*In this posting, the word mentor will be surrounded by quotation marks. This is to signify that when referring to a mentor in this piece, I am referring to someone who takes on the role of a mentor but is not a mentor in the traditional sense of the word.
The Importance of Mentoring
Mentoring in its traditional form is like playing the lottery. Yes, it is possible to find a person with the exact experience and life path that one wishes to take, but it is highly unlikely that one can find everything they need in one mentor. This isn’t to say, however, that seeking advice from those with more experience isn’t useful. Mentoring in a non-traditional form is often incredibly impactful if utilized correctly.
When done correctly, receiving “mentorship” from others can open new avenues of thought, introduce new options in decisions, create a bond that can lead to further opportunities, and create a mental database of motivations and decisions from others for scenarios that may arise later in the “mentee’s” life.
Is “Non-Traditional” Mentoring Really a Thing?
But what is this “non-traditional” form of mentoring? Well, it’s something that I have been unknowingly doing my entire life. Being a person who can come off as nosy because of my intrigue with the personal stories of others, I have been collecting a mental database of life decisions from all sorts of people. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this is actually a modern, “non-traditional” form of mentoring that is becoming more recognized as an effective way to gain advice from a variety of people (University 2019). These “mentors” can have different interest, career paths, and values than the “mentee,” but often the motivation and decision-making process behind the “mentor’s” decision is what sticks. Other times, when a similar interest arises the “mentee” can learn about a variety of new options for consideration. Either way, one can find a lot of value in the lives, knowledge, and decision making of others when asking the right questions.
How to Find Work With a “Mentor?”
Finding work with a “mentor” can be a tricky process. First, one must find if that “mentor” will be available to support the work of the “mentee” throughout the duration of a project (University 2019). Then, analyzing the relationship between the two may lead to the “mentee” reaching out to the “mentor” if the two have a good relationship or can potentially have a good working relationship (University 2019). If reaching out to the “mentor” goes well, then the two must discuss the workload that is necessary as well as different ways that the two can gain funding for the potential project (University 2019). If funding is probable or secured and a workload is agreed upon, then the publishing contacts and reputation of the professor within the school community and the field must be considered (University 2019). If all of these criteria are satisfied, then it is likely that the “mentee” can find work with the “mentor” in a research setting. Even outside of a research setting, many of these principles hold their value.
Collaborative Leadership Traits
What makes an effective leader is the ability to collaborate (Vora 2014). When working in a team of people with different skill sets, values, and priorities, the ability of a leader to work with all members of the team and align their goals to reach the common outcome can make all the difference in a project’s success. But what does it take to become a collaborative leader?
Self-Awareness – Recognizing one’s strengths, weaknesses, values, and priorities is mandatory if a leader expects to align and understand that of the team (Vora 2014). This can be attained through self-reflection (Vora 2014).
Awareness of Others – Knowing the team gives opportunity for the leader to pair strengths in some members with weaknesses in others (Vora 2014). It can also be used to empathize with and motivate the team (Vora 2014).
Feedback – Receiving feedback enables the collaborative leader to adjust his/her behavior in a way that will yield better results from the team (Vora 2014). There are both formal and informal ways to do this as well as analyzing the differences in behavior between team members and between a team member and the leader (Vora 2014).
Cultural Sensitivity – Recognizing that behaviors can have a variety of causes, and that sometimes those causes come from differences in culture are important to ensuring an effective team approach will ensue (Vora 2014).
How to Provide Feedback in Professional Situations – United States
In the United States, negative or constructive feedback must often be intertwined with positive feedback (Meyer 2015). Without this positive feedback, receivers of negative feedback in the United States often feel insulted or attacked, which does not lead to a positive change in behaviors.
Considering the negative aspect of feedback specifically, it is important to respond to behaviors early (Petersen 2013). This ensures that one doesn’t continue a behavior repeatedly while convinced that it is appropriate and positive. It is also crucial to focus on the behaviors of a person and to assume good intent and reasonable decision making (Petersen 2013). “I statements” typically prevent the giver of feedback from shaming or insulting the receiver as well (Petersen 2013). Finally, aligning the feedback with the interests of the receiver is crucial to ensure it will be received in a positive manner, and without practice, much of this may be done ineffectively (Petersen 2013).
