Before one asks what the importance of mentoring is, it is important to first understand what mentoring is. Mentoring is when a more experienced person advises a younger or less experienced person by sharing one’s knowledge and experiences. This is in hopes that the mentee will be better equipped to tackle what life brings and progress in their life to reach their full potential. However, mentoring is not simply being told what path to follow nor is it following in the footsteps of a person that has been where you are at the moment and is now successful. This is simply because every person is different and what worked for another person may not work for you.
Mentoring is important for various reasons. According to the University of Washington, a good mentor is personable and provides feedback, encouragement, has your best interest at heart, fosters a network, and demystifies what may seem as grandiose (UW 2019). This is especially important and academic aspects and in career fields. All in all, it is important to not walk alone especially if there is someone who may be able to guide you.
How to find and work with a mentor
One mentor or a mentoring team? A peer or a faculty member? Essentially, the more mentors one has, the more advice and guidance one can receive. When finding mentors and determining whether a team or a single mentor is more suitable for you, it is important to realize what role each mentor will play in your life. Therefore, it is essential to first build a vision of the type of mentor you need, whether a disciplinary guide, career consultant, or a skills development consultant, as those are the three core roles that mentors play (UW 2019).
There are numerous aspects of finding a good mentor and working with them. First, identify and seek multiple mentors. Next, be proactive: approach your potential mentors and spark conversations. It is crucial that potential mentors see the interest and want to mentor you, which means that you need to be proactive, take initiative and be responsible for building relationships. Show commitment by investing time and being clear and professional in your approaches.
So now you have your mentor, what next? What can your mentors offer?
Availability: It is important to determine how often your mentors will be available to you and how you will maintain contact.
Communication: How are you and your mentors going to effectively communicate? Do you feel comfortable with them?
Workload and financial support: Do they have or know ways to support you?
Publishing: Are they willing to help you publish your work? What contacts do they have?
Reputation: This is both with other students and staff as well as within the field
In general, leaders are confident, visionary, possess critical thinking skills, and work towards reaching a goal. A collaborative leader is aware of themselves and others, seeks feedback, and is culturally sensitive.
When it comes to awareness if a leader is not aware of who they are, how can they lead others? On the other hand, if one does not know who they are working with, how can they lead them? It is merely impossible to work effectively as a leader if you are not self-aware and aware of those you are leading. Not only that, but a collaborative leader seeks feedback in order to become better and understand how they are perceived, which fosters growth (Vora 2014). A leader grows to lead people from all walks of life with unique backgrounds. Not only are cultural awareness and sensitivity crucial, but so is emotional intelligence. With these traits, a collaborative leader is able to be personable by building meaningful connections with team members.
How to provide feedback in professional situations
Providing feedback may seem like a dreadful task due to the negative connotation associated with it and the increasing diversity in professional situations. However, nobody is perfect and feedback is essential for growth. Feedback makes relationships more functional and drives productivity. If one truly cares for another, feedback can make the other person feel valued and closer to you, if done correctly (Robin 2013). That brings up a good point, how do you do it right?
Provide feedback early: In order for the person not to repeat the same thing over and over again.
Avoid shaming and be generous: Be respectful of others.
Focus on behavior: Behavior is learned, but personality is not.
Provide feedback from your aspect: State facts from your point of view. Use first person rather than second person when providing feedback.
Remember and speak on the other person’s interests: It shows that you care
Practice: practice makes perfect
Mix positive and negative: Wrap positive feedback around negative feedback
The increasing diversity in professional situations may cause people to be confused about how to efficiently provide feedback without being offensive to the other party. Some cultures, like the British, use “downgraders” when providing negative feedback in order to soften the situation. Meanwhile, other cultures use “upgraders” (Mayer 2015). All in all, being authentic to oneself while being sensitive to other cultures is ideal.
Mentors are supportive, experienced, and trusted advisors who are looking out for your interests. A mentor can be a confidant, coach, teacher, instructor, or anyone in your life. Mentors have a variety of roles depending on the context; They may help with developing technical content, fostering communication skills, or consulting for career. Regardless of the task, a good mentor thinks about the mentees needs and interests while treating them with respect.
Mentors offer advice from their experience and collected knowledge. They can also use this information to train a mentee best practices, set goals, and achieve successes. A mentor is there to support and motivate a mentee when they reach a roadblock. A good mentor engages in conversation to clarify information. They give and receive supportive and constructive feedback while encouraging positive behavior. If a mentor cannot assist the mentee with a task, they will help build a network of other supportive people who can fill in the gaps.
