by April Gadsby May 29, 2017
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.