How to Provide Feedback in Professional Situations – International
The cultures and methods of delivering a point vary across countries. So when providing feedback to someone from a different culture, it is imperative that the culture and possible background and motivations of that person are deeply considered (Meyer 2015). If the feedback is not accurately delivered to someone from a different culture, the message may not be received, and the behavior may not change (Meyer 2015). One caveat to this, however, is that when dealing with someone from a culture of blunt honesty and frank speaking, it is possible for the giver of feedback to come off as too honest without knowing (Meyer 2015). It is advisable to deliver feedback in one’s own cultural manner with small doses of directness, but not advisable to attempt to give feedback in a truly direct way.
As a student beginning their professional career, there are many unknowns. Young and inexperienced, students have ideas and dreams of where they want to end up but are not always sure how to get there. This is where mentoring can play a large role in helping young people develop more concrete goals and give them a better understanding of the field they are interested in pursuing. Mentors can act as a career consultant, a disciplinary guide, or can give advice about the kinds of skills and knowledge one needs to succeed (1). Often, mentors are in positions that students would like to see themselves in someday. Mentors can provide resources and support to these students and help them understand the necessary steps they would need to take. Mentors can come in the form of faculty, industry professionals, advanced graduate students, or even peers. When finding and establishing a professional mentoring relationship, it is important to have a vision of what kind of mentorship is needed and to communicate those needs clearly to potential mentors. Additionally, an understanding of how frequently and through what medium communication will take place should be established. Finally, goals and work plans should be developed, and the mentor should be regularly updated on the student’s progress. It is also a good idea to have a conversation on how feedback will be given to the student so that expectations are met on both ends.
Feedback is a necessary component of progress in a workplace setting but can be difficult to properly administer. This is especially true when working with people who come from different backgrounds (2). In some cultures, it is rude to give feedback that is too direct or harsh. If given to a person from a more indirect culture, it can cause the recipient to feel unappreciated or unvalued and they may not absorb any of the feedback even if it was constructive and helpful. On the other hand, giving softer feedback such as “suggestions” to people from direct cultures may confuse them and cause them to not take the feedback very seriously. Giving feedback is walking a thin line between wanting someone to change their behavior/work ethic and wanting them to respond well and actually take in the feedback. A good strategy for giving feedback is to acknowledge the positives first and even before the conversation takes place i.e. let a colleague know when they do something well or that you appreciate. After having acknowledged the value they bring to the workplace, then they will likely feel more receptive to constructive feedback. It is important to focus on behavior change, to avoid shaming and accusing, to use “I” statements, to be generous and understanding, and to speak openly about your intents and their interests and how those intersect (3).
Successful Leadership Traits
Giving good feedback is a skill developed by good leaders. While there are typical qualities that are associated with good leaders, that they are charismatic, confident, well-spoken, etc., much of what goes into a good leader needs to be actively developed. A collaborative leader is an example of a type of leader that is self-aware and can act in the interests of the team by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of everyone on the team, including themselves (4). Being a strong leader is more than a strong personality; it often takes someone who understands the connections of people around them and can utilize that understanding to lead the team to success.
2. 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
3. Petersen, D. (2013). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift [Web Article]. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
4. 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/ -leader-part-3/
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!
My decision to take this course, Sustainable Transportation, was primarily motivated by a desire to grow in my understanding of quality transportation design concerning bikes and in general. Once I became aware of the mentorship component, however, I couldn’t help but to become even more excited! Mentorship has played a role in my life in many capacities, and I am hopeful to gain wisdom concerning its application in professional settings – as well as in general.
Importance of Mentoring
It is my belief that people can impact the world around them for the better and that this ability is closely tied to our purpose, as life is lived one day to the next. While this ideal sounds wonderful and nice, participation is not so simple as the quick “flip of the switch” of acknowledgement and agreement. If this ideal is to be embodied, a long and involved process – growth and development – must occur. Mentorship fits nicely into this journey and has been an integral component for many, me included.
Mentorship is a valuable vessel for growth in a myriad of ways. In a culture obsessed with the idea of independence – glorifying the “cowboy that don’t need nobody”, one might say – mentorship stands as a testament to our need and dependence on others. A proverb states “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom”. The mentored must let go of the pride that all situations can be overcome from within, while the mentor must admit in humility that others need be fostered if a reality better off is to be had. Through this process do we grow in wisdom.
