Why Falling Under The Influence Of An Anti-Mentor Is The Worst Career Mistake You Can Make
I’ve written extensively about the importance of mentorship when it comes to developing both your character and your career.
Many professionals assume that mentorship is something that you choose to pursue.
Unfortunately, the idea that there are two groups - those who seek out mentorship and those that go it alone - is a dangerous fallacy.
The truth is that you can either select a mentor or let circumstance select it for you. Regardless of what you choose to do, you will be influenced by people around you, for better or worse.
We tend to focus on the positive aspects of mentorship, but there is a dark side as well. So-called “anti-mentors” are people who bring out the worst in you, derail your career, and ruin your reputation.
Beware the influence of the anti-mentor
Good mentors are people who hold you accountable and bring out the best in you. Their advice, influence, and support elevates those they mentor.
Less known are anti-mentors; people whose influence serves to drag down people around them. We don’t talk much about anti-mentors because no one wants to admit that they’re susceptible to bad influences.
Anti-mentorship is often subtle and passive. It tends to affect us even without our knowledge or consent.
I experienced this firsthand early on in my career. My first major job in the world of consulting was with a boutique investment banking firm in the Southwest. The team did excellent work, but the culture of the team left something to be desired.
The partners in charge were highly political, secretive, and motivated solely by individual self-interest. Their “every man for himself” ethos trickled down throughout the organization and negatively influenced many young professionals in the early stages of their careers.
None of us thought of the partners as mentors, but we ended up adopting their approaches nonetheless. This wasn’t a conscious decision; we simply had to play by their rules if we wanted to be successful in the organization.
Fortunately, I got out before these bad habits took hold. However, many of my colleagues who stayed at the firm eventually turned into mirror images of the partners. Now, almost a decade later, they’re still stuck in the same destructive cycle of bitterness and negativity.
We are who we associate with
Growing up, my mother always told me “you are who you associate with.” While this may seem like a typical maternal warning, I’ve learned that she was right.
As humans, we take on the traits of the people we surround ourselves with. There are countless examples of otherwise sane, rational people doing terrible things because they want to be part of the group.
One need only look at the Enron scandal, or even the example of certain individuals in the current presidential administration to see how a prevailing culture can bring out the worst in people.
This is how the anti-mentor strikes. Not through action, but rather through inaction. They set bad examples and create cultures where honesty, integrity, and self-awareness are not valued.
Normal people simply trying to succeed inside of that organization find themselves slowly mutating into a warped reflection of the culture in which they work.
Character has to be cultivated
The takeaway for my fellow professionals out there is simple: always remember that character has to be cultivated.
Even if you don’t have a direct mentor that you work with or look up to, you have to remember that you are being influenced by someone, for better or worse.
If you’re in an organization that suffers from a deficit of character or you find yourself working for someone you don’t trust, respect or admire, don’t lose hope.
When it comes to identifying and avoiding anti-mentors, awareness is half the battle. If you’re aware of their negative influence, you can take steps to counteract it.
As my mentor and co-founder always told me, you learn from watching what to do and what not to do. If you’re aware of an anti-mentor in your midst, you can better navigate the political environment to avoid falling victim to his or her influence.
Most importantly, you have the ability and foresight to remove yourself from these toxic cultures before it becomes too late.
Careers should be judged not only on how much you can learn and how well you are compensated. They should also be judged on whether or not they make you a better person.
Situations where we’re fortunate enough to have positive role models and mentors can elevate us, both personally and professionally. Anti-mentors, on the other hand, will tear us down and lead to an often inescapable cycle of bitterness and negativity.
It’s up to us to develop the ability to know spot the difference and work to cultivate character in our lives.