Career Advice Tuesday – “When Good Mentors Go Bad”

May 25, 2010

Dear Infosecleaders:

I am writing you because I recently have been placed in a difficult situation by the person who I least expected  – my mentor.

Here is the back story – my mentor is someone that I have known for about 10 years.  When I was first starting out in information security, he was my a client of mine on my first consulting job.  After about a year of working together, he offered me a position for an entry level position on his staff.  For the next eight years, I have been working for him – initially indirectly – and now I am a direct report who manages  5 other information security engineers.

As our relationship progressed, we developed a closer relationship.  I was a sponge, and he was willing to teach me.  He is quite credible within the industry and was well respected.  He helped guide me in my career, and supported my training and my professional development.   Everything was going great.  Our relationship became more than professional – we often socialized with each other outside of work, and invited each other to family functions.

Everything was going smoothly at work and recently a problem arose in our information security function.  When the problem had surfaced, my mentor (manager) directed me to handle the situation in a specific way.  I did not 100% agree with his direction, but I proceeded as directed  – both out of respect and because he is my manager and mentor.   In the end, his direction proved wrong.  As a result, the situation escalated and his manager (the CIO) became involved.   As a note, my mentor has a very close relationship with the CIO (quite similar to my relationship wtih my mentor).

When the subject was addressed, my mentor told the CIO that I acted “on my own” and disregarded his directions as it related to the problem.  Not only did he make the argument during the meeting – but he was quite persuasive.   During the meeting I did not defend myself (I basically froze).   I just accepted the wrath of the CIO – thinking that if I did not take responsibility I could be fired on the spot (it was that grave).

The good thing is that I still have my position but nothing will ever be the same.  I have not even spoken with my mentor about this – considering that I believe that he does know the truth.

Do you have any advice for me?  How can I remain in my current position when I can no longer trust my mentor?  I have been questioning all of his guidance that he gave me through the years – I do not know what I should believe and what was self serving.

Any help would be appreciated.


“Mentee Interrupted”

Dear Mentee:

Wow!  How can we possibly answer a question that is rooted in deception of someone that you have respected, admired, and trusted.  I can tell that you have valued this relationship beyond the work environment – so this must hurt you both professionally and personally.

At this point, my best advice to you would be to separate the two issues.  I would prioritize the work relationship, considering that has the most impact to your career (and we are career advisers not psychiatrists).   Believe it or not, I agree with your decision to take the heat and not deflect blame during the meeting with the CIO.  By not saying anything, you avoided acting emotionally and saying some things that you may have regretted in what appears to be an “unwinnable” situation.  You have remained employed and now you have the ability to think clearly and act rationally.

I think that first you should replay the situation and see if your “mentor’s” interpretation of the facts are valid.  I would check for some e-mail or correspondence that would validate that you acted as directed and not outside of your mentor’s guidance.  Once you are sure that this is the case, my advice would be to begin looking for another suitable position.

The reason for this, is that you have the ability to go out on a relative  high note and at the same time remain in your mentor’s good graces.  Although the two of you will know what actually did go down, you would be better served in your career to have your mentor on your side (since he is well respected in the community) and to be able to utilize him as a professional reference.

I also think that you should go back over ther guidance that your mentor has given you during your career development and reassess if any of this advice could be construed as self-serving to their best interests (as opposed to yours).  As you go back, what you will most likely find that your mentor most likely advised you with good intentions through the 10 years that you know him, and this was an isolated incident.   At some point in time, when you look back on the situation, you may even realize that your mentors action (albeit self serving) may have protected both you and he.   However, I still would not stick around to find this out first hand.

In closing, there is not any way to guide you through your bad feelings towards your mentor.  You most likely feel betrayed, taken advantage of, and misguided. All of your feelings are valid.  Over the course of time, your disappointment will probably dissipate.  However, you should never forget that this happened and you should not stick around long enough to see if it happens again and potentially has a bigger negative impact on your career and your life.

I realize that you have seen the worst in your mentor, hopefully one day you will again see the best in them – and he will have a chance to somewhat redeem himself.

Unfortunately, please accept that your relationship will never be the same.   You can never fully rebuild the trust that you have lost.

There are more mentors out there – apply what you have learned and choose wisely.

Hope this helps,

Lee and Mike

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Career Advice Tuesday, Personal 


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