The Importance of Mentorship: Building the Mentoring Relationship (Part IV)

Previously discussed topics were the importance of mentoring and leadership, as well as the roles of a mentor and roles of a mentee. To view the entire series:

This post will dive into what is required to build the mentoring relationship. I’m going to take a different approach this time; instead of writing a bunch of paragraphs, I am going to summarize the phases of the mentoring relationship by using an outline. Let’s see how this goes!

At the beginning of the mentoring relationship, the mentor and mentee should discuss how the partnership should be structured. Regardless of whether the mentoring relationship takes a formal structure, there are typically a few phases that take place:

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  • Building rapport
    • In this phase the mentor and mentee are exploring whether or not they can work together.
    • Simply get acquainted with one another (number of years in the industry, technical skillset, common skills, similar career paths, etc.)
    • Determine purpose of relationship and establish expectations.
    • Active listening, being respectful, being open and honest help build reciprocal trust in this stage.
  • Setting direction
    • This phase is all about setting goals. Once there is rapport and the relationship has established its sense of purpose, then determine what should be achieved.
    • Discuss the overall mentoring goals; for example, the following questions could be asked:
      • What are your visions and career aspirations?
      • Where is your career right now?
      • What are your strengths, weaknesses?
      • What is your behavioral style?
      • What is your leadership style?
      • What are your top three goals?
      • How can the mentoring relationship help to build new technical skills, explore new ideas, forge a new career path, expand your network, etc.?
    • If this is a formal mentoring process, a “Mentoring Partnership Agreement” could be established to determine clear goals, roles, and responsibilities, as well as setting a schedule.
  • Recap and progress
    • Recap the mentoring sessions at the end of each session. Also consider reviewing the progress between sessions at the beginning of the session.
    • The progression piece is typically the longest of all the phases. This phase can be perpetual depending on the length of the mentoring relationship.
    • Work together to accomplish the established goals.

Qualities of a successful mentoring relationship:

  • Articulation – the mentor should be able to help the mentee articulate their feelings, thoughts and ideas. The mentee may still be learning this skill.
  • Listening – both the mentee and the mentor should exhibit active listening skills.
  • Respect – without respect, the relationship will not achieve a level of openness required for successful mentoring.
  • Goal clarity – both the mentee and mentor need to have a clear understanding of the mentee’s objectives. It would also be good for the mentee to know the mentor’s goals in order for the relationship to be more reciprocal.
  • Challenging – the mentee and mentor should both be challenged during this relationship.
  • Self-awareness – the mentor should be proactive and insightful in order to appropriately guide the mentee using his or her own experience. The mentee should be self-aware in order to be able learn from the mentor’s example and advice.
  • Commitment to learning – both the mentor and the mentee should be learning and growing as a part of this relationship.
  • Reflection / preparation – a common reason why mentoring relationships fail is because one party or both fails to invest time preparing for or carrying through with the time investment.

 

The Importance of Mentoring: The Roles of the Mentee (Part III)

Previously discussed was the importance of mentoring and leadership, as well as the roles of a mentor. This post will cover the various responsibilities of the mentee. To view the entire series:

Studies have shown that mentors typically select their protégés based on performance and potential. Mentors will continue to invest in the relationship when mentees use their time well and are truly open to feedback.

Often when we think of a mentor/mentee relationship, it is associated with a senior/subordinate relationship. This does not need to be the case. I have learned as much from my peers as I have those in a higher position than me. Do not hesitate to reach out to a peer! It may be easier to establish a mutual mentorship relationship between peers than with a superior.

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Last week’s post covered the roles of a mentor. There are also responsibilities relegated to the mentee as well. A few include:

