested interest in their success.

Not everyone is a mentor, however. Some team leaders are just managers, meaning that they are more focused on micromanaging and delegating busywork than they are with helping their team grow.

Here are the key traits of managers versus mentors, and why mentors create a better and more productive environment:

1. Managers tell you what to do and when to do it. Status reports, shared task sheets, multiple revisions all by EOD or ASAP. It’s good to be on top of everything, and these are all great tools for managers to use, but how will your employees grow when they are simply being directed to complete tasks without understanding the larger strategy?

Mentors walk you through their thought process. Sure, you can still set deadlines and dictate the amount of work that needs to be done, but pulling the curtain back and allowing junior employees to contribute thoughts and ideas will allow them to grow into a managerial role, and will help them understand the “why” behind the work.

2. Managers delegate. Managers assign work, provide feedback and rarely agree or want to get their hands dirty.

Mentors pick up the slack. In a small team environment, there is no place for egos or hierarchy. If something needs to be done you roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. It’s a minor showing of solidarity, but you’re setting an example to your team that there’s no job too menial, regardless of your job title.

3. Managers criticize. You need to be doing this better, I need you to up your game, this isn’t going to cut it. No one ever said the path to progress was easy, but as my grandma once told me, “you attract more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”

Mentors advise. Sometimes it’s in the way you say things: instead of barking orders or criticizing, offer constructive criticism or lead by example. This tends to not only produce better work, but teach team members how to do it better next time.

4. Managers love small talk. You ever get that feeling that someone is making small talk just because they’re obligated to? Managers prefer this superficial form of communication because it’s their way of sounding like a real human being without actually listening to you.

Mentors are interested in you. They ask about your family, care about your hobbies outside of work, and want to know how you feel about your role and your future at the company. They want you to succeed just as much as they want to themselves.

5. Managers are hesitant to shine the spotlight on employees. Again, it’s an ego thing. Managers don’t want to give credit where credit is due, rather they hog the glory for themselves. They don’t want to expose their own weakness by praising their employees.

Mentors aren’t afraid to dole out praise. I’m a fan of the philosophy that happy people do good work and in a small team environment, hierarchies have no place, egos be gone, after all, we’re all in this together. If a junior employee comes up with a great idea or do amazing work, they deserve the credit.

In the early part of your career, it’s hard to picture a time when you’ll be the one at the top of the corporate ladder since you’re so focused on clinging to the bottom rung and working your way up. But every ambitious, hardworking junior employee will manage a team at some point, so learning how to be a manager that motivates employees and cultivates lasting relationships is the key to being a mentor rather than a manager.

Jason is a digital strategist at 88 Creative. He has worked with clients including Budweiser, Coca-Cola, General Motors, and Intel to grow their online presence. He spends his free time at the rink or in the gym and, according to himself, was voted the handsomest employee at 88 Creative two years running. Follow him on Twitter @Jasegiles

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