Mentoring With Personality In Mind

I try to approach most interactions with my teammates as a mentoring opportunity. Sometimes this means simple stuff like showing them a command-line trick or a design pattern.

It can also get pretty subtle though.

For example, I recently heard myself say to a less experienced engineer,

“Are you sure you aren’t being too careful?”

Me to a less experienced engineer


I think it was a useful question to ask in that specific situation, but afterwards, I found myself reflecting on it. I wasn’t 100% that was the best thing to say.

I don’t think it’s useful for a mentor to try to shape the personality of their mentee to be more like their own.

I don’t think it useful for a mentor to try to shape the personality of their mentee to be more like their own.

Joe Cannatti – me

To some extent, I think that’s what I was doing in that case. I had an instinct going off in my head that we were being too careful about a decision, but that was my own personal reaction to the situation.

The goal of being a mentor isn’t to shape someone’s instincts and style to match your own. It’s to help someone do their best work given their personality and instincts.

The goal of being a mentor isn’t to shape someone’s instincts and style to match your own. It’s to help someone do their best work given their personality and instincts.

Joe Cannatti – me

Now, that could still mean that it was the right call to help guide this person in a different direction. However in this case, I don’t think their reaction was coming from a misunderstanding of the elements of the decision or a lack of experience. I think they just felt differently than I did about the situation because of their personality and temperament.

A possible better approach could be to say something like, “I feel like we are being a bit too careful about this. What thoughts and feelings are you working with as we discuss this issue? Do you understand all the key points of the situation? I want to make sure you’re using your efforts in the way that’s most effective for you.”

It’s a subtle change in language, but it’s a different message.

I challenge both mentors and mentees to work with this idea. Can you separate reactions that come from personality and temperament from ones that come from knowledge and experience?

Leave a comment below or reach me on Twitter @joecannatti

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