With that in mind, mentorship is a powerful tool allowing the transfer of knowledge and experience from one to another. While classrooms are useful, mentorship harnesses our nature as social beings due to its relational nature. Teaching and instruction can be personalized readily based on the needs of the mentored and the strengths of the mentor. Additionally, the relational nature builds a bond that allows for openness and honesty in failure – a state that provides some of the most valuable growth if approached wisely. While in isolation an individual can either hide or be unaware of failure, in a mentorship relationship an outside party can provide understanding and careful correction.
How to Find and Work with a Mentor
If everything stated beforehand is true, then I can imagine everyone would want mentorship as a component of their life. There are, however, a few hurdles – notably that entering into a mentorship relationship is dependent on an outside party. We much find and work with a mentor if any of this is to come about! Seeking and working with a mentor is anything but a passive process and is not the path of least resistance. As with any quality relationship, there must be intentionality, clarity, and direction – all of which take energy and thought.
Seeking a Mentor
Before seeking a mentor, develop a vision and purpose as a foundation. This will provide direction as to who could provide the experience desired. Additionally, potential mentors must be able to gather that one is committed to the desire to grow through mentorship. This is shown through visibility, responsibility of character, and appreciation for advice and feedback. The current mentorship relationship I am involved in resulted from an intentional conversation where I expressed interest in such a thing. Cultivating relationships in this manner will prove helpful for finding a mentor.
Working with a Mentor
Relationships are two-way streets. If we are to hope for a committed mentor, we must also commit to mentorship. Practically, this means simple things such as timeliness when meeting or due diligence towards readings or other things recommended by your mentor. One must not just prepare for criticism but hope for and embrace it. While one need not accept all feedback as law, in humility one must seriously consider feedback that conflicts with initial understanding. This will also help build trust in mentorship, a valuable component. If I were to dismiss the thoughts and ideas of my mentor casually, it would not be long before the collaborative relationship became compromised.
Leadership is a common buzzword for every previous generation and will continue to be for a long time to come. We read about leaders in articles and see them portrayed in movies. Especially at a school like Georgia Tech, where the big fish from every little pond are gathered, do we hear the idea of the leader pitched and encouraged. This fuss is for good reason, as an individual able to gather others together can accomplish the incredible.
We see the effects of a quality leader, but to know the traits that define a leader is a different and worthwhile discussion. In order to lead others, it is essential to know oneself. Because all leaders are people in the end, no two styles will be exactly alike. A successful leader knows their own qualities and leads out of them (Vora 2014). As a civil engineer passionate and interested in transportation, if I were to lead a structural team looking to design a building the effort would likely end in disaster – but directing a transportation project would engage my strengths. This is a pretty simple example, but the principle holds true that we must seek to know our capabilities to lead from them.
Likewise, a leader must be in touch with others and know their characteristics as well. Building off the previous example, even if I were to lead a transportation project, something tells me that the result would not be great if the team was composed of structural engineers, even with my transportation expertise. The fact remains that a leader is nothing without those who are led. Building off the strengths of your people is vital. Additionally, in the realm of building with your people in the global economy, there is a need for cultural sensitivity. This can either muffle or amplify a team’s effectiveness.
How to Provide Feedback in Professional Situations
Feedback or criticism is an essential but hard tool. Without it, ineffective or destructive practices continue, but when approached poorly can lead to shame and alienation. The basis of feedback is confrontation, we must look to confront well.
Confrontation is best done early and understandingly. Giving needed feedback soon upon noticing something unhelpful is necessary because if a bad habit persists it causes damage and affects our ability to be gentle and understanding in our confrontation. Giving feedback in an understanding manner prevents the interaction from becoming an unhelpful roast session that temporarily makes one feel better but is damaging in the long run. Feedback is effective when it focuses on behavior and things that are able to be changed (Petersen 2013). Personality and certain other qualities are static – find and focus on what can adjust. Changing is a tough process, so speaking to the other party’s interests while expressing your own hope for their success can better motivate change.
An important understanding when giving feedback is cultural sensitivity and an awareness that standards in communication are not universal. Certain cultures such as British and Korean cultures give negative feedback in a very indirect way, while others such as German, Dutch, and Russian cultures tend to be very blunt and forthcoming with feedback. (Meyer 2015) When these approaches mix, things can go awry and tempers flare. The best approach is to consider cultural norms and how this affects the expectation for feedback others have. Additionally, this consideration is important when interpreting criticism received. While this is no exhaustive guide, it is essential for one to be open and understanding when seeking to give feedback across cultural boundaries.
