Nemesis Mentors

The natural tendency when looking for mentors to turn to people who look like us, think like us, or value the same things we do.

It’s easier, and often precisely how people are matched in some formal mentoring programs.

That can be fantastic.

On the other hand, what about seeking out a mentoring relationship with the person that REALLY frustrates, annoys and angers you? A nemesis who ignites and challenges you? Who questions your motives and assumptions? A person that makes you so angry at them, you wonder if you could really be mad at yourself. One of those guys.

More tricky.

More entertaining.

And likely, more valuable.

In Greek mythology a Nemesis will “give what is due.” That doesn’t turn out so well in some of those stories. But what if what is due is just what you need?

I watch this dynamic at play in our church youth group. And looking back, a similar phenomena happened back in my youth group days (but I was too involved to see it).

Unlike school where you can pick who you hang out with; in the church scene, kids are pretty much required to do stuff with everyone and be nice about it.

The kids that inevitably drive one another crazy, can help each other the most. They think differently they care about different things, and often have something that might be missing or underdeveloped in the other. The growth happens when they spend time really digging in and opening up to one another. I have seen some amazing peer mentoring magic happen here, one on one– after the storm.

At work, we are all trained to get along, be team players, and work collaboratively to get stuff done, “you don’t have to like each other, just respect one another and work as a team.”

But what about seeking out the person that most annoys you in the group or organization? Of course, there is a 3.75% possibility that the guy’s just a real jerk. I’ve met him. But barring that, how about approaching that person with the Won’t You Be My Mentor? list?

Then, wait for the magic.

Posted in Communication and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Yes. I worked for and worked with this person. While I found it difficult at the time (she also possessed some of the 3.75% gene), I realized later that I was much smarter, sharper and prepared for career challenges as a result. I now have the confidence to ask the toughest judges for input and try to grow from it.

    • Oh boy… hope that wasn’t me 😉 Thanks so much for joining in the conversation. It is hard to ask our toughest critics, particularly when their delivery is not the best… but if we can stomach it, it can help.

  2. Challenging post. I don’t like those people you are talking about and it is natural to try to avoid them. I know what you are getting at though, especially about the people you get the angriest at being about your self, not them. So are you saying I should go towards the people I dislike? That there is growth potential for me there?

  3. Excellent points. I like the challenge of looking for mentors in those people that truly annoy us – that push our buttons. There’s a belief that that which drives us crazy in someone else is that which we can’t stand or accept in ourselves. What a challenge for learning and growth!

  4. This is such a great brain-bender as one would never even consider tolerating your own nemesis, much less think in terms of working with them. However, I think you are on to something as I am now thinking back to those whom I detested because they would be better than me at something I desired but I would cheer myself up with the knowledge that I was better in other areas. The greatest growth spurt could very well lie in ‘getting into bed with the enemy’ or so to speak…

    • Eloquence academy, thank you for your continued conversation. Agreed, it is a fine line… and have it work out fantastic… and also be very difficult.

  5. I love this theory. I am facing a similar situation right now in my work life. I am very different from everyone that I work with. I am quite reserved and only asked for my input if an honest opinion is called for but known as the “dependable one”, the go to guy. I was recently promoted into a position that rocked my world and the way I was supervised. I mean every email I sent she pre-screened and sent back for corrections. She overloaded me with more responsibilities than anyone else on the team. This was a dramatic change from the supervising style I was accustomed to. Her attitude towards me seemed dry and straight to the point and I quite frankly felt I could do nothing right. She definitely fell into the 3.75%. But in a way the experience has helped me develop a tougher skin and helped me look at things differently and more thoroughly which makes me a better leader. So basically I agree that sometimes being out of our comfort zone is a good thing. But it is tough and gives the feeling of being alone and on an island with no one having your back.

    • Hi Tavon, glad to hear from you. I would be happy to talk with you if I can help.

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