  • Continuous Learner: take advantage of this opportunity to learn. Be inquisitive; ask questions! But also look for ways to give back to your mento It’s not impossible to think that a mentor may also learn from the mentee. Learning can be a mutual experience and the mentor/mentee relationship can and should be symbiotic.
  • Be Timely: very few mentors have time for excessive hand-holding. Most are dealing with their own high stress jobs and long hours. A mentee that is positive and uses their precious time wisely working to solve problems (rather than complain about work) can be a bright spot in the day. Do your research before reaching out to your mentor. Do not waste their time with something that could have been easily googled.
  • Be Open: mentees have a lot more than just career advice to gain in a mentorship relationship. Mentors can also speak about education, motivation, and work-life balance. Find out from your mentor what he/she sees as the key points to long-term success and happiness.
  • Be Serious: demonstrate that you are eager for counsel by implementing the advice your mentor gave, showing the result, and then going back for more. So, if your mentor suggests you get on project X, get yourself on that project, and do a good job. Then report back to your mentor that you are grateful for the advice because you were able to learn a lot. Your mentor will be much more willing to give you their time and energy after you have proven yourself to be a quick and eager study.
  • Synergizer: a benefit of mentorship, or really any great conversation, with a trusted colleague is that new ideas are forged. Capture those ideas and capitalize on them!
  • Initiator/Relationship Driver: in the military, many times you are officially assigned a mentor, however, this is typically not the case in a corporate work environment. If you feel like you need help, it is your responsibility to reach out and get assistance! Identify the skills, knowledge, and goals that you are seeking to achieve and discuss with your mentor. Walking up and asking a stranger to be your mentor will rarely work. However, approaching a stranger will a pointed, well thought out question can yield results. Initiate with a superior in your office or someone familiar in the community or even a peer.

As mentioned earlier, mentorship is typically more reciprocal than it may appear. The mentee may receive a more direct type of assistance but the mentor benefits as well. There is a stronger sense of purpose, a sense of pride, and useful information exchanged. When mentorship is done correctly, everybody flourishes.

The Importance of Mentoring: The Many Roles of the Mentor (Part II)

Previously discussed was the importance of mentoring, as well as how mentoring and leadership are intertwined. This post will cover the many roles of the mentor. To view the entire series:

I have been fortunate to be on the receiving end of more than one great mentor and have served as a formal and informal mentor to others. The long-term impact of mentoring can be career changing, perhaps even life changing.

My mentors never “coached” me, but instead challenged me, encouraged me, and acted as a source of wisdom when I needed it most. I carry their impact through my work today. When I’m faced with difficult questions or decisions, I think back on the lessons learned through the years and then take action.

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There are several roles and/or responsibilities that a mentor can assume. The role(s) the mentor will assume depends on the needs of the mentee and the type of relationship established. These roles can be combined and potentially evolve as the association between mentor and mentee develops. Your mentor may not assume all of these roles. Some roles include:

  • Teacher – the mentor teaches skills and knowledge required to perform a job successfully.
  • Guide – the mentor helps the mentee to understand how to navigate and understand the inner workings of an organization. Sometimes this may include passing on information about any unwritten expectations or rules for success.
  • Counselor – this definitely requires establishment of trust in the mentoring relationship. The mentor listens to work situations and provides guidance to help the mentee find his/her own solutions and improve his/her own problem solving skills.
  • Motivator – a mentor shows support and encouragement to help a mentee through the tough times and keeps the mentee focused on developing job skills to improve performance, self-respect, and an improved sense of self-worth.
  • Advisor – a mentor helps the mentee to develop professional interests and set realistic career goals. Goals should be specific, have a time frame, and be results oriented, relevant, and reachable.
  • Referral Agent – once a career plan is developed, the mentor assists the mentee in approaching others who can provide training, information, and assistance. The mentor also points the mentee to relevant career-enhancing schools, courses, books, reading, professional organizations, and self-improvement activities.
  • Role Model – the mentor is a living example for the mentee to emulate. A mentor must lead and teach by example. To me, this is the most important role.
  • Door Opener – the mentor opens doors of opportunity by helping establish a network of professional contacts both within and outside an organization. The mentor also helps the mentee understand the importance of networking with seniors, peers, and juniors to exchange information, ideas, and concerns.

A mentor can be a difference maker in your life and career. It’s important to approach the relationship with an open mind and to set proper expectations.

The next post will cover the roles of a mentee.

The Importance of Mentorship: Interlacing Leadership and Mentoring (Part I)

Today’s young employees are tomorrow’s future leaders. As a leader, there is an obligation to help the future by training and mentoring tomorrow’s leader.

The benefits of mentorship are well known: those less experienced receive feedback, insight, and support from someone more experienced. The mentor acts as a guide who can offer impartial support and advice.