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/
Petersen, D. (2013). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift [Web Article]. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
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/ -leader-part-3/
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
I’ve had at least one mentor at a time as a student at Georgia Tech because I recognize the rewards that come with mentoring. Georgia Tech has a vast network of Alumni who want to give back and help current students. Alumni are wonderful because they have gone through similar experiences as former students and have “gotten out” (graduated) from the university. My first mentor was an upperclassman civil engineering student who gave me advice on course scheduling, ways to be involved on campus, how to find an internship, and about study abroad opportunities. With this experience, I now serve as a mentor for an underclassman in civil engineering.
I have found both the role of being a mentor and a mentee valuable in my life for numerous reasons. Mentors can provide advice from their unique experiences and connect you with professionals in industry outside of your network. Mentoring is rewarding not only because you are able to support someone, but also because you can improve your own communication and leadership skills, as well as learn from your mentee. I think it is easier to be a mentee who has almost everything to learn and can soak up knowledge like a sponge. It is more difficult to be a mentor that is relatable, that can provide opportunities, and balance praise with criticism.
How to Find and Work with a Mentor
I currently have two mentors who are in different sectors of civil engineering and are of different gender and ethnicity. I’ve found mentors by reaching out to professors and through social connections. I had to be proactive and seek out people willing to mentor. I enjoy having two mentors that have unique ways of addressing my goals and providing me feedback. Having a mentor very similar to me helps me realize my potential and the opportunities I have as a female in civil engineering. Because I have a mentor with a different background than my own, I’ve become more open to unfamiliar viewpoints and opportunities I would never have considered.
For starters, mentees are responsible for establishing short term and long-term goals they can work towards with a mentor. Good mentors can get mentees out of their comfort zone in order to learn new things and expand their skills to better achieve their goals.
Giving and Receiving Feedback
In order to have a comfortable and professional relationship with a mentor, the mentee also has role expectations in the relationship. Mentees must be respectful and attentive to receiving both constructive and supportive feedback. Mentees should show their mentor they appreciate their help and provide them with feedback on what they have learned from them (Peterson, 2013). It is expected that mentors provide equally specific constructive and supportive feedback, so mentees know exactly what they are doing well and what needs improvement to reach their goals (University of Washington, 2019). It is also important to understand each other and how culture might affect how each person interprets feedback. For example, Americans tend to wrap positive feedback around negative feedback. The Dutch tend to be honest and give feedback directly (Meyer, 2015). One might be offended if they received direct critical feedback if it is not common or widely acceptable in their culture.
Developing Leadership Skills
Another valuable skill mentoring has helped me with is leadership. Developing leadership skills starts by self-awareness and knowing your best qualities that help you communicate with others. Focusing on how your behaviors influence relationships will help you improve them. Additionally, being a leader means recognizing how others communicate, being culturally aware and empathetic to other people. When people feel that you care about them and they can trust you, they are more open to you as a leader. A mentor can help you identify your best communication skills and train you to actively listen to others and facilitate discussions where others feel comfortable providing inputs (Vora, 2014).
Finding mentors is an important step in advancing your education or career. An effective mentor can prepare you to achieve your goals, as ideally, they have already achieved similar ones. A good mentor also provides feedback and encouragement throughout your time working together. When choosing mentors, it is important to consider what they have experienced as well as what they are currently doing. If your mentor is involved with work that interests you or organizations you would like to join, they can likely put you in touch with other mentors or professional contacts. It is important to be proactive and direct when reaching out to mentors. You should communicate early on what you expect from the relationship and how they can help you the most. You also need to be available, committed, and respectful of your mentor’s time. It is a good idea to find multiple mentors, as each will have unique experiences, insights, and schedules. If one mentor is unavailable when you need them, another could possibly step in and help. Once you have a mentor, make sure to set up a reasonable schedule and establish expectations for communication. If you both know what you want from the relationship, you will likely get more out of it. No matter what you gain from a mentoring relationship, it is important to show your appreciation for their time and to set up options for future contact.
