For the global leadership component of the class, we explore three components that contribute to successful leaders: mentoring, leadership traits, and giving feedback.
The Importance of Mentoring
Mentor or Spirit Guide?
As I reflect over the mentors I’ve had throughout my 28 years of life, I can say with nearly 100% certainty that I would not be where I am today. Because of my mentors I have made some pretty major life decisions: to get an engineering degree, to work and live in Detroit, and even to attend graduate school here at Georgia Tech.
Mentors can come in several forms and from many walks of life. There are disciplinary guides who push us to identify and pursue our academic strengths. Career mentors, who helps us connect our studies to the real world or weigh career options. Then there are mentors who help us develop non-academic abilities, like communication skills or how to work on a team.
Depending on the stage you’re at in life, some mentors may be more relevant than others. Regardless of the type of mentor you choose, the point is to recognize the importance of having one in the first place. Most likely, there are other people out there who have had similar interests and goals, and even just a 20-minute conversation a few times a year can provide you with priceless insight. So hopefully you’re asking yourself… how do I get one of those?
How to find and work with a mentor
Step 1: Decide what type of mentoring you might need. Ask yourself: What goals do you have? What type of skills would you like to develop further?
Step 2: Identify possible mentors. Seek a variety of mentors who are both similar and different from you. Individuals who think differently from you or who have diverse experiences can help you grow just as much, if not more, than those who have interests that you directly align with.
Step 3: Go get ‘em! Don’t be shy to spark up a conversation with a professor or a manager. Ask them about their background and how they got to where they are today. Chances are, they will be happy to talk with you. Feel free to discuss your own goals and interests as well. Although I have listed out these steps, a lot of mentorships occur organically through informal conversation.
Step 4: Once you develop a relationship, establish goals for yourself and communicate them to your mentor. Ask them if they would be willing to meet regularly and always ask questions. Clear communication will help you get the most out of your experience
Step 5: Thank your mentor. If all goes well, a mentorship is beneficial for both sides of the relationship, but always remember that someone is taking time out of their day to work with you.
Leadership is not a talent that some are born with and some are not, but rather a skill that can be learned and honed over one’s lifetime. While some leadership traits do come natural to some, many traits can be developed with practice. Below are a handful of traits that almost all great leaders possess:
- Being a great leader isn’t only about knowing others, it’s also about knowing yourself. What are you good at and where do you feel comfortable stepping up? Alternatively, what are you not good at? An effective leader can identify their own strengths and weaknesses and use their surrounding team to complement their skillset.
- Leaders practice reflection in action. Reflection in action means to actively reflect on the moods and attitudes of the room. How are your actions affecting others? Are you losing your audience? Once a leader reflects, they adjust. This ongoing process helps a leader identify practices that are most effective within their team.
- Leaders aren’t the only ones doing the talking. Listening and empathizing with others is a way to understand the different perspectives people may have, whether professionally or culturally.
- Leaders actively seek out and embrace feedback from others. A two-way flow of feedback will make for an effective leader and create a collaborative team environment that is set up for success.
How to Provide Feedback in professional situations
Feedback is messy. Due to this messiness, people tend to shy away from providing it to others, even when intentions are good. Yet feedback is one of the most fundamental building blocks for personal and professional development, which is why it is crucial to embrace both giving and receiving it.
Below are some quick tips to shape the feedback you give into a positive growing experience for the person on the receiving end:
- Don’t let yourself get to your boiling point. If something upsets you, be kind, and direct upfront.
- Don’t blame and don’t shame. This one is simple – don’t put others on the defensive. Giving feedback should be a mutual conversation between you and another individual, not an attack.
- Focus on the raw message you are trying to give someone and weed out the fluff. This can be especially helpful with cultural differences. Don’t say words like “totally” (too extreme) or “kind of” (not extreme enough)
- Feedback takes practice. Practice your conversation beforehand, and if it doesn’t go like you intended or you don’t get the result you were hoping for, try again with different words. After all, if feedback was easy, you wouldn’t be reading this!
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
Robin, C. (2013, November 27). Feedback is a Gift. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
UW Graduate School. Mentoring Guides for Students. Retrieved February 20, 2019, from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Vora, T. (2014, May 11). 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/