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