The Happy Engineer Podcast

175: Do You Make These 3 Mistakes in Mentorship?

Do you have world-class mentors guiding your engineering career decisions?

Listen now and discover the power of mentorship for engineers and how it can accelerate your career growth!

In this episode, I share my journey of leveraging mentorship to pivot from engineering to business leadership. I discuss the critical importance of having world-class mentors and how their guidance opened doors I never thought possible.

You’ll learn about the three biggest mistakes mentees make (this is huge).

Through my own experiences and the lessons I’ve learned, I provide practical advice on avoiding these pitfalls and maximizing the benefits of mentorship.

So press play and let’s chat about how to elevate your career through powerful mentorship!

As you listen… Tap to DOWNLOAD my free Workbook: Engineering Career Accelerator™️ Scorecard … foundational insights you can check, score, and apply immediately to stand out and excel at work.

Want free coaching, LIVE? Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


The Happy Engineer Podcast

Leveraging Mentorship for Career Growth: Avoid These 3 Common Mistakes



LISTEN TO EPISODE 175 with Zach’s Debrief: Do You Make These 3 Mistakes in Mentorship?

Previous Episode 174: Here’s Why Being Busy Blocks Engineering Success with Dr. Andy Garrett


Top Takeaways on The Power of Mentorship

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, I share valuable insights on the power of mentorship and how it can transform your career trajectory.

Here are the top three insights:

1. World Class Mentors: It is crucial to seek out mentors who are not only respected but also deeply invested in your growth. Having multiple mentors across various aspects of your life, such as career, health, and mindset, can accelerate your overall development.

2. Meaningful Mentorship Meetings: Regular meetings with your mentors should go beyond casual coffee chats. Seek opportunities to shadow your mentors in their element, where you can learn directly from their expertise and gain valuable insights that transcend traditional information exchange.

3. Bold Asks: Don’t hesitate to ask your mentors for what you truly need in your career journey. Whether it’s exposure to new opportunities, sponsorship for a promotion, or guidance in critical decision-making, making bold asks can pave the way for significant career advancements.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, listen to this entire conversation.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: About one year after I landed my senior manager of engineering position back at Whirlpool, I was thinking about my career path and what direction I wanted to take my next role. And there was a part of me that was super curious about the business. Understanding marketing sales, the commercialization of the products, everything that happens on the product management and product marketing side.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:26] It was a totally new area of the business. And I had an idea that maybe I would like to move my career more towards general management, becoming a business leader and not just an engineering leader, but I wasn’t sure how would I make that decision, which direction to go. What did I do? I went out and found mentors.

[00:00:49] I went over to the business side of the company and I found leaders who were well respected, who had great reputations and who had come from an engineering or technical background and moved successfully into different areas of the business in sales, in marketing, in product. And I went to those leaders and I asked them to be my mentors.

[00:01:13] And at one point had more than seven mentors in the business that I was meeting with at least quarterly. It was a big investment of time, but I saw that as a key X factor to opening doors for me for that next opportunity. Fast forward two years later. One of my mentors named Jake was working with me on creating some opportunities and experiences where I could go and actually be around the business team in an environment where normally engineering was not invited.

[00:01:44] We had a board of directors and sales meeting being set up at one of our facilities offsite, and he got me on the list to be able to show up and tour that day. And I went with him. He was a general manager. We went with him to tour that. Product expo, that board of directors meeting. And while I was there, one of the vice presidents on the business side was in the room and Jake walked me right up and introduced me, said, Hey, Pam, I want to introduce you to Zach White.

[00:02:13] He’s currently being positioned to take on a product marketing role. He’s one of my mentees and up and comer wanted you to make sure and get introduced Zach. This is Pam. And he told me about what her role was and we got connected. In that moment, I was absolutely blown away and realizing this is the power of being in proximity.

[00:02:40] This is the power of having great mentors, mentors who are invested and committed into you and you are invested and committed into that relationship. Mentorship. Is essential. And the really sad part is that most engineering leaders I talked to do not have great world class tribes of mentors in their life, in their career.

[00:03:08] Maybe they have one person, but they’re not leveraging mentorship to its fullest extent. Shortly after that meeting and opening in the KitchenAid brand, Came open and I had the opportunity to apply. And three of my seven mentors were connected to the hiring manager and the teams that were leading. And just like that, I had an interview and an opportunity and ultimately landed a position in product and brand marketing with no MBA, with no resume experience directly in marketing of any kind.

[00:03:42] And that door was opened for me because of two years of focused mentorship. Preparing me for that moment. I had the experiences that I needed. I had the exposure that I needed. And I was given an opportunity. They took a risk on me because of the people who sponsored me to get into that opportunity. And the same is possible for you.

