The Global Leadership aspect of this course focuses on teaching students how to thrive in professional settings and as future leaders of our industry. Mentorship, leadership qualities, and providing and receiving feedback are important qualities of successful professionals.
I view mentorship as a continuum of give and take, where in some phases of life we primarily receive mentorship, and in others we provide it. In my final semester of graduate school, I am at a crucial point in my development, where I feel as if I am becoming both a mentor to younger students and mentee to established professionals. As I prepare to enter the corporate world of transportation planning, I reflect on the individuals who have helped shape who I am today.
I have had the opportunity to engage with several mentors in my 25 years, from my middle school history teacher to research advisors, from my hometown city mayor to college and post-collegiate track coaches. With a variety of mentors, some having come and gone, the lessons from each one remain rooted in my work, life and relationships. I have found that the most impactful mentors I have had have all shared one quality: they showed a personal investment in my interests and goals.
During my research, I found that the University of Washington (UW) maintains a thorough guide to mentorship for students. The University clearly puts forth effort to understand the needs of their students, no matter their cultural, socioeconomic, or familial background. They emphasize that every student is different, with different mentorship needs, and warn against generalizing student subgroups in terms of their perspectives or needs. UW echoes that need for a mentor to invest in the mentee’s interests and as a result, to treat the mentee with respect (UW, 2019). This is really the crux of mentorship to me, and it becomes crystal clear when I think about all my potential mentors that didn’t work out. They lacked this crucial aspect.
I think we, as students, can learn a vast amount from not only our positive mentors, but also our negative mentors (or those who showed us what not to do). It may seem like an unlucky situation if you find yourself interacting with a supervisor or professor who doesn’t provide you with adequate mentoring and leadership. The key is to become aware of that and learn from their actions that you see as negative. Mentors can show us how to do the right things, but some can teach us how not to do the wrong things, if we as mentees are self-aware. The good and the bad mentors together help us form who we want to be.
All of us have worked with or under effective leaders, and probably not so effective leaders. We can probably all agree that there is a difference, but what quality is the root of the change? Tanmay Vora suggests that the central quality for good leaders is self-awareness (Vora, 2014). I agree with this perspective, and believe that self-awareness drives effective communication, motivation, and mutual respect between leader and follower. A successful workplace thrives from collaboration and respect among all employees. If the person in a leadership role is not aware of their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their communication style, the success of the team will suffer. Additionally, I have learned that leaders need to know how their employees respond to feedback. One of my recent mentors told me that he has every employee take a personality test in the first couple weeks of working and retake it every year. This allows him to provide positive and negative feedback to each employee in the best way for them. That method creates mutual respect and an open platform for communication. His employees are never afraid to provide feedback to him either because he made them feel safe by investing his energy into their success.
In a leadership position, you will undoubtedly have to provide both positive and negative feedback to those reporting to you. The timing and method you use to provide that feedback can elevate or harm your effectiveness as a leader and the productivity of the team. Much of the advice provided by Deborah Peterson of the Stanford School of Business aligns with what we are taught about any relationship. Peterson asserts that productive feedback is proactive, respectful, and behaviorally specific (Peterson, 2013). Providing feedback, especially negative feedback, is somewhat of a balancing act. It pays to be firm but compassionate, intentional but tactful. A leader must explain that their expectations were not adequately met, but also maintain a feeling of respect and personal investment in the offender. Maneuvering these challenges effectively can avoid putting your employee on the defensive, resulting in better communication and open mindedness. I have been working on the way I provide feedback to others for years and have learned that it is not something that magically happens one day. Just like Peterson states, it takes practice. Leaders must also adapt to their surroundings and providing feedback to a diverse set of people is crucial to maintaining open communication channels. Different cultures have different feedback styles, some more direct and other more subtle (Meyer, 2015). Navigating the cultural differences can be challenging but learning to adapt and communicate effectively with all people is a valuable trait in any workplace. Erin Meyer, an INSEAD Affiliate Professor of Organisational Behaviour, suggests being aware of your use of “upgraders” and “downgraders” that can elevate or dilute the directness of your feedback, and appropriately applying those words to facilitate respectful and meaningful discussions (Meyer, 2015).
Overall, being a successful professional is not easy. It takes a support system of mentors, leadership qualities, some innate and some learned, and the ability to communicate effectively with colleagues. Most of all it takes practice, perseverance, and an open-mind!
Meyer, E. (2015, September 16). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Robin, C. (2013, November 27). Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
UW Graduate School. Mentoring Guides for Students. Retrieved February 21, 2019, from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/