There are many ways to be an effective leader, but there are traits that almost all great leaders possess. Charisma, intellect, and vision are all important, but none as important as awareness. Great leaders must be aware of themselves, their followers, and their work. Taking time away from work can be difficult, but leaders must dedicate time to self-reflection and feedback. Being a collaborative leader means knowing yourself and others, giving and receiving feedback, and being culturally sensitive. Collaborative leaders build a sense of security and trust in their teams and allow everyone to contribute at their highest level. Leaders should set up formal and informal forums for feedback and to talk with the rest of the team. Understanding those around you will enable you to build empathy and trust, which are the foundation for effective team collaboration. As a collaborative leader, it is also important to be aware of cultural differences and be sensitive when navigating these differences. It is not always easy to know how to manage others, but communication and awareness are always a good start.
Feedback in Professional Settings
Countries differ in how they prefer to give and receive feedback. Some countries are typically direct, using upgrading words to increase the severity of the feedback. Other countries are more indirect, using downgrading words to keep the feedback subtle. Americans are relatively direct in their feedback, but they wrap negative feedback in compliments to soften the blow. It is important to make employees feel valued, and to balance negative feedback with compliments over time. When an employee does a good job on an assignment, make sure they know you appreciate it. Building trust over time will help them accept your feedback when it is necessary to be negative. Make sure to prepare and practice what you are going to say when giving feedback. Focus on the person’s behavior rather than their personality, tell them before the problem develops and gets worse, and make sure to explain how fixing the problem will benefit both them and the team. Professionals in the Netherlands are also considered to be direct when giving negative feedback, but it is risky to try and match another culture’s directness. If employees have not built trust with you, then they could find your feedback to be insulting and they will likely disregard your suggestions. When crossing cultures, it is important to be courteous and consider the feelings of the person receiving the feedback.
Mentoring Guides for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved February 20, 2019, from http://grad.uw.edu/for- students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Meyer, E. (2015, September 16). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Petersen, D. (2013, November 27). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
Vora, T. (2014, May 12). Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/
We get emails from countless sources describing the significance of mentorship in college. So often, that the word mentoring has lost some of the importance it once had. While for some, arranging a mentorship is merely a rite of passage and a check on a GT1000 gradebook, the potential in finding real mentors, when tapped, is vast. When finding mentors and seeking advisement, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Seek mentorship from different backgrounds, ages, and interests. Guidance from the University of Washington notes that a diverse mentor team will provide a range of skills and advisement areas that would not be found if you only look at your direct superiors for mentorship.
Approach your mentor with clear and specific goals in mind. Your mentor should know your schedule and how often you intend to keep in contact.
Look to your own weaknesses. If you know that you struggle with being assertive or often find yourself seeking positive reinforcement, look to advisors and superiors that are known for these strengths.
Keep your circle small and interactions minimal. Finding mentors that share similar interests but can offer unique experiences and perspectives can be found outside of your trusted professor’s office hours. Be visible and put yourself out there with unlikely people; the more discussions initiated corresponds to the likelihood of encountering a solid mentor.
Be passive and apathetic. Many people do not purposely act this way, but rather become nervous in the face of their superior offering feedback that may be difficult to accept. Show that you are grateful for their time and appreciative of their advisement with enthusiasm.
From the information posted by the University of Washington, I have found that the most important piece of the mentoring puzzle is being on the same page; having different expectations, unsure deadlines, and vague communication methods are all quick ways to establish a dysfunctional mentoring relationship.
Being an Impactful Leader
Similar to the buzzword mentorship, the quest to becoming a great leader is one frequently spoken and advised on. Especially in college, leaders exist in many capacities and formats, which is why being a leader despite the audience and situation is crucial to forging relationships and accomplishing tasks. Knowing your strengths, weaknesses, moods, and personality traits is one of the most important ways to become a better leader no matter the setting (Vora 2014). Finding the things that motivate you, habits that make you tick, and situations you thrive in are all ways to better understand yourself. Once that level of introspection is maintained, you will find yourself understanding others better. Described as self-awareness, this sense of understanding how others receive you and respond to you is a key to better serving those you are leading and creating a more seamless effort, no matter the task. A challenge that presents itself in leadership, especially in unfamiliar settings, is knowing how to interact with people of different backgrounds. Knowing how to communicate effectively with people from different cultures is important for getting points across without coming across as too assertive or too weak. All the while, do not attempt to adopt other cultures’ communication methods, as it could come across as disrespectful and appropriative (Mayer 2015). Becoming a good leader is not a simple methodological process because each person has different experiences with leadership roles and histories dealing with others. Better realizing how you excel in certain situations and fail in others is key to growing as an impactful leader. With that said, trying to be a better leader by better understanding yourself and your peers is in vain if proper feedback is not received.