[00:04:04] But there are three monster mistakes that mentees make. When it comes to mentorship, thinking about yourself as the mentee, there are three mistakes that I see all the time. The first and most common mistake when it comes to being a mentee is that you don’t have world class mentors, period, full stop. You just don’t have them.

[00:04:34] Maybe you’ve got someone that you were paired with through an HR, Sponsored internal program. Maybe you’re fortunate to work for a company that does mentorship as a default practice, but the person that you were partnered with is not someone that you would consider world class someone you look up to or respect somebody who’s invested and committed into your actual growth.

[00:04:57] They’re too busy for you, or it’s just not really creating value for your goals. If you don’t have world class mentors. And there’s an S there for a reason. Then you are missing out on an incredible asset to accelerate your growth. The S mentors, think about what mentorship is. It’s you getting into proximity to somebody who has the results that you want so they can support you in your journey.

[00:05:28] Hey, here’s what I did that worked. Here’s what I’ve done that did not work. These are the pitfalls and the brick walls that you don’t want to run into along your career journey. These are the paths that you can navigate in our company. These paths Don’t usually work or are more difficult. Those kinds of relationships are essential, but you’re very unlikely to find one person who can check every box of the growth and the resources and the development that you need to reach your vision.

[00:05:58] There’s usually a variety of things that you’re focused on growth in, and there’s probably multiple goals that you’re pursuing at the same time. Think of mentorship as a tool, as a strategy that you use. To accelerate all of those things. And you can have mentors outside of your career as well. Who’s mentoring you in your marriage?

[00:06:20] You want to have a great marriage? Well, who’s mentoring you? Who’s mentoring you in your health, your vitality, your energy? Taking care of yourself, your fitness? Get a mentor. You want to improve in that area? Who is mentoring you? Who’s mentoring you in your mindset? Having a world class mindset mentor.

[00:06:39] Mentorship is not just for your career. Mentorship is a strategy you can use anywhere. The number one mistake is that you just don’t have them. I have a mastermind of incredible engineering leaders who work with us in the Oasis of Courage, and I just was with them this week. And I asked this question, how many of you are struggling because you just don’t have mentors 80 percent of the room?

[00:07:04] Raised their hand and said, I have zero or one mentor, and that person is either non existent or not world class. These are top performers who have invested heavily into themselves to be in our coaching programs and masterminds, and even they are not doing this. So, I know you can improve in this area.

[00:07:25] The number one mistake is you simply don’t have world class mentors. Now, mistake number two is that you don’t meet. With those mentors, often enough to move the agenda forward to reach the goals, or maybe you are meeting with some regularity, but you’re not meeting in a way that allows you to get more value from the relationship than just a conversation.

[00:07:55] What do I mean by that? Think back to this moment I mentioned with Jake. Jake got me into a room that without Jake, I don’t have access to. That’s the power of a great mentor that you meet in a setting where you can shadow them, a setting where you can learn from them, where you can take on that apprentice mindset, right?

[00:08:17] You can actually watch them in their genius. Let’s say you’re focusing on mastering public speaking and you have a mentor who’s great. At public speaking. They’re a master orator. They’re very, very good from the front of the room. Well, don’t just sit and have coffee with that person and talk about public speaking.

[00:08:35] Go listen to them. Speak, go to their speeches. If they’re giving a keynote at another company, ask if you can join and attend, go be with your mentor in the zone of their genius, see them operate. in their, area that they work and the thing that you want to learn from them so that you can actually take away those skills and have that osmosis, that shoulder to shoulder, that proximity is where you create power.

[00:09:04] The second mistake is that you just don’t meet with the mentors that you have regularly enough to advance the agenda or in a setting outside of a phone call or a virtual chat or coffee. Don’t look at mentorship as an exchange of information alone. If that’s all it was, you might as well sit with ChatGPT or Google and just consume information.

[00:09:28] You’re looking for ways to take their specific experience and capabilities and transfer that to you. go into the environment. Where they’re at their best and ask the questions and shadow them. That’s a powerful, powerful way to get more leverage out of these mentorship relationships. Most people meet with their mentor virtually, or just for a cup of coffee or grab lunch together and you chit chat and talk about whatever random things come up and you’re not being effective in that time.

[00:10:02] Don’t make that second mistake. Make sure that when you’re meeting that it’s regularly, And it’s impactful. The third and final mistake I see with mentees is that you don’t ask for what you really want. Back to this idea of exchanging information. If Jake and I just sat and I asked him questions and he gave me answers, I could have learned a lot from him.

