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.
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
Petersen, D. (2013). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift[Web Article]. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
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/
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/