Mentoring Isn’t Magic, But It Is A Gift

Over the years, I’ve mentored a great many new lawyers. To mentor, per se, is an obligation. I was mentored by others and I feel a duty to pay it forward. But whom I mentor is a gift. If you demonstrate a level of intelligence, integrity and zeal, you are worthy of the gift. If not, then find someone else. I may feel an obligation to mentor, but not necessarily you.

It’s a time suck. The demands can come at inconvenient times when I have better things to do, things I would prefer to do more than help you work through a problem. But hey, that’s what it means. If you’re a lousy mentee, then you don’t get the gift. If you don’t see it as a gift, don’t appreciate that I don’t owe you my time and energy, then find another mentor.

But the key is that as much as mentoring may be a duty, it is not a duty to any specific person. And if you, baby lawyer, know it all, then you don’t need my help and I surely don’t need to waste my time. If you’re my mentee, I will go to serious lengths to help you. If not, you’re on your own. Your mommy may owe you love. I do not.

One of the most obvious consequences of the current trend of social justice, the #MeToo movement, is the concern that an inadvertent word or deed will cause a young person to flip out on you.

It’s easy to set aside grossly misogynist responses to the #MeToo movement. But recent surveys suggest that a much subtler backlash is occurring and threatens the efforts some companies and organizations have made to support the advancement of women through leadership ranks.

Three recent surveys arrived at similar troublesome findings: A growing number of men report being uncomfortable or afraid to work alone with a woman.  Senior men are increasingly reluctant to mentor younger women or include them in opportunities like business travel or client dinners.

This isn’t about a mentor sexually touching a mentee, but the myriad concerns that arise from uttering a wrong word, based upon whatever lexicon of words are unacceptable at any hour, or a joke, or traditional advice that fails to comport with the current trend in microaggressions. Shockingly, some adults don’t really give a damn about words that make kids cry.

To the mentee, this may be fully justifiable cause to accuse someone of misogyny. To the mentor, this is a minefield of nonsense. Who needs to wander in this minefield?

Picture a client dinner, where the old white man client compliments the mentee on her appearance, thinking he’s being polite and pleasant. The mentee takes it as an outrage, an obvious dimunition of her professionalism. If the mentor fails to chastise the client, and lose his business by telling him that he is a scum-sucking misogynist, the mentor is complicit in the sexism and the mentee feels she must accuse him of such. Fun dinner, right?

A psychiatrist/psychoanalyst cum “leadership strategist,” Prudy Gourguechon, tries to “explain” away this concern. In an anecdote that suggests her husband may be the man least in touch with reality or the foil for fabricated stories, she explains that a multitude of surveys are showing the obvious, that men are choosing not to mentor women.

When I told my husband, who led a consulting firm for 40 years and employed, mentored and sponsored many young women, that I was writing about the #MeToo backlash, he laughed, thinking I was making it up.  I said “No, it’s a real thing. Men are afraid to be alone with women at work.”  “Then they’re jerks,” said my husband, unhelpfully.

In the unlikely event that there is any truth to this story, the takeaway is that Prudy’s hubby may be the most clueless consultant ever. More to the point, it offers a glimmer of how Prudy, and thus Forbes, assumes its readers are sufficiently shallow not to notice the strawman shift.

So why in the world are men afraid to be alone with women at work?

The implication of the surveys is that men are afraid of being falsely accused.  But false accusations of sexual impropriety are actually very rare.

There is no cite for the assertion of rarity, which makes sense as it is unsupportable. And there is no definition of the vague phrase “sexual impropriety.” Vagaries are all the rage, as it saves people from the labor of having to deal with such far-ranging issues as physical sexual assault to stare rape.

Prudy recounts an experience on twitter that reveals the point. After following a man, she received this twit:

“Hello, dear.  Great to meet you here.”

I was startled, confused, angry and acutely uncomfortable. Why in the world would some stranger call me “dear”?  Didn’t he see me as a businesswoman? How about as an equal, or as a human being?