How to Give and Receive Feedback
Perhaps the most important aspect of leadership is the process itself of becoming a better leader; growing your skills, honing in on your weaknesses, and expanding your communication capabilities are all parts of this process. The way in which you can accomplish this growth is through feedback – both giving and receiving. While it may be difficult to accept at first, feedback should be thought of as useful data that can be analyzed to better yourself (Petersen 2013). You may see yourself as a giving, caring group leader, while your constituents see you as a pushover; knowing how you are perceived is an important aspect of becoming a more effective leader. When giving feedback to others, it is useful to not equivocate while not being overly blunt. By offering feedback with the person’s interest in mind rather than simply rambling off complaints, you are more likely to make an impact. While your coworker may have thought his e-mail was timely and funny, you may think over 24 hours is considered late, and that his jokes were disrespectful. Rather than letting this annoyance fester, providing him with the information to improve sooner rather than later in a kind yet assertive fashion is crucial to maintaining a healthy workplace relationship. Balance with the way you communicate is noted as the best way to get your point across while keeping the conversation from becoming negative.
Mentoring Guides for Students. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Petersen, D. (2013, November 27). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
Vora, T. (2014, May 12). Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3. Retrieved from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/
Mayer, E. (2015, September 16). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
The Atlanta Bike tour on Friday, February 8th was one of my favorite experiences in terms of exploring Atlanta. Not only did the act of biking engage my senses constantly, but it allowed me to also appreciate the diverse sights and sounds that Atlanta has that cars hinder you from noticing. Overall, this was a very eye-opening experience into the strides in bike infrastructure that Atlanta has made in the very recent years.
Figure 1. 10th Street Cycle Track
During the bike tour, one of the first revelations was the amount of infrastructure that had actually existed at that time that was neither present in the past three years nor known to a majority of my classmates. The first cycling tact on 10th Street adjacent to Piedmont Park was truly one of the first times I truly enjoyed riding a bike in Atlanta. I realized that having a right-of-way that was designed and designated for use of your specific mode of transportation was not only better in terms of stress, but also necessary in order to encourage various forms of transportation. Thus, I completely understand why cars feel safer on the road than most other vehicles because the road was designed for cars.
Figure 2. Atlanta Beltline and Ponce City Market
As we continued on the tour, the Beltline and Downtown infrastructure was truly beautiful. Taking the Beltline for the first time was truly an interesting experience that truly allowed me to understand the "craze" that ATLiens have with the path. Due to multiple infrastructure techniques that used in the Beltline design, it truly created a space for bikes and pedestrians. Additionally, the fact that there were multiple stores that had their main entrance toward the Beltline rather than a major road allowed me to truly understand the economic benefit of having multi-modal transportation. For Downtown, there were a few more hills than the Beltline--which made it very difficult to navigate, especially with cars speeding right passed. However, halfway through the Downtown corridor when we came to the curbed bike lane, it created a slightly protected lane that allowed biking to be very much more relaxing & safe versus the unprotected cycle lanes. Therefore, I can definitely say that I feel on the tract that we took for the ATL Bike Tour was a seven out of ten in terms of safety.
Part 2: Netherlands Biking Infrastructure!!
It is evident that the American and Dutch transportation priorities and infrastructure are not only different but approach integrating bikes into the framework of mainstream transportation in systematically diametric ways. The United States of America views bike infrastructure as unnecessary and does not view biking as a viable means of transportation as bike usage has always been viewed in a "children's" frame of reference. Though biking in America has increased in the past few years, there have only been small, sporadic strides in major cities to actively tackle this problem. However, one of the things that I noticed is the current American bike infrastructure compared to the early Netherlands bike infrastructure are almost identical. Because of this, the strides that can be made are completely possible. Thus, I will compare these two systems holistically.
