It’s up to mentors to help young professionals stave off youthful arrogance

It’s up to mentors to help young professionals stave off youthful arrogance

21 January, 2013

Having interviewed hundreds of young lawyers, it is now obvious that while you can’t teach many things to young professionals,  a mentor or manager can certainly share common sense and life experiences which should enable any capable young professional to succeed. When young professionals begin their careers after graduation, there are some critical life lessons they need to learn to ensure they have the best opportunity to succeed in their jobs. While their first job will likely not be their last, the choice to move to another opportunity should be made strategically rather than as a reaction to job loss.
When twenty-somethings enter their first job, they are filled with excitement, nervousness and probably a respectable level of pride. Soon thereafter, and once the benefits of their newfound riches are beyond a novelty, some folks turn these emotions into arrogance, ego and sadly, career suicide. In many professional services fields, it is assumed that the technical skill-set, knowledge base and comprehension of that field is the same for everyone, so how does one stand out from the crowd?
There are plenty of stories on the incredible challenges of making partnership in a firm. These challenges, similar to the trend of fewer senior-management roles in companies, will likely remain for the foreseeable future, if not permanently. Surviving and succeeding in today’s economy, requires nothing less than likeability and flexibility.  It is up to mentors or managers to determine if their young proteges need this invaluable advice and to impart such difficult life lessons on the young.
If young professionals maintain those first-day jitters throughout their careers, they should have a better chance of long-term success in the workplace. When a mentor or manager spots young professionals with talent and potential, he or she should try to spend the necessary time to teach those young professionals how to adapt to the current workplace, keeping them on their toes and constantly trying to impress. The question is: how does one impart such dramatic life lessons given the divide of our generations?
There is no shortage of articles on the varying generations in today’s workforce and their vastly different attitudes and ethics that can often clash with one another. Accordingly, communicating with younger generations requires a solid understanding of the way they think, and receive instruction. An obvious example is found in the way they communicate. Electronic communication to them is not only only comfortable, it is customary and not at all interpreted as impersonal (as it can sometimes be by older generations). Further, to have productive face-to-face meetings requires adequate notice and preparation. This is not intended as criticism, but rather, a hihglight of the different cultures in which each of us was raised. Popping into someone’s office unannounced with criticism or instruction can be seen as an attack or harsh. While not intended as such, the perception is what matters to ensure productive communications.
In the legal field, it has been reported on many occasions that young lawyers will refuse to do work for a senior member of their law firm because the work is either mundane, uninteresting or too time consuming.  Advising young professionals on how always to accept work, any work, regardless of its quality, will ensure they are seen as flexible and adaptable in any circumstances.
The challenge is how to share such recommendations without offence. In other words, following this script could backfire and create resentment and unhappiness. Advancing this instruction in a productive manner will initially require electronic communication, perhaps asking questions like: Is everything ok? How can I help? etc. This soft introduction shows you are not on the attack. Second, it opens up the young professional to being more willing to receive criticism. While this entire exchange could occur electronically, it is recommended that you book a date/time (perhaps over a beer or coffee) to discuss this more personally. This idea gives the person a chance to think about what they have done, and to more likely view you as  a mentor/teacher.
The harder message to teach will be reminding these young professionals that any hint of a negative attitude could hinder their ability to stave off being downsized when an organization finds itself in those difficult circumstances where jobs need to be lost. To do this effectively, one must lead by example. In other words, it is critical that the young professional witness first hand what it takes to be flexible and adaptable. Trying to teach these things without living them yourself is next to impossible.  Sometimes this may mean doing something yourself that you have typically delegated in the past. To make the point, doing it yourself with witnesses is invaluable. Simple administrative tasks like photocopying is a great way to demonstrate your own flexibility. By doing so in the presence of your subject is a powerful message without words.  In other words, no task is too small or mundane for anyone and living by this mantra, goes a long way in bridging the gap.
Corporate cultures range in every organization, but every culture has a desire to employ smart and adaptable people. Reminding youthful professionals that there is nothing wrong with sharing their opinion, even if it is not popular, but utilizing diplomacy to do so is absolutely essential and should be encouraged everywhere. Some may disagree, but this aspect of every corporate culture is the same. Guaranteed.
So, being a manager or mentor in today’s rapidly changing economy, has many responsibilities. Sure watching the bottom line and ensuring the P&L stays in the black remains priority number one, but going that extra mile to help the future C-Suite get along with their 50-year-old counterparts is critical for their appropriate on-the-job development, and it correspondingly helps the bottom as well.
Warren Bongard is co-founder and president of legal recruiting firm ZSA. His columns appear every third Thursday at He can be reached at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


1050 West Pender Street, Suite 620 Vancouver B.C V6E 3S7

(604) 681-0706


(403) 205-3444


200 University Avenue, Suite 1000 Toronto, ON M5H 3C6

(416) 368-2051


1470 Peel St, Suite 726 Montreal, Quebec H3A 1T1

(514) 228-2880