It looks like it might get a bit rainy in the Netherlands next week, and we are riding rain or shine. $1 Walgreens ponchos are great ways to keep your packing light and be prepared for the rain (unless you're brining one of these). it shouldn't be too cold, but if your hands get cold easily you may also consider light gloves for early morning rides.
Mentorship prevents organizations from having to start over every time they lose members. Mentorship operates on the principle of giving back the experiences you gained from your mentor.
Good leadership has two qualities: vision and legacy. The leader needs to create a direction and goals. The leader also needs to regularly revise those goals. Legacy has less to do with the impact a leader has left, but rather whether or not they left a framework for the next leader to follow.
On feedback. The reading on international feedback by Meyer gave an example of how someone from an "upgrader" culture almost got fired due to a misunderstanding with his "downgrader" boss. I thought this interaction was interesting. I'm not one for useless feedback. Giving feedback for me is much harder than receiving it. Coming up with useful feedback is a special skill. Additionally, I do think there is a thing such as constructive positive feedback. Sometimes, the positves of a person/idea/thing aren't really emphasized well enough, and the true strength isn't known. When I give feedback, I give what I thought worked really well and then something that needed improvement. Leave out the former, and that positive might be dropped because it wasn't made clear how crucial it was.
That's all I really have to say about that. In the organization I am heavily involved in, Outdoor Recreation Georgia Tech, we practice all of the above on a weekly basis. New staff can only be created through mentorship, and without it the organization would die quickly because of graduating students. Additionally, without leaders, the organization would not have direction. Lastly, at the end of every trip we take feedback to reflect on.
The readings this week were focused on the leadership component of the course: giving and understanding feedback across cultures and mentorship. I thought the feedback readings were quite interesting. I have seen various styles of feedback and have always learned to cushion negative feedback between positives, but I had not thought of the cultural influence in this strategy. In fact, this approach is quite American.
Cultures generally fall somewhere between direct and indirect when it comes to giving negative feedback and this may be confusing or insulting to the recipient depending on their own cultural background. It was particularly helpful to read how the Dutch use a very direct approach to feedback. All Dutch people I have met have been exceptionally nice; however, I have never been in a setting where I would’ve been receiving negative feedback. It’s helpful to know and keep in mind in case someone is more direct than I am accustomed to when providing feedback on our projects while abroad. Understanding how different cultures give and receive feedback is key to working on a multi-cultural team particularly in a position of leadership. One piece of warning from the readings was that if you are accustomed to a more indirect approach, beware of trying to give direct feedback as it is easy to overcompensate and come across as too aggressive.
The other component to this reading is for mentorship. The Guide for Students from the University of Washington provides guidelines for establishing and maintaining a good mentor relationship. The process begins with really understanding your own mentoring needs and identifying the appropriate level of mentorship needed. While mentors are commonly associated with managers and professors, mentors can also be another student or colleague. Some challenges to mentorship include finding the appropriate person, one solution to which is to expand your network and gain a better understanding of people’s areas of expertise. Another need may be to clarify all of your interests. Seeking a mentor in a field may not mean that field is the only topic you plan to focus on in your work. It is good to set those expectations with both parties.
During the trip I look forward to learning from all parties and mentors, from the students in this course to students from other Universities to professors and practitioners. Being a water engineer, I fall into the category of non-exclusivity to the subject of sustainable transportation but look forward to learning the many perspectives and establishing relationships and perspectives that will influence me in my own work and life.
The readings for this post all focused on aspects of leadership and mentoring. Erin Meyer’s article compared the way people with different cultures give negative feedback. The Dutch are well known for being direct and honest when giving criticism, as opposed to indirect culture of Korea. Americans falls somewhere in between; we learn to give positive and negative feedback together. A second dimension to feedback is the power of words used, with some choosing to use understatement and others being blunt and accurate.
Carole Robin gave a point-by-point guide to giving feedback. The general direction of her advice tends to push leaders to be careful and delicate when giving negative feedback, so the article is most helpful for direct cultures when giving feedback to indirect culture.
Vora did mention feedback, but he also explained how to be a good leader in general with several specific topics. Vora’s take on feedback acknowledged the fact that good leaders should ask for feedback on their own work rather than just critiquing their subordinates.