Figure 3. Cycling protest tour 1979, Amsterdam
After World War II, the United States and the Netherlands were in two very similar places economically as both nations had become extremely prosperous following the war. Moreover, this sparked more car infrastructure in both nations as well as the erasure of the basic cycling infrastructure and public spaces in the Netherlands. People in both countries started moving away from the main place of work. Yet, after a big political movement by the citizens in the Netherlands, the government was able to put resources toward the bike infrastructure. This latter point is probably the most important in terms of helping America get to the point in which they have adequate, safe, multi-modal forms of transportation. It is important that the citizens raise extremely high standards for the national and state governments to implement more bike safety and bike infrastructure. Things such as Atlanta Bike Coalition and Midtown Alliance are two support groups that help to advocate for the betterment of bike users; however, these groups have not garnered the national attention to the point of integrating it into the conversation of improved infrastructure that is already happening nationally. Therefore, when we look at the current bike infrastructure in the United States, it is easy to see why we have such low-quality facilities (there is also the funding framework of the DOT system as well as the lobbying of automobiles as well as subsidies for these industries...but let’s not get too antsy).
Figure 4. Cyclists crossing an intersection
Finally, in terms of how riding in the Netherlands versus the United States, I can definitely conclude that the infrastructure in the Netherlands does assure safety. One of the things that could truly help this be advanced is to increase the volume of bicyclers on the road due to the fact that numbers are important for changes in politics as well as the ideology that there are “safety in numbers.” I hope the United States can do this as well, but I doubt that will happen.
Mentoring is important from both the perspective of the mentor and mentee. The mentor can have a connection with someone who is younger or less experienced than they are, helping develop their mentee into a well-educated professional. The mentee is able to find someone who will give them feedback and encouragement, will help them develop a network and potentially other mentors, will recommend programs or opportunities to the mentee, and is available for consultation or advice when needed (University of Washington, n.d.).
You can find a mentor in school by reaching out to professors or going to office hours, but in a professional setting, this can be more difficult. In the workplace, you may have to invite someone out for lunch or coffee. You should be familiar with your potential mentor’s work in order to assess whether you have similar interests. Additionally, your mentor should understand your goals and strengths so that they can help you move forward with your career. Once a mentorship is established, you should establish how often to meet and how and how often you can reach out in less formal settings. You should also have a way to receive feedback and have goals for the mentorship. A lot of the experience responsibility falls on the mentee, since that is who benefits the most from the experience. (University of Washington, n.d.)
In different cultures, the way that feedback is given varies. Understanding how people give feedback in your own workplace and life is important because in some places feedback is given very gently, and you may not notice it is even being given, while in other places feedback is given sternly, and you should not take offense or feel like that person is being rude, and still other places may be somewhere in the middle. As a manager, you have to be aware of how the people you manage may interpret your feedback. As a worker, you have to recognize how your manager gives feedback and how your peers give feedback. However, Erin Meyer (2015), does not suggest trying to change your feedback style to match others, in case you over compensate and become too direct or too indirect. Meyer instead recommends to pay attention to the “upgraders” or “downgraders” that are used in the culture you are immersed in and work to include those types of indicators into your own feedback style.
In addition to understanding the way feedback is given in the culture you are immersed in, you must also understand how to properly give feedback, and make sure to practice giving feedback to continually improve. Some tips from Carol Robin, the director of a leadership program at Stanford, suggests to give your feedback before you are annoyed with someone, use “I” statements, and focus on what the person is doing rather than the person themselves (Peterson, 2013). In a professional setting, these are important because you are working with the person you are giving feedback to every day. Using “I” statements to tell someone how you feel can made the person you are talking to feel like you are opening up to them, and they can understand your motivation to give them feedback, making it easier to listen.
The traits of a good leader include what you would expect-- confidence, the ability to relate to others, and goal-oriented. However, when leading a diverse group, there are other skills that a good leader also must possess, including self-awareness, the desire to receive feedback, and cultural sensitivity (Vora, 2014). Self-awareness and reflection are important for leading because they allow you to grow from your past and ensure that as a leader you aren't over-reaching or being too controlling. Feedback and cultural sensitivity, as discussed above, are intrinsically tied. Also, feedback is a good way to know how your team is feeling and what you could be doing better as a leader.
