Your Boss Isn’t Always Your Best Mentor

Jessica Guzzetti, MBA, BSN, RN, CCHP-RN | Updated/Verified: Feb 13, 2024

What is a mentor? If you search the internet, the first definition it pulls up simply states "an experienced and trusted adviser" and "advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague)." A good and true mentor is a far cry from this internet definition. Mentors are experienced and competent and inspire trust. Mentors are also selfless and humble. They are invested in the success of others as much, if not more so, than their ambitions.

Your Boss Is Your Boss, First

A good boss manages. A great boss leads. An excellent boss acts as a mentor. They are still your boss, first. They are on a mission. They plan to succeed. They strive to advance in their career. Building their professional portfolio and enhancing their image is essential. Their priorities are yours. None of these things make them a "bad" boss. They may, however, not make your boss your best mentor.

Ultimately, your boss will always have to prioritize the goals set forth by the organization you work for, their boss, etc. This means they will utilize all the tools and resources in their arsenal to achieve the mission. You are one of those tools/resources. Your boss is close to the action and close to you. Being your boss means they also generally work in your area (maybe the same floor, specialty, clinic, etc.).

Finding a mentor who is not your boss can be highly beneficial for those exact reasons. A mentor who is not your boss will likely have great insight and perspective. They are removed from the action and can look from the outside in. This allows for less chance of bias and more objective feedback. Not only that, but this person is also not inhibited by the stipulations of a professional supervisor-employee dynamic. Chances are they will communicate more freely and openly.

If your mentor isn't your boss, it makes it easier for you to take raw feedback, criticism, suggestions, and remediation for what they are. It prevents potential complications in your professional relationship with your boss. These interactions with your boss as your mentor can sometimes lead to anxiety, worry, hurt feelings, and resentment or anger.

An outside mentor may also present you with ideas and opportunities your boss would not. They may encourage you to consider your options. To think outside the box about your future and career. Your boss needs you. You are a valuable tool and resource to their mission. The last thing any boss wants is to lose someone to another great opportunity. Consciously or otherwise, this will have a limiting impact on their mentorship of you.

Your boss will have a skillset and experience that they can share with you. The beauty of another mentor in your life is that you will benefit from multiple skills and experiences to draw from. The more diverse the mentor’s knowledge, the more exposure the mentee has. A dynamic mentor will see potential and find ways to maximize that potential – for you, not for themselves. If they have opportunities to share, they will. If they find options not best suited for them, they will share if this may benefit you.

When your mentor is not your leader, you also lose the barrier of possibly being viewed as a threat to a boss's success. Your boss may sincerely want you to succeed in accomplishing the mission and growing and advancing professionally. However, sometimes they may fear you will take opportunities from them. This is human nature. A non-boss mentor, on the other hand, has no skin in that game as an outsider. They will not be threatened by your success.

If You Have a Boss Who Is Willing to Mentor You, You're Winning

If you have more than one mentor, congratulations – you may have hit the lottery! Too many nurses have never honestly had a mentor invested in them – as a person, professional, and in their future and success. Remember the capacities within which your mentors are acting. Consider this when you receive feedback, answers to questions, information, leads, and advice. Be considerate in your response and follow-up.

If you have the chance to mentor someone, do it! It is a mutually beneficial relationship and well worth the precious time that is already so scarce. Mentorship will build the future.

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