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Leadership and mentoring go hand-in-hand. Effective leadership guides and provides an example for those subordinate. Additionally, a leader should be spending one-on-one time with subordinates to guide to the next level in their career…beyond just semi-yearly performance reviews.

Leadership skills develop over time; it is not something that people are born with. Leadership is action, not a billet or position. An effective leader knows his or her strengths and weaknesses, and is capable of maximizing all of them. A leader knows how to manage conflict and understands the political culture and how to navigate it for best results. Leaders and mentors share many of the same qualities; all the aforementioned qualities also apply to a mentor.

Mentoring is the link between a junior and someone more experienced for the purpose of career development and personal growth. This is accomplished through sharing knowledge and insights learned over the years. Mentoring is more personal and is relationship-based; the mentor shares his or her own experiences, insight, and knowledge with the mentee. Effective mentorship isn’t about focusing on a specific skill and how to improve it —it’s about the mentee’s overall growth.

Too often there is a difference between someone who holds a leadership position and that of an effective leader. Leadership is a topic about which I deeply care. My time in the military allowed me to experience different styles of leadership as I developed my own skills and styles. In my opinion, leadership is not about the leader, but rather it is about those being led. The success of a leader is reflected in the morale and welfare of the subordinates: whether or not those you lead are better off as a result of your leadership. If you assume a leadership role, you automatically inherit the responsibility for the care, well-being, career growth and supervision of those in your charge. This is not a burden of leadership– this is your privilege. To be blunt, if you cannot or will not become a good mentor then you do not have any business being a leader or in a leadership position.

With that being said, the onus of mentorship is just as much on the mentee as it is the mentor. The mentee can initiate the beginning of a mentorship relationship! Sometimes, you just have to reach out to someone and say something similar to:

  • “I listened to your presentation during the VMUG and I think that you are a good public speaker. I’d like to do that one day, what do I need to do to get there?”
  • “I want to transition my career into IT security, can you give me some advice?”

Though, truthfully, the strongest mentorship relationships spring out of a real and typically earned connection between a leader and a subordinate.

This is the first post of a series that I will be posting regarding mentorship. Be prepared! I’ll be posting once a week for four weeks (along with some regularly scheduled technical content) until the blog series is finished.

Lessons Learned From My Time in the Marine Corps

This month I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my time in the Marine Corps, and not just because of Veterans Day a few weeks ago. November 27 is 10 years since I stood on the yellow footprints at bootcamp in Parris Island, SC, and 5 years since I separated from the service. I’ve now been out of the military as long as I was in it. Sometimes it feels I just got out of the Marine Corps; but most of the time it feels like a weird dream that I woke up from…as if I was never really in the military.

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Most days I’ll tell you that I was miserable (somewhat true) and couldn’t wait to get out of the military (true). I spent my youth, my formative years (18-23) in the military. These years have molded who I have become as a (mostly) fully formed adult. During my time in the Marine Corps, I learned a lot about leadership and even more about myself. I’d like to spend a little bit of time discussing some of the things I’ve learned and how they are applicable to the tech industry.

Be Self-Aware

Understanding yourself and your own limitations —what you’re good at, and, more importantly, what you’re not good at, is critical to ensure you surround yourself with the right people. There’s a Marine Corps leadership principle that states: “know yourself and seek self-improvement.” I’ve always felt that is one of the most important principles for a leader. Surround yourself with people who complement your skill sets and challenge you to improve. Personally, I tend to surround myself with those who I perceive to be far more intelligent than I am because it motivates me to do better —be better. Don’t be the smartest person in the room, learn your weaknesses, and find a way to make your weaknesses a strength. On consulting projects, I try to surround myself with others that have a skill set I don’t so I can try to learn from them.

Be Decisive

In the Marines, I was taught to make “sound and timely” decisions; there was always an extra emphasis placed on “timely”. My fellow non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and I were taught to methodically analyze decisions, to weigh the pros and cons, and to minimize risk as much as possible before making a decision. In one of my NCO courses, I was taught to use a 75% solution to make rapid decisions —this means to gather as much information and details until you have at least 75% of the data, at which point use experience, intuition, and expertise to fill out the other ~25%. Sometimes waiting for all the information to make the “perfect” decision results in action happening too late. Whether you’re weighing a job offer or trying to decide on the right hardware vendor, gather as much information as possible and make a decision. If you wait too long to decide, that opportunity may have disappeared.