Most of us would recognize his use of “dear” as a troll. Prudy didn’t. But she lists a string of adjectives about her feelings, all stemming from the one word. A mature response would be to shrug, unfollow and move on. But Prudy was “acutely uncomfortable.” If he was her mentor, would she accuse him of sexism? Would it be true or false? Was this the “sexual impropriety” of which she wrote?

Whether an accusation is true or false depends on how one interprets improprieties, whether they are whatever makes the mentee “feel unsafe” or hurts their feelings. Or less discussed but more likely, doesn’t actually do either, but fits within the paradigm of things the mentee believes she should be offended by, and so pretends to be.

But even if it’s rare, who needs it? There are many young people who seek mentors, who find value in experience and appreciate whatever wisdom, connections, insight they can gain from someone who’s been there. One insight is that some mentees are more hassle than they’re worth, and only a fool invites needless trouble into their world.

My mentees have been male and female. I take parental joy in helping them, watching them succeed. And yes, I learn from them as well, given that my pop culture knowledge is in constant need of updating. I have no plans of refusing to mentor a female lawyer for fear of accusation of misogyny, but then, that’s mostly because I have no fear of the accusation. My thoughts on the subject are about as transparent as possible, and I’ve been lambasted for my sexist disregard of social justice and political correctness regularly. It’s all good with me.

But I have no HR department to answer to, no job to lose, no cool reputation as a woke ally to defend. I can afford to be accused of pretty much anything. My clients have other concerns, and most lawyers with whom I work are beyond such infantile concerns. If a mentor can be harmed by an accusation, then why take the risk? Remember, this is a gift. The only polite response to a gift is to say “thank you,” even if it’s not a gift you want.

H/T Patrick  Maupin

23 thoughts on “Mentoring Isn’t Magic, But It Is A Gift

  1. Hunting Guy

    Robert Heinlein.

    “Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn — when they do, which isn’t often — on their own, the hard way.”

    1. Nemo

      A better quote, I believe it was Will Rodgers, Jr. who said it, is ‘some folks learn by reading, and some folks learn from observation. The rest of us have to pee on the electric fence, and find out for ourselves.’.

      As far as false allegations go, I expect Ms. Businesswoman is going from the whole meme thing about the false accusation rate for rape being around 2%, or whatever. Even if that were accurate, it only applied to accusations that got to the police. False accusations used socially are another matter entirely.

      The very first time I was falsely accused of rape, my father interrogated me until I copped a plea. The accuser was older than I was, a junior or senior while I was in 9th or lower, and I had no understanding of why she even wanted to do it.

      Anecdotal evidence proves little in the grand scheme of things, but were I to inform her of some of the false allegations leveled against me socially, she would likely write my lived experience off as such. After all, she’s probably citing a meme, based on a study about something other than social accusations, so it’s not going to shift her stance. It goes against her faux ‘diagnosis*’. My two false accusers, ignoring those with lesser accusations, /must/ be a matter of coincidence, or me lying, or whatever. Such things are “very rare”, after all, and she can cite a study to “prove” it.

      I wonder what her opinion of the movie “The Red Pill” was, at the time she wrote her unscientific dreck.

      The thing about Russian roulette isn’t that the lethal outcome is, relatively rare, per trigger pull. The thing is how long the game goes on**. I wouldn’t mentor a committed SJW, these days, not if you were to pay me a six-figure salary.

      * Be glad I didn’t go down that rabbit hole. See below.
      ** If it went as long as one of my comments, call a morgue.

      Regards,

      Nemo

  2. Billy Bob

    Neither a mentor nor a mentee be. Pardon me while I visit my lawyer. Am wondering now if he was successfully mentored, and does it make a difference if he was not?
    If it’s not on the curriculum vitae, how would I know?bil

    1. PseudonymousKid

      Dear BB, this above all, to thine own self be true. You’ll know when you’re up the proverbial creek with the lawyer and he didn’t bring a paddle.

      1. Billy Bob

        You are a smart kid, but no Fubar. You have a lot to learn, and a ways to go, … before we sleep. (The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have miles to go before,…)

        Get thee to a mentoring cubicle machine or apparatus, immediately, if not sooner! Mentors have all the answers. And if they don’t, they know where to find them. Even if hiding under a rock, … even if hiding in plain sight! There is no substituition for good mentoring.. And roast pastrami sandwich is on the Host with the most (experience).

