Mentors & Vectors

Mentors and Vectors

Let’s take a minute to talk Mentors and Vectors.  This is an important concept, and one that I consider absolutely critical for working towards deliberate learning and growth, and mastery of skill.  Before I get started, let me thank Cara for suggesting the topic.  Always an inspiration.


So what is a mentor?  You could spend a lot of time researching this concept in depth but I think it is worth keeping it simple for the time being.  For the purpose of this article let’s define a mentor as “someone you choose to allow a degree of influence in your decision making, based on their relationship with you and their knowledge, training, and experience in relation to the decisions you are making.”

The first key word in this definition is choose.  Choosing a mentor is an active decision on your part.  Regardless of whether the mentor is reaching out, or if you are reaching to them, you carry the responsibility for being willing to be mentored.

The next key word in the definition is influence.  If you are expecting someone else to make decisions for you, they are not a mentor… they are your boss (yes your boss can be a mentor too, but you have to be careful to know which role they are in).  When you choose a mentor you allow them an appropriate degree of sway within your decision making processes.  You still own the decisions, and the process of making those decisions.  The mentor is there to help with the process and add inputs.

The last key words are relationship and relation.  I lump these together because they are both used in the context of proximity.  A mentor in one area of your life, may not be the most suitable to help you with a specific area outside of their expertise.  Or, they may not be close enough to you in some regard to have access to the issue that you would need their help with.  This can be a problem if you do not have the proper pool of mentors in your life.

I recently had a discussion about where mentors should come from and got a good piece of advice that I am still working on implementing into my own life.  You should have three types of mentors:  peers who work in the same or similar career group, members of your profession who are senior to you, and those who are outside your profession.

Mentors from your current peers within your profession can offer you context and perspective in relation to the performance of your job.  Mentors who are senior to you in your profession can help you with understanding growth and progression.  The observations offered by mentors outside your profession can often help you understand how it all fits together in the big picture.

I would suggest you take a minute and make an actual list of your mentors.  Why did you choose them?  What level of influence do they have with you?  What is your relationship with them like, and what is their relation to your decision making?   One last thing… let them know you are grateful for their help…. right now.


Step two, on to vectors.  My definition of vector is fairly straight forward  “A vector is the direction you are heading towards a goal, along with the amount of effort you are expending along the way.”

Your vector is therefore determined by three things: The goal, the direction you want to take to reach your goal, and the level of effort you can put into achieving accomplishing the tasks required to progress on the path.

The goal has to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (SMART).  I will be going into greater depth on SMART goal setting in a future article. 

Direction needs to be toward the goal.  In the context we are working with here, direction is measured by the types of actions you are taking to work towards your goal.  These are the things you actually do.

Effort is the overall expenditure of energy to accomplish the required tasks to reach your goal.  This energy can be mental or physical.  When assessing your vector, this is simply how often and how hard you are doing the actions required to meet your goal.

Let’s build a quick example out of preparing to run a 5k race.  The SMART goal would be something like– I will run the Spring Fling 5k race on the 31st of April (take a second and pick out the SMART Goal elements).  In order to finish the race I will need to increase my running ability, my strength, and my flexibility.  To increase my running ability I will walk at least 10k steps everyday and run one mile every other day.  To increase my strength I will do push ups and squats every morning.  To increase my flexibility I will complete a 15 minute yoga for runners session every morning.  I will keep track of my steps, my mile run time, the number of pushups and squats I do, and have a log of when I do my yoga.

Can you pick out the elements of direction and effort in the steps outlined to meet this goal?  Do you think it will work?

Vector Check

The process of a vector check is fairly straightforward.  First assess your goal, then check the direction you are heading, and finally gauge the amount of effort you are committing.  More than likely, the trickiest part of this is going to be overcoming your own bias.  Be blunt and honest with yourself, then go ask your mentor what they think.

When you assess your goal make sure you still focus on the SMART aspects.  It’s easy.  All you have to do is ask “is it still..?” questions.

Is my goal still specific, have I reached it?

Is my goal still measureable, have I been measuring it?

Is my goal still achievable, have I achieved it?

Is my goal still realistic, do I really need it or meet the requirements for it?

Is my goal still time-bound, do I have enough time left?

When you look at the direction you have been taking you will have to honestly gauge how effective the steps you have been taking are in moving you toward your goal. To measure the effort you have committed, you need to ask the simple question of I am doing enough of what I need to be doing to reach reach my goal.

Here is the hard part.  If the answer is no to any of these questions then you have to CHANGE!  Change isn’t easy but that is where mentors help the most.

Because of their trusted relationship with you and the knowledge, training, and experience they possess, mentors are often in the best position to help you get started. They can help make the adjustments to your vector by guiding you through their own successes and failures.  With their help you can better implement the necessary changes to be successful.  These course corrections can be anything from completely revamping the goal to increasing the frequency of some of you actions.

What are you thoughts?  I would love to hear from you.  Come on over to our closed facebook discussion group to share your insights.  Or you can email me directly at  You can also sign up to receive The Friday Huddle, a short weekly email from me that gives you the tips, insights, and musings that have gotten me through the week.

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