(This is the painting of the martyrdom of Saint Lawrence–kind of like working in a consulting company.)
A long weekend of sun and friends with walks in the woods and to the Bard on the Beach production of The Merchant of Venice. In deep discussion with our friends who now live in Costa Rica, we argued about Mentoring in Mining (and other) Consulting. Her daughter works for one of those big international consulting companies that focuses on the mining industry and other geotechnical and environmental markets. Her ex-husband too used to work for the same company until he joined the big mining house in London, whence he now flies all over the world to control consultants.
The topic of mentoring was high on our discussion list. She maintains her daughter is distressed by the lack of mentoring in the consulting company. Both ladies believe there should be proactive mentoring of the young in consulting. Even though these days none of us is young anymore. And probably never were in the sense of mentoring.
My perspective is this: mentoring is one of those topics more written about than practiced. In the glossy magazines freely distributed to the mining industry, there is a never-ending stream of earnest articles written by young and ambitious engineers trumpeting the virtues and benefits of mentoring. Older consultants, seeking to get the best of the bunch to join their company, mutter long-windedly about mentoring in their companies.
But the sad truth is that it is all a fraud, a big lie. Nobody does mentoring as the articles and mutterings would have us believe. The reasons are simple:
- The senior guys & gals in consulting are too busy and stressed.
- The young are arrogant and don’t really care to be mentored.
- Consulting is competitive both intra and inter company—you succeed or fail on your merits.
- There is never sufficient budget to spend the time chattering and blathering as good mentoring would demand.
I am sure I will be attacked for this negative perspective. I hope some senior person in a successful consulting company can negate what I say by providing a positive example of successful mentoring.
For comprehensive mentoring requires a senior of rare virtue with the time and talent to teach, to lead, to inspire, to spend time not only on the engineering challenges of the day but also the longer-term issues of making a career in a competitive company, industry, and world. I have never met such a person, and I know that I am not such a person.
I have influenced the lives and careers of many young engineers. Many of them have gone on to great success, exceeding by far what I could do, did do for them, or what I could have achieved by formal mentoring. I have helped them get their jobs. I have gotten them on to interesting projects. I have bullied them to perform. I have gently and not so gently edited their work products. I have introduced them to others more intelligent and powerful than me. I have taken great pleasure in seeing them succeed, pull away from the herd, and go way beyond me and my capabilities. I remain friends with all of them. Some still call me up for advice. But mostly they are out there in front and I am but a faint memory in their successful careers.
Of course there have been those that I could not help. I recall one: the job got a bit stressful, he failed to produce, burst into tears when confronted, and collapsed. It was best to advise him to leave consulting, which he did. He is happy elsewhere. Then there was the one who was just stupid—got a degree somehow but learnt nothing and had no skills to rectify educational deficiencies. Then there were the ones who were too lazy to read and expand their knowledge. Or the ones too busy with social events to work late, over weekends, or when the job demanded extra effort. They were unmentorable. Or at least I had no desire or skill to mentor them. They just dropped along the way.
So to those who sprout platitudes about mentoring in consulting, recall this: consulting is hard, competitive, and only those who are bright, work hard, and go the extra mile should choose a consulting career. It is all up to you: what you studied, what you continue to learn, what you read & study post your degree, how much you are prepared to travel, how late at night you will stay to produce tomorrow’s report. Seek out the best people in the consulting firm, learn from them, become their colleagues and friends, play politics to get assigned to the most demanding projects, work harder than the person in the next-door office, write papers, attend conferences, and sleep less.
Luck in consulting, as in all life, comes to those who are prepared. You will fail sometime: the project will go sour through no fault of yours, the client will slip up or move on, the regulators will be obdurate, and you will be tarred by a brush not of your making. When this happens, curse, get drunk, and move on. There will always be a demand for those of talent and the ability to work harder than the next person.
Forget about formal mentoring. It is a crutch, an illusion, and impossible of proper implementation. Good luck.