Importance of Mentoring
As a student and future young professional, the aid and assistance of a wiser, more experienced, and advice-giving figure can prove monumental in my growth as an individual. The role of a mentor provides one with a backboard for ideas, goals, questions, and expectations; the main responsibility of a mentor is to engage a young professional in their world, build them up with constructive criticism, encourage in a respectful way, and answer questions and concerns the mentee may have.
Although not necessary in many situations, having a mentor is advantageous for both personal and professional growth. In many cases, your mentor has walked in your shoes before and can offer advice on how to handle situations based on their own experiences with similar ones. We as humans seek out validation and comfort – a mentor acts as a positive medium to receive encouragement while growing at the same time. At a bare minimum, a mentor can help set up short- and long-term goals and be a sound board for ideas and thoughts; but at its best, a mentor can change the trajectory and path of a young professional into something far greater than the young professional could achieve alone.
Finding/Working with a Mentor
Although many young professionals may find the idea of reaching out to a higher up person in an institution or company, it is surprising how open and excited older professionals can be about taking on a mentee. Students should, however, be direct and forward with approaching a potential mentor, appreciative of their generosity with time, and understanding of schedule restraints (University of Washington, 2019).
Before asking for a mentor, it is important that you gain a clear understanding of your personal/professional goals, what you would want in a career, and your strengths and weaknesses. Mentors actively want to help you grow as a person, but in order to do this, self-reflection and willingness to open up is necessary. Diversity can also be extremely advantageous; although it may seem easier outright to approach someone similar to you, there can be so much to learn from a different perspective. It can be so surprising finding out how much you actually have in common with someone of a different gender, cultural background, or personality type; this ‘fresh take’ on your life and experiences can be vital to one’s growth as an individual.
In the end, the biggest key to an effective experience with a mentor is communication; this has multiple meanings. For one, you should feel comfortable communicating your thoughts, concerns, and questions with your mentor (Washington, 2019). Additionally, the mentor should be a good listener, and return with advice, solace, and their own set of questions. Third, growth in communication through the help of a mentor is momentous; if a mentor can help empower you to communicate your ideas to a larger group, you know they are a keeper.
Effective leaders come in a variety of forms and styles, using different techniques and methods to guide a team towards success or defined goal. For example, a tough love leader, who uses a control and grip on power, is no less effective than a charismatic leader, who leads with charm and personality; it all depends on the situation and characteristics of the team. However, certain traits of leadership, that define what make a beneficial principal, can be found in all forms of leaders.
One of the traits of a collaborative leader is self-awareness, defined as a “continuous and growing understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, emotions, moods, values, attitudes and personality traits” (Vora, 2014). Self-aware leaders have a firm understanding on who they are as a person, what their life goal is, and how their personality effects their interaction with others. This allows these leaders to shift their focus on the individual and gain a grip on the unique, and often complex, characteristics of each team member in their group; leaders who do this will be able to fit better roles based on the strengths and weaknesses of the individual. Additionally, these self-aware leaders understand that they, too, need feedback; feedback is not exclusively for the workers, but also the one in charge. More on feedback next.
Feedback in Professional Situations
It is especially important for mentors to give feedback to their pupils in order to ensure they are growing as individuals. The biggest difficulty in feedback is ensuring the person feels valued and significant. Negative feedback is not necessarily a bad thing – it means your mentor is willing to point out what can be improved for your best interest. An effective mentor will focus on behavior over personality and takes in your own point of view (Peterson, 2013).
The different ways varying cultures provide and receive criticism is also fascinating and important to comprehend. For example, as an American, I prefer my negative feedback to be wrapped in positive or uplifting compliments on different characteristics; the Dutch, meanwhile, use a much more direct approach and are not afraid to say it straight (Meyer, 2015). No culture is right or wrong, but it is vital to better understand the background of who you are working with and what they really mean. You should not necessarily be offended by the seemingly harsh words of another; similarly, awareness of how your feedback is received should also be accounted for. Although one does not necessarily have to make changes to their feedback style, it is important to at least recognize the consequences.
Meyer, E. (2015). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures[Web Article]. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Petersen, D. (2013). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift[Web Article]. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
University of Washington (2019). Mentoring Guides for Students[Web Page]. Retrieved from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Vora, T. (2014). Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3[Web Article]. Retrieved from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/