The Importance of Mentoring
Mentoring isn’t telling someone what to do or how to do it. It isn’t being a life coach or spiritual guide. Mentoring isn’t a lot of things we so often mistake it for. Mentoring in its simplest form is a relationship built on humble service and understanding that you once stood in the other person’s shoes. Mentorship is important, because there is so much to learn from people who have walked this path before you. There will be very few times in life when you are the very first person to do something. I don’t anticipate discovering something new or traveling to a distant planet any time soon, so I find it best to read and listen to the work of people who have ventured into the professional world before me.
Quality mentoring establishes a network of professionals at all stages of their careers that facilitates an environment of curiosity. Mentors better be prepared to answer lots of questions and draw maps when mentees are in need of direction. I bet you’ve never listened to an acceptance speech of an award show and heard the recipient say “Thanks. I did this all on my own with no help.” Yeah, I’ve never heard that either. That’s because every successful individual is supported by a unique network of mentors.
How to Find and Work with a Mentor
Quality mentorship is also established on the understanding that we all struggle. Paths will be bumpy and if you are like me, you will definitely trip a few times. You have to be self-aware to find a good mentor. Becoming more self-aware can be as simple as making three lists. These lists are your goals, your strengths and weaknesses, and your work style. The process of listing helps better understand in what areas you might need a little extra support or where you would benefit from the help of a mentor. It can be intimidating to reach out to people, but don’t be afraid to shoot an email to someone you admire or knock on a professor’s door. These simple actions are the first steps to establish mentoring relationship.
While working with a mentor it is important to establish goals, work plans, meeting times, and expectations. But beyond those tangible deliverables, it is important to create a sense of appreciation for your mentor’s time. Always remember to be active, available, appreciative, and curious!
Leadership is another term that is often misunderstood. Growing up, I always associated leadership with volume. The louder you were, the better leader you were. But there’s definitely more to leadership than just how loud or how much you talk. In fact, leadership has very little to do with how loud you are. This is great news for me, because I am about as quiet as they come.
Traits of leadership can be developed over time. As outlined in one of our required readings, the indispensable traits of leadership are being self-aware and aware of others, seeking feedback, and being culturally sensitive. I think all of these traits can be summarized in one very important characteristic, humility. Humility is understanding that anyone and everyone can be your teacher or mentor. Lifelong learners are some of the best leaders, because they are knowledgeable and demonstrate exemplary actions.
Providing Professional Feedback
Feedback is essential to our growth and development as professionals, but sometimes criticism can sting. No one likes to be told they’re wrong. Sometimes we even hesitate to give others feedback, because we know it might hurt them momentarily. Withholding feedback is more detrimental than giving a few encouraging nudges along the way. It is important to know how to provide feedback, though. Two important things to keep in mind when providing feedback are to be mindful of your intention for giving the criticism and to mix both positive and negative feedback for the most effective results. Intention always matters! It is important to critique someone with the intention that it will help them improve or learn a valuable lesson, never to belittle or shame another person. One of the articles also documented that encouragement is equally as important as the negative feedback. A quality mentor or leader is always able to see the good in someone’s work even if there is room for improvement.
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