The University of Washington has an entire series of articles about mentors, with a focus on the university setting. The articles point out that a pure mentor–mentee relationship is often less effective than a network of teachers and peers working together. Students should not rely on one person alone.
I hope that this class will provide opportunities to learn from professionals in the field and to form closer working relationships with grad student and faculty, like Dr. Watkins and the other students in the program. Many of the people I have met this summer could continue to be mentors in the future.
The goal of any professional is to be better, to increase in knowledge of their field, to be the best (fill in the blank) that they can be. The exact route that people may take to achieve this may vary, but there are a few important factors that are vital. The first is to study. To research and acquire knowledge of the field. This usually takes the form of time at a university. Another important factor is personal experience. You must become a participant within the field to gain first-hand experience. Lastly, on top of personal experience, it is also important to take advantage of other peoples’ experiences. This usually comes in the form of a mentor. This mentor is usually a person that has gone down a similar path as yourself. He or she has faced similar hardships and pursued similar goals as yourself.
The importance of this type of relationship cannot be understated. In my opinion, human progress in its basest form is represented by this type of relationship. The pouring into of one person by another is critical to growth as a person and professional. It is in the very nature of knowledge to be passed on and shared. So as one generation of professionals mentors the next, that field continues to progress and develop.
The largest obstacle to these mentoring relationships is likely knowing how to find and establish the relationship. The first step is determining what you would be seeking out of the mentoring relationship. Is there specific field you are interested in or a certain curiosity you would like to nurture? Once you have an idea of what you would like to gain from the relationship, use this to help determine possible mentors. The next step is to be proactive in establishing a mentor relationship. Actively pursue discussions with possible mentors and explicitly request guidance in certain areas.
One area in particular that can benefit from a mentor is leadership. One trait that is addressed by the article on collaborative leadership is awareness. Firstly, self-awareness, the knowledge of oneself, is vital in a strong leader. Being aware of your own strengths allows a leader to apply themselves where they can best benefit the team while awareness of your weaknesses reminds them to utilize the strengths of others. Next, a leader must be aware of those he is leading. In order to form the optimal team, you must have the right people in the right places. To do this, a leader must be aware of the individual strengths and weaknesses of his team. Finally, due to the increased globalization of businesses a leader must have cultural awareness. That is, a leader must be sensitive to the differences between cultures and alter his leadership strategy based on these differences. The manner in which feedback should be delivered is an example of something that leaders should be culturally aware of. Whether or not to address an issue directly or indirectly and even the way that feedback should be phrased varies greatly between cultures. A leader that is responsible for individuals from various cultures should be aware of these differences in order to communicate effectively with all members of the team.
Finding a mentor, providing and receiving feedback, and developing leadership traits are all critical for success at Tech and in your career. Leadership traits and feedback are especially important for group projects. Without leadership, and effective feedback, group projects can turn into a major headache.
Developing mentor relationships are something I've struggled with so far at Tech. I understand the importance such as providing feedback, clearing up confusion about school, listening to students concerns, helping them manage jobs and transition into the real world amongst many other items. All of these items would benefit me and students in general greatly, yet I've struggled finding and working with a mentor.
For me, I'm going into my third year at Georgia Tech and would like to find a mentor before it is too late. At the beginning of the spring semester, I told myself I would begin to seek out and develop mentor relationships, but I put it off either out of stubbornness or laziness. To find a mentor, I need to be proactive; I cannot just sit in class and take notes. I need to approach them during their office hours. I also need to figure out what I need help with, so I can ask for specific guidance. Developing a good relationship with a mentor, takes time and commitment. I will be better about putting in the time to developing these relationships in the future, and I will also be sure to make my self visible.
Leadership is critical in group projects. For individual projects, you hold your own responsibility, but in a group setting this is not the case. To ensure group projects are not immense headaches, leadership traits must be developed. Important leadership traits include communicating and connecting effectively, using forums for collaboration, and sharing information. Applying these to our corridor projects, shared files can be used for Autocad, times can be set up for meetings, and lists of ideas and goals can be made and shared. It will also be critical to provide feedback throughout the project.
To provide feedback in professional situations, first the culture of the person you are providing feedback to. Some cultures may want direct criticism (Dutch) and other cultures may want indirect feedback (British). The best time to provide feedback is early on, so the person can correct their mistake or behavior quickly. Avoid being rude about the feedback as well. It is unlikely the person intentionally made the mistake.