[00:10:29] He was very experienced. He had a ton of incredible wins in his career. He had a great reputation in the company. He has since gone on to the C suite at multiple organizations. He’s tremendously successful, but sitting down and asking questions by itself doesn’t allow me to step in and ask for what I really want and really need for my career.

[00:10:52] You see, there’s things that you’re after, goals that you want to achieve, and there’s bigger asks. to make of your great mentors. I asked Jake, where can I get exposure and opportunity to go be around the marketing teams where engineers aren’t normally invited? Jake, can you get me on the list? May I attend with you that event?

[00:11:19] Making that ask, Takes a level of courage, takes some boldness from you, and it’s part of why we need regular meetings and to build that relationship and to get that commitment and buy in from our mentors so that we can make these bigger, bolder asks. Make the ask for sponsorship, if you’re ready to go apply for that promotion.

[00:11:41] Do you have the level of mentor that you can go to and say, I would like to apply for this role? Do you agree that it’s a great fit for me based on what you know from our mentorship? And would you be willing to sponsor me as I move forward in that application and hiring process? Making that bigger, bolder ask is a key part of the mentorship relationship.

[00:12:09] A great mentor wants to be asked, because they really enjoy giving back. And seeing their mentees succeed. In fact, a source of great honor and great pride for a mentor is to see their mentees hit their goals for their mentees to be the ones who are getting those positions. You want them to feel invested into your success.

[00:12:33] And the best way you can give back generously to your mentors is to implement what they share with you. Take action on the insights they give you and make them proud. Go get results with what they’ve shared. And then say, thank you. Come back and say, thank you for what they’ve given you. Hey. Jake, I took your advice.

[00:12:53] I put that action into practice. I changed my messaging from something purely technical to something that included the voice of the customer, and it was far more impactful in my presentation. Thank you. I’m going to do that every time from now on. I appreciate your mentorship, Jake. Thank you for getting me in that room with the board of directors meeting and the product where I could talk to Pam.

[00:13:15] Thank you. That was really impactful. And I have a follow up session to go meet with Pam at a fireside chat next month. Thank you for the introduction. Make your mentors proud, but part of what you want to do is make that ask that gives you the opportunity to do so three monster mistakes mentees make, and I want to make sure you are not making them.

[00:13:41] So number one, if you don’t have world class mentors. Solve that problem first. Number two, you don’t meet with them regularly enough to advance the agenda or in a setting where you can see them and learn from them in their zone of genius, not just exchange information and mistake. Number three, you’ve got the world class mentor.

[00:14:02] You’ve been building this great relationship meeting regularly, learning tremendous amounts and implementing what they teach you, but you never have the courage to make that big ask. You don’t ask for what you really want. You don’t ask for that support in the moments that matter. You don’t have, you don’t meet, and you don’t ask.

[00:14:22] These three monster mistakes will prevent you from getting the leverage, that multiplying force factor in your career that you absolutely need if you want to accelerate growth without compounding and adding on even more work or burning out. Mentors are a tremendous asset. Leverage this. So when that moment comes, you can make that call and say, Hey, will you help me in this next key step?

[00:14:55] And the best part is as you accelerate and you grow, you’ll be able to turn around and become that mentor to someone junior to you who wants to follow in your footsteps and feel the incredible reward of giving back to them. And I would love. To be a part of giving back to you as a coach, having done this for a long time, I picked up some really powerful distinctions, things that are important in building our careers, accelerating our capability as engineers, as engineering managers, moving into executive levels, moving into We have an amazing community here at the Oasis of Courage.

[00:15:34] And a lot of us meet every single month at a free event, a workshop that we call happy hour. Happy hour is a blast. It’s a time where we can actually engage face to face on zoom in real time. And it’s a called a workshop because we’re going to do. Don’t come to listen. It’s not like the podcast where you just consume information, bring a pen, bring a notebook, bring your iPad.

[00:15:57] We’re going to dig in and work on your career together, including topics like how to find and build a tribe of world class mentors. If you need help with this or anything else, jump into happy hour next month. It’s just around the corner. You can get registered by clicking the link in the show notes. Or just grab your phone.

[00:16:18] It’s even easier. You can send a text message and get registered that way. Just text me the word happy. To the number three, three, seven, seven, seven. It’s that short code three, three, seven, seven, seven. Text the word happy. Send us your info and we’ll get you registered for the next live workshop. We do it every month.

[00:16:38] You can come back again and again. Bring questions too, because we have open coaching at the end. We can give you that support, that coaching, and that mentorship you need to break through whatever barrier you’re facing. Don’t make mistakes as a mentee, lean in, invest in this because proximity is power and it will change the trajectory of your career.

[00:16:59] I promise you that. Let’s do this.