Securing a mentor in your profession will provide you with a new way to explore experiences and situations in your job. It is this access to the problem-solving thought processes of an expert that will offer you an advantage in your learning experiences.
Put simply, you NEED a mentor to learn deeply. If you don’t currently have a mentor don’t stop looking until you find one.
There are positive ways to approach the relationship, such as being openminded, deep questioning and always being present during crises to observe how an expert deals with the situation. But there are also poor ways of approaching this opportunity.
Here are four of them;
Bench-warming: Watching the mentor from the sidelines without learning anything or questioning decisions and actions.
Bench-pressing: Focusing on competing with fellow apprentices and being noticed, rather than engaging in long-term learning, development and growth.
Teleporting: Teleporting, or transporting, all of the mentors problem-solving strategies to your situation without much thought. In this instance you are observing everything your mentor does and just repeating it.
However you are not applying the necessary reflection and application skills to examine the specifics of each situation. Nor do you appreciate how each problem is different and how it requires a combination of previous experiences and knowledge.
Cherry picking: Selecting parts of the mentors problem solving models based on your interests or preferences. This issues here are much like teleporting except on a smaller scale.
So what should you do instead?
The mentors knowledge has been built up gradually and deeply over years and through numerous experiences. It is a form of deep tacit knowledge that is hard to gain access to. As an apprentice you need to dig deep into the mentors thought process by asking probing questions about their their problem solving strategies, their experiences and their expectations and values.