The Mentoring Guides for Students from the University of Washington describe the mentoring process from choosing a mentor or mentors, working effectively with a mentor, and how to address problems in the mentoring relationship. The mentoring relationship described seems very formal in that there are specific goals and work plans and co-authorship is discussed. Given that this is written for graduate students, it makes sense it could have a bias towards describing a mentorship that could be between a student and advisor. I think there are many different forms of a mentoring relationship and the formal one described by UW is just one, but much of the guide can be useful for other forms too. I have a few relationships that I would consider mentorships that have developed informally. Most of these do not have a set agenda, but we do meet at some regular time interval to catch up and discuss any needed topics. I've found this to be incredibly valuable in my time as a student. I think their getting started guide sounds particularly useful, especially since all of my mentoring relationships began as an undergrad. I plan to answer the questions they pose in this article to re-evaluate my current situation and determine what will be the next best move. I also think their advice about how to choose a a group of mentors is good to consider. They suggest choosing diverse mentors from different backgrounds and at different ages/career levels. Their suggestions for how to initiate contact with a potential mentor include taking initiative, making contact, and discussing goals and mutual interests. This is much more direct than I have been in the past, but I will incorporate some of this in developing future mentorships.
We also read about the Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader, a series of blog posts by Tanmay Vora. Collaborative leadership is a form of leadership that relies on a team working together and has a lower separation of power between leader and followers than in more directive forms of leadership. This is especially powerful when working with a diverse mix of people on a common goal. Tanmay describes many traits of a collaborative leader which fall into 3 main categories: awareness of self and others, creating forums for collaboration, and balance work and relationships. Leaders who exhibit awareness contemplates their strength and knows their weakness as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their followers. They also look for feedback and are aware of cultural differences and how to respond accordingly. Leaders who are able to create forums for collaboration are open and share then expect others to share, use meetings and technology as tools for collaboration, and understand the importance of connecting with their followers. Finally, balancing work and relationships means a leader is able to develop relationships with their followers by listening to and giving credit to their followers and recognizing the importance of their people in accomplishing their goals. They also conduct themselves well and show passion for their cause. However, they know how to not let relationships get in the way of the work that needs to be done to accomplish the goals. The list of skills is very long, but leadership is a skill that can be cultivated through practice like any other skill. I have noticed that collaborative leadership in student organizations is often very effective, which makes sense given the often varied background of students, but also because relationships are very important in student organizations.
Feedback is often daunting from both the giver's and receiver's views. In "Feedback is a Gift" by Carole Robin, she describes 7 strategies for effectively giving feedback: do it early, avoid shaming, focus on behavior, stick to facts and "I" statements, be generous, speak to the person's interests, and practice. These strategies give ways to make the feedback act as a tool for growth rather than a personal attack that would damage relationships and likely not result in the requested change. However, she does not bring cultural context into the mix. Because directness varies across cultures and teams are becoming more globally diverse, it is important to understand that feedback style may need to change based on who is receiving the feedback or that feedback given to you may be given differently than you may be accustomed to. This is described in "Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures" by Erin Meyer. She suggests that it is important to be aware of these differences, but not to try to mimic direct cultures to avoid accidentally being too direct. One way to deal with the differences is to mix positive and negative feedback and to attempt to adapt to the feedback differences across cultures while being careful not to go too far.
When I tell people that I live in Atlanta and ride my bike to work, more often than not, they ask me if I'm suicidal.
Even though I've heard this over a hundred times, I still get offended by people's reactions because I'm actually trying to do quite the opposite. I continue to bike to work and to the grocery story because it allows me to incorporate more physical activity in my day and lead, what I believe is, a healthier lifestyle. It's true that the bike infrastructure in the United States is sparse, and biking with distracted drivers is dangerous. However, instead of saying we need to dedicate more funding towards building out our bike network, people say, you'd be safer riding in a car. In this lies the biggest difference between Dutch and American culture. When the Dutch recognize that a roadway is unsafe for bikes, they dedicate funding toward improving the infrastructure. When Americans realize the roads are unsafe for pedestrians and bicyclists, they say, you should probably just drive.