      2. CAB

        Did you really just quote Polonius in a discussion about effective mentoring? There isn’t enough irony in the world…

        (P.S. Because the initials are similar, I just wanted to make it known that the person going by “CB” below is not I. I read this blog daily because, even when I disagree with him, I find Mr. Greenfield to be interesting and insightful. I’m sure he makes a wonderful mentor. In fact, I suspect he’d get on well with my own mentor, who also is irreverent and impatient with idiocy, and also is a wonderful, wonderful mentor.)

        1. SHG Post author

          Even though Polonius was a pompous oaf offering simplistic platitudes, his advice has managed to survive better than many borrowers or lenders.

          And while I appreciate your tummy rub, CB makes a valuable (if inadvertent) point: most mentees want only validation, delivered to them in dulcet tones with a careful balance of respect and tender comfort. Some mentors (like me, and yours, for example) really don’t give a damn about what mentees want and how they want it. It’s the mentors giving the gift, and it’s the mentees receiving it. And if the mentees don’t like the way they’re treated by a mentor, it’s best that the mentee doesn’t waste the mentor’s time and squander the gift.

  3. Christopher Best

    I actually discussed this very subject with my wife and came to a personal decision not to volunteer to mentor any more interns because of all this.

    I thought back to prior mentoring experiences. Besides all the technical stuff… Weekly, private, one-on-one meetings. Inviting my intern to my home for dinner with my family. Bringing them on social excursions (e.g. visiting a brewfest then taking them to some colorful local night life locations). Once or twice giving them a congratulatory slap on the back of the shoulder (I’m a southerner I’ve never broken the habit). All those things seem fraught with peril now.

    Every intern deserves the same level of personal dedication from me, regardless of their sex, and I can’t help but feel like I’d constantly be holding something back if my next intern was a woman. It wouldn’t be fair to her. So no more interns for the foreseeable future.

    1. SHG Post author

      I gave up interns a decade ago. They were just too much of a time suck and unprepared to appreciate what was happening around them. And even then, they were annoying.

  4. CB

    You seem like an incredibly shitty person to be around. I’m sorry that you feel obligated to take on students. They would be better off with another lawyer.

    1. SHG Post author

      This is as it should be. You would be unworthy of my time, and I would only make you cry when you realized your inadequacy.

      1. Nick Lidakis

        You once had the balls to admit, on SJ, that in court, during trial, you got something 180 degrees ass backwards. If this blog was called Simple Medicine, I’d give one testicle to pick your brains –just for a while– about all the terrible mistakes you made over the years.

        1. SHG Post author

          I’m unaware of any decent lawyer who doesn’t do his own version of an M&M to figure out what he could have done better, how he could improve, what choices should have been made differently. I’m not sure that I’ve had too many “terrible” mistakes, but plenty of things I could have done better or should have done differently. It’s critical to learn from mistakes.

        2. Ken Mackenzie

          IIRC Scott moved for a mistrial on the grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, namely Scott. To the glory seekers that seems an extraordinary thing to do. To Scott, I suspect, it was just the right and obvious job needing to be done- for his client. The personal branding crowd, whatever they thought of Scott’s motion, would be appalled that he blogged about it. Why would anyone tell tales against themselves on the internet?

  5. Billy Bob

    You seem like an incredibly witty person, CB. I’m sorry that I feel obligated to assign you to latrine duty. If you are a lawyer, this might be a particularly onerous task, as lawyers do not generally like to get their hands dirty. That is for mechanics and dumb folks who cannot afford the ever higher costs of tuition, if you catch my illiterate drift?

    Potty mouths are more to their liking.

    They like to clean things up with well-chosen words and Latinisms about which the rest of us have nary a clue. Their stock in trade, so to speak.

  6. Matt

    “But I have no HR department to answer to, no job to lose, no cool reputation as a woke ally to defend. I can afford to be accused of pretty much anything.”

    But under 8.4(g), enacted here in California as 8.4.1, taking on the wrong mentee could end up in bar discipline. Our version goes into effect 11/1. I’ll soon be relocating to New York, and glad to avoid this mess.

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