My mentor and me

My mentor and I never discussed entering into a mentoring relationship. I never asked and he never offered. But years ago he saw something in me that he deemed valuable, that I was teachable and worthy of his efforts to impart in me lessons of immense value.

He believed in me and showed it by giving me increasingly difficult design projects. He knew how and when to stretch me.  

From his lead-by-example tutelage of me and by me doing the work, I grew personally and as a professional engineer. I anticipated that my mentor would teach me the technical side of the business and help me to be a better engineer which he did.  What I didn’t know then was how valuable the technical and non-technical intangible lessons learned would be and how often I would use them in the years that followed.  

These are the things I learned from my mentor.

  • Create things that are as simple as possible. Anyone can design a complicated device, but it takes skill to reduce a concept to its most simplified and acceptable form.
  • Develop an ability to explain complicated technical concepts in a clear and concise manner. This is the mark of an intelligent person who thinks and communicates clearly verbally and in writing.
  • Less bureaucracy and red tape is better than more bureaucracy. Excessive bureaucracy enables and encourages incompetence and poor performance. 
  • Stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to try something new. Avoid doing things automatically the same way that they have always been done.  Don’t copy or have “me-too” designs.
  • Be creative; be original. 
  • Don’t limit yourself. Ultimately, you hold the keys to your own performance and success.
  • Find your niche in your organization. People become uniquely valuable, and in a supportive environment, shape their own jobs. 
  • Look for and find ways to do things better, faster, more efficiently and less expensively.
  • The primary rule is “Do the right thing.” Don’t worry about lines of authority, even if it’s not your area of responsibility.  In the end, very few additional rules are necessary.
  • Never say “That’s not my job.” If someone asks you for help, help them if you can. If you aren’t able to help them, find someone who can.
  • Always put the interest of the company first. 
  • Act with honesty and integrity. 
  • Try to achieve work/life balance. 
  • Effort does not equal success; quality and effectiveness does. There are lots of busy failures in life. Don’t be one of them. 
  • Don’t worry about organizational titles. Instead, pay attention to the informal lines of authority and getting results. Work with and value the people who best enable you to achieve your objectives, not those who are insincere or full of themselves. 
  • Be reliable. Be a doer, not a talker. Be a person who gets things done and surround yourself with go-to people who also get results. 
  • Never forget your employer’s ultimate purpose, the goals of the organization you are serving, and who your end customers are. 

Have you had a mentor or been a mentor?  If so, what lessons did you learn?  What advice did you offer?  

Rick Miller is president / sole owner of Innovative Drive Solution LLC, an engineering consulting firm specializing in gears and power transmission devices.