Freedom Parkway Path, Atlanta, Georgia during evening rush-hour
Two-way Cycle Tracks along Peachtree Center Ave. NE Atlanta, Georgia
In the video, How the Dutch got their cycle paths, Mark Wagenbuur recounts historical events and trends, in the Netherlands, that lead to the national investment in bicycle infrastructure. To my surprise, these events were no different than what has occurredin the United States. Wagenbuur points out, during the 1950s and 60s, buildings were demolished, streets were widened, and more space was dedicated to cars. The oil crisis, in the 1970s, created an awareness of our dependency on an ever diminishing source of energy. And to top it all off, vehicle related deaths reached an unprecedented high. This all happened in the United States too, but we moved in very different direction. Instead of investing in more sustainable modes of transportation, we ignored the pressing issues and continued to build auto centric cities. As a result the bike networks in the United States are nowhere near as robust as the infrastructure in the Netherlands.
In Atlanta, I bike 7 miles to and from work everyday and, depending upon which route I take, 80-90% of my commute is on an off-street multi-use path. For the other 10-20%, of my commute, I ride with traffic. I've been biking with vehicular traffic for years and, while I'm cautious, I feel confident in my ability to assert myself and navigate through the streams of cars. Not all people feel this way, which is what keeps most people from commuting by bike in Atlanta. Atlanta is working hard to build up an American bike network, but there are still some serious gap in the infrastructure. There are very few continuous routes that contain protected cycle tracks. Most of the infrastructure consists of painted bike lanes, along roadways with a speed limit of 45 mph. The bike lanes are inconsistent and often drop off, pushing cyclist into the vehicle lane. This is stressful and I understand how this is an unsuitable system for people, who are uncomfortable biking with vehicles, and how this would lead them to saying I am suicidal. Yet, what comes first? If Atlanta's protected bike network was more built out, would more people feel comfortable riding everyday? Or do we have to change our culture, in order for people to support the investment in infrastructure?
Atlanta Road, Symrna, Georgia resembling a typical roadway section in the Atlanta Region.
I have been riding by bike in Atlanta on a regular basis for three years now and although I am a confident cyclist, there have been some close calls that could have led to accidents. The type of biking infrastructure that makes me the most nervous are unprotected bike lanes or lanes and shared lanes indicated by sharrows. There are several common situations where cars and bikes may come close to accidents. The first situation involves cars crossing the bike lane in order to enter a right turn lane. The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has a good diagram of this on their website.
Most of the time I will be far enough ahead of a car for them to see me and pull in behind me or far enough behind them to pull around to the left of them as shown in the diagram. However, I need to slam on my brakes when a car right next to me enters my lane without warning to turn right. A similar situation has happened more than once on Ferst Street: Busses need to pull into stops, and then I am beside them as they do this, there is nowhere for me to go.
Another problem with unprotected bike lanes is roadside parking. Riding close to cars parallel parked along the left of the bike lane may feel safer to a new biker trying to avoid fast moving traffic. However, I have come very close to slamming into the abruptly opened door of a parked car while on Ferst Street and I now prefer to hug the solid white line on the left of a bike lane whenever I pass parked cars.
I feel that cycle tracks are a vast improvement over unprotected bike lanes. Even the flimsy plastic pylons used on 10th Street send a clear message to drivers not to enter my lane. However, there are problems that arise from bringing bikers going in both directions onto one side of the road. It becomes very confusing for cyclists and motorists alike when cyclists are forced to stop riding with the flow of traffic and enter a cycle track. There was a left turn we made after passing through Centennial Olympic park where I turned and stayed in the same lane, but realized too late that a new bike lane had been built on the other side of the road. This type of confusion takes away from the value of a cycle track, particularly when the track is less than a mile long like the one on 10th Street. I think the cycle tracks in Atlanta would be more useful if they extended farther at a stretch and had clear entries and exits at intersections
The left turn on Fifth street was one of the best marked in Atlanta, but small two lane streets are usually relatively easy to navigate. The roads where I have the most trouble are large one–way streets like West Peach Tree Street. When making a left turn to get off of West Peach Tree I have two options: stop riding and wait at two pedestrian crossings, or cut across four lanes of traffic to make a left turn like a car. The first option is slow and the second is dangerous.