University of Washington Graduate School (n.d.). Mentoring Guides for Students. Retrieved from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Meyer, E. (2015, September 2015). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Peterson, D. (2013, November 27). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
Vora, T. (2011, May 11). Indispensible Traits of a Collaboartive Leader: Part 3. Retrieved from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/
As I get older and come to the back end of my undergraduate experience, it becomes even more important to me to start to develop relationships that can help boost me into my professional career. Mentors are able to assess your situation, your skills, and your interests from an outside perspective, one with a broader scope than an undergraduate student could have. Someone working in the field, or even a graduate student, has had far more interaction with other professionals and experts, more experiences applying their degree knowledge, and more knowledge about what skills and traits will serve someone well after they graduate. Additionally, receiving feedback from a mentor can help someone not only identify where their weaknesses as an individual lie, but also what their strengths are. Lastly, having a personal connection with someone older and more experienced simply helps build a mentee’s confidence. So, where does one begin?
A good place to start is with professors. Professors are not only experts in their field of study; they also typically have had years of experience working with professionals from a wide cross-section of a discipline’s industry. At Georgia Tech especially, where the professors are typically leaders in their fields, it’s important to seek out relationships with them. Initiating conversations is the hardest step, but it’s the most important one involved in finding the right person.
To say “person,” however, indicates that a student only needs one mentor, but the opposite is true. Having a diverse network of respectable and reputable people exponentially increases the effectiveness of mentorship. To limit oneself to strictly professors, or strictly industry professionals, is to constrict the sphere of perspective one can gain. It’s important to have multiple individuals one can seek advice and guidance from; graduate students, professors, and industry professionals all offer unique insight into a certain discipline. This can help an undergraduate feel out all aspects and possibilities for his or her career.
Finally, the most important aspect of mentorship is for the mentee to be intentional. Being intentional requires an undergrad to show commitment to a relationship, to be responsible for their own path, and to express appreciation for the help he or she receives from a mentor. Practicing intentionality, like expressing gratitude and consistently seeking advice, helps assure both sides of the relationship that the time they are putting in is worthwhile and constructive.
There is plenty of theory and much research surrounding what makes an effective leader. This semester, I’ve gotten to combine the curriculum for another class, Foundations of Leadership, into the lessons about leadership I’ve been learning in this class. For example, I got to lead a class discussion on the intersection of culture and leadership. Though there are many traits and practices that we in the United States take for granted as standard to the leadership model, there are countless cultures that have drastically different values than we do. The culture in Germanic Europe, where the Netherlands is located, is high in a cultural dimension known as “Assertiveness.” What that means is that people in the Netherlands value direct, unambiguous communication, and they expect their subordinates to take initiative. Their attitude towards how one should operate in a professional setting is different from the attitude of the US. A good leader can understand that and can tailor their leadership style accordingly.
Another important aspect of leadership is emotional intelligence. Possessing a high level of emotional intelligence means that one not only has a complete understanding of how they feel and why, but they also have an awareness for the feelings of those around them. Sensing the concerns of individuals on a team can help to ensure that team-members know that their ideas, concerns, and emotions are being validated, which is key for maintaining full engagement. It’s also important for a leader to be self-aware. Not only does being self-aware help a leader understand their own strengths and values, it also allows them to comprehend their own weaknesses, and determine where members of their own team can help them be a more complete, more effective individual.
Receiving feedback from a mentor is a cornerstone of an effective relationship. After all, what’s the point of developing a relationship with someone who knows more than you if you don’t try to learn from them through constructive criticism? In the process of giving feedback, emotional intelligence is, once again, paramount. When giving criticism, it’s important to ensure that the person you are giving it to knows you aren’t critiquing them personally. Often, this is a function of understanding the background and the personality of the person being critiqued. Different people react in different ways to advice. While one person may be able to get past taking negative feedback, others may take it personally. That’s why it’s also important to make the message positive. Instead of immediately pointing out flaws and mistakes, beginning with something someone did correctly or well can make them more inclined to listen and process criticism in a constructive way.
Culture comes into play when talking about feedback as well. Some cultures, such as Nordic Europe, value warm relationships and “saving face” in social situations. Conversely, Germanic European culture values explicit communication, which people from other cultures might perceive as rude. In the Netherlands, one should never expect someone to sugar-coat their opinion! Due to the spectrum of cultural values around the world, a great leader or mentor will understand cultural differences and take them into account when interacting with colleagues or mentees from another culture. Once again, having a perception of others’ values and personality proves to be essential to leadership.