Problem Solving / Strategic Thinking

Traditionally the Marine Corps has suffered from a systemic lack of resources because it is the smallest branch of the military and has to compete for funding with the Department of the Navy. This spartan lifestyle helped my team and I develop unique and ingenious ways to get what we needed…whether it was “acquiring” office supplies from mysterious places or finding a way to feed the troops during Thanksgiving, there was always a display of initiative and entrepreneurial spirit amongst my Marines. Being exposed to that kind of culture taught me to try new things and to challenge the status quo which has served me well in my entrepreneurial journey thus far. As a leader in tech, co-workers and customers alike will look to you to solve problems and help the business grow. In order to do that, you have to know about more than just the underlying technology. You also need to understand customer needs, the market, the competition, etc. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone to solve the problem at hand.

Create a Collaborative Environment 

Strong collaboration skills allow you to work with others to exploit synergies and be able to deliver way more than you would be able to deliver if you were working solo. It’s easier to work with people when you have a warm, working relationship rather than just dropping in when it’s only in your interest. It’s not necessarily about being everyone’s friend. It’s about building trust and respect. If you’re in a leadership role, listen to the team…you’re not the only one with great ideas. As a leader, you’re a servant first. You exist for the good of the team, to ensure that the teams succeeds. Empower and give your collaborators the tools they need for success; it’s a two-way street.

Continue to Learn and Grow

I know, there’s always a fire to put out or a deadline to meet. Many of us don’t have an abundance or spare time. However, professional development and continued growth are the only surefire ways to ensure you’re not left behind in this ever evolving tech world. Whether it’s technical skills or business skills, you have to continue to seek self-improvement. I know someone who puts one hour for studying into his calendar each work day. Do what you need to do but find the time to improve yourself.

On that note, the worst is pretending to know something that you have no clue about. It will come back to bite you, or even worse, your entire team. Some may think it’s a sign of weakness to say ‘I don’t know,’ but I disagree. I think more people will respect you for your self-awareness and your desire to learn. No matter what your job is, there’s something you don’t know. Everyone needs a mentor, find one. Listening and asking questions are not signs of weakness.

It’s OK to Fail (But Never Give Up)

It doesn’t take much effort to find numerous example of Marines enduring seemingly impossible circumstances —from Iwo Jima to Fallujah —heroes like John Basilone or Chesty Puller, there is never a shortage of amazing acts of courage and tenacity. I remember running miles in full combat gear and thinking that I couldn’t make it each time my feet hit the ground…but somehow I always did.

I had never failed anything in my life until I took my first VCP. I had been up all night working and then went straight to the test center on no sleep and took the exam. I failed, barely, but I failed. That was the first time I’d experienced the feeling of failure —I was gutted. I questioned my entire life,  questioned whether I should even be in tech or not. I felt like an idiot. I had never failed in my life so I never had anyone tell me that it’s OK to fail. The important thing is what you do from that point thereafter. I had to figure that out on my own; it was a tough road. There have been many times when I’ve felt like quitting tech or some project or certification I’m chasing, but I have to stop and remind myself of how much harder things could be (even when the circumstances seem insurmountable) or how much worse they’ve been in the past. These little reality checks help me keep moving forward. Giving up is not an option.

Sense of Humor

Sometimes we all take life a little too seriously. It’s important to loosen up sometimes when circumstances seem to be dire. I often think of my five years in the Marine Corps as the best and worst time of my life. I remember being a part of Operation Tomodachi after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in mainland Japan. Some of us were working 18-19 hour days, 7 days a week, for two months straight. Despite being exhausted, we never stopped making jokes. It was as if my unit’s credo was to keep things lighthearted. We’d be slap happy, highly caffeinated, just laughing our asses off while working. It made time go faster and made the long hours not seem so bad. Sometimes things suck, we have crazy deadlines and we work long hours…that doesn’t mean that you can’t make the best out of a bad situation. Go ahead and send that funny meme to your co-worker.