I enjoyed hearing Mark’s impressions of biking in the United States. His comment that biking looks like a race in America really opened my mind. I am accustomed to getting a workout while riding a bike, but most people commuting to work don’t want to show up sweaty and panting. His video on the history of the Netherlands cycling infrastructure gave me hope for the future of biking in American cities. I have a nagging suspicion that American culture and geology are just incompatible with biking. Seeing how the Dutch went down the same path we did in the 70s but returned to bike friendly practices makes me more confident that biking could become more prevalent in American cities. However, we have a long way to go. The sheer volume and complexity of bike traffic during rush hour in Utrecht was incomparable to anything present in the US right now. I am eager to explore the places shown in Mark’s videos firsthand.
Transportation in Atlanta. Many thoughts come to my mind regarding this subject and if you've had any experience at all traveling in or through Atlanta, I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised when I say very few of those thoughts are positive. Cycling aside, even driving a car through Atlanta can be an unnerving occasion for the inexperienced. The large number of one-way streets causes you to question every turn you make as you check a second or third time for that not-so conspicuously placed "One-Way" sign. The scarcity of highly-visible lane striping in some areas causes you to question whether you're actually in your lane and the horrid pavement conditions in other areas force you to serpentine around obstacles or risk a visit from AAA. So if the current state of automobile infrastructure in Atlanta alludes in any way to the state of its cycling infrastructure, you could easily assume that it's not in great shape.
To start off this lovely conversation of Atlanta's cycling infrastructure, let's talk about sharrows. If you're like 99.9% of America and have never heard this word before, sharrows are painted symbols within roadways that consist of a bicycle and an arrow. What these symbols are intended to do is to indicate to drivers that they are to share this roadway with cyclists. There's one little problem with this intention. A majority of drivers don't even enjoy sharing roadways with other drivers. If you have tough skin, I encourage you to drive around Atlanta at 5 mph below the speed limit and count the number of drivers that try to encourage you along with a honk or two. Now imagine if these drivers get stuck behind a cyclist going 15 mph below the speed limit. The idea that a roadway can be effectively and safely shared by cyclists and automobiles is no where short of bogus. As an experienced cyclist within Atlanta, I've noticed that the presence of sharrows does not affect my sense of safety when traveling along a roadway. Sharrows or not, drivers will still pass you within 12 inches without reducing speed. Conclusion: sharrows are no more than wasted paint.
Be not dismayed, for sharrows are not the latest and greatest in Atlanta's cycling infrastructure. Dedicated cycle lanes and cycle tracks are more prevalent in Atlanta than you may think. These lanes a directly adjacent to the roadway and are occasionally "protected" by plastic poles or a concrete curb. Stress levels are much lower when riding in these lanes as separation is the most important factor in cycling safety. Still, this level of separation is only minor and with the ambiguity of cyclist movements at intersections, accidents are still prone to happen.
This brings us to the Atlanta Beltline, the crème de la crème of pedestrian and cyclist infrastructure in Atlanta. Apart from intersections, the Beltline is completely separated from automobiles, providing a safe place for cyclists and pedestrians to travel. The only fault I can see with the current design of the Beltline is that pedestrians and cyclists are not separated. They all share the same path with no markings designating where cyclists should ride. From my experience walking and cycling on the Beltline, cyclists often have to go around pedestrians and pass them at higher speeds and this produces the possibility of accidents between pedestrians and cyclists.
If you've only ever seen American cycling infrastructure, you may think that Atlanta's isn't all that bad. There are a decent number of bike lanes with a relatively large cycling community within the city compared to other American cities. Everything changes when you see the infrastructure within the Netherlands. To be honest, it's difficult to compare the two because they are so different in terms of design approach and methodology. From my own personal experience of cycling in Amsterdam and from what I learned from the Mark Wagenbuur videos, the Dutch design philosophy is drastically different. This stems from the perception in the Netherlands that cycling is a legitimate form of transportation. Here in the states, cycling is viewed more as just another recreational activity. Because of this, there is a large focus on the prioritization of cycling infrastructure throughout the entire country. One of the biggest differences is that cars must yield to cyclists at intersections in the Netherlands. This concept is unheard of in the US where cars dominate the roadways. In short, Atlanta has significant room for improvement, although comparing the Netherlands (the poster child of cycling infrastructure) to any other country seems a little unfair. With the current projects underway in Atlanta, though, the future is definitely looking brighter for cyclists in Atlanta.