How and Why to Mentor People at Work: The Lessons of Lasso and Henry Higgins

I heard a colleague laughing about a trainee who shook from fear while making a presentation. Sigh. That’s not a problematic trainee, that a problematic mentor. A mentee who is given a task they are not yet ready for is a sign of a cruel and incompetent mentor. We in the business world are not in a war – we have no need to employ special forces training techniques.

Most mentor-mentee relationships are problematic. It’s like childhood: either it’s perfect, then it ends and you miss it forever or it’s horrible but you learn survival lessons. For help I suggest Ted Lasso and My Fair Lady.

Ted Lasso is full of characters trying (and failing) to mentor/ be mentored. Lasso tries to help Roy Kent (success), Nathan Shelley (failure) Jamie Tartt (mixed, trending towards positive). And you can compare the style of Lasso (talk-it-all-through) with Coach Beard (silence and pointed looks).

Rebecca Welton does a great job mentoring Keeley Jones (mentor as friend trope), especially when Rebecca lets go when Keeley no longer needs mentoring.

Leslie Higgins is an example of someone you would not want as your mentor as he is often clueless. He usually has no idea what is the right advice is so despite his kindness and knowledge, don’t put someone like him in charge of anyone. Leave him as the general sounding board who people go to when they need a kindly soul who means well. And yes, all teams need someone like this with the Kleenex, chocolates, bumbling manner and platitudes. And how lovely that this character is MALE. See also Dani Rojas, he wouldn’t be a good mentor because all that positivity is self-generated, he can’t teach that.

On the other end of the spectrum: Dr. Sharon Fieldstone. Excellent at her job and the right fit as a mentor for someone with a lot of self-confidence, who doesn’t need small-talk or bonding. See also, Jan Maas and Trent Crimm, The Independent.

[Note Sharon, Jan and Trent should not be confused with Rupert, also good at his job and caustic but…  Rupert is selfish, not self-assured. Huge difference. Learn to spot that difference.]

Sam Obisanya = dream mentor. Intelligent, kind, thoughtful, reflective, wise, positive and slow to speak.

Isaac McAdoo shows the nice arc of a person who goes from needing a mentor to becoming a mentor.

In terms of My Fair Lady, Henry Higgens is the perfect warning of why you don’t the cleverest person in the room to be your mentor. Brilliant egotistical bastards are dangerous in their utterly blindness to basics.

He also serves as a cautionary tale to those who want a mentee as a way to prove how smart they are. Your mentee might end up better than you and you will be both successful and bereft.

Colonel Pickering is the Leslie Higgins type.

Eliza Doolittle is every mentee who watcher her mentor take credit for HER achievement.

(Woman Reading, Jacques-Émile Blanche)

Woman Reading, 1890,Jacques-Émile Blanche