How to find and work with a mentor
Finding a good mentor can be a difficult task! You need to be self aware and develop a vision of the mentoring needed. After you have established your needs, strengths, and weaknesses, searching for a mentor requires the mentee to be proactive and reach out to multiple mentors. Mentorship is a big responsibility so both parties must set responsible goals, meet often, and have open communications.
A few of my favorite mentors from my undergrad experience, Dr. Robert Thieke and Sophie Spratley
Leaders are always working to be better and help others around them be better. Good leaders have vision, intellect, decisiveness, confidence, and are self-aware. To be a positive leader, it is important to know strengths and weaknesses or yourself and others so you can allocate these skills to reach a goal. A leader understands the importance of feedback and diversity.
I learned so much from two of my favorite concrete canoe captains, Mary Sullivan and Danielle Kennedy.
How to provide feedback in professional situations
Giving and receiving feedback is important for growth because it provides a baseline for the skill; you can’t get better at something until you know what you are doing wrong. Feedback should be given in a timely manner and focuses constructive improvements. It is not possible to change a persons personality so good feedback should be positive, generous, and help a person's interests. Negative feedback should be properly balanced with positive feedback so people don’t feel put down. The best way to provide good feedback is to practice giving feedback so you feel comfortable, confident, and professional when speaking about concerns.
These three things are NECESSARY as a leader and a mentor. A mentor is a someone who has trusted information about a specific subject or field--usually through experience--that allows them to pass this information on to someone who is looking to excel in the respective field or in life in general. Mentors are not only important but necessary in order to effectively gain wisdom about the world and trusted advice going forward. Not only do these things allow these people to correctly assess, advocate, and direct their followers or mentees, but these attributes require interaction and effective listening between parties to best evaluate what is necessary.
One article talked about the effectiveness of negative feedback and how the difference between cultures can make all the difference in how one communicates what needs to be done. In this article, I was wholeheartedly surprised that the negative feedback from different countries could be so different and that understanding these cultural differences that may arise in the workplace or organization is crucially important so your message is executed efficiently. Yet, negative feedback differences is only a very specific basis for a more overarching idea that holistic cultural aptitude is necessary as a leader or mentor (as well as a follower or mentee). One of the reasons this can be a challenge in an organization is that certain voices, certain special occasions, and certain customs may be overlook and even disrespected by mere accident. Though there is originally no intention on being disrespectful, it is necessary to understand the possible impact that you may have. Therefore, as leaders & mentors, it is necessary for us to give advice and tasks that are not only culturally appropriate but also culturally considerate. Thus, this will allow you to give feedback professionally as well as respect those in the office effectively as well.
One of the biggest problems with leaders today is that they rarely understand or care about collaboration. A lot of leaders are so worried about their own agenda and their own interests of their respective organizations that they tend not to understand that other organizations with similar or even diametrically different goals can possibly collaborate with them. Per the article, it is necessary for collaborative leaders to be self-aware and outwardly aware. This means that they must understand what their specific organization stands for and believes in while also understanding other organizations as well. Furthermore, in order for someone to even want to understand about other organizations, the leader must be open-minded and open to feedback as well.
Of the three topics, this one truly upholds the last two--whether it be communicating to collaborate with other leaders or to understand different cultural differences that may arise. Specifically in the mentorship/mentee role, communication is critical to ensure that both parties are duly working. Communication first starts with how to find mentors. First, you should always ask questions to understand what type of mentor you would need in terms of mentoring. This requires introspection on what you want for the future as well as what you want for yourself right now. This can be done easily by understanding the attributes that you would like to hold and see if there are people in your life who you think do things exceptionally well. A mentorship relationship should be one of mutual understanding of goals as well as a holistic understanding of what each person wants out of it. One thing that is necessary for the mentor in particular is for them to be open to know that the mentee is of an educational but also communicative nature; therefore, the fact that these individuals might not understand something that seems very innate to the mentor should not come across as a problem but as an opportunity of improvement.
It is evident that understanding what it means to be an effective leader and a mentor (as well as a follower or mentee). A lot of times these things actually interact by the basis that these two individuals are responsible for more than just themselves. Therefore, communication, cultural aptitude, and collaboration is important for both.
*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