When we are looking to stretch ourselves with more job responsibility, or even a job promotion, sometimes the most difficult step is sending our readiness out into the universe. We can map career goals and seek out opportunities but demonstrating your capability for a bigger role is paramount. In this month’s newsletter we are going to define steps and strategies to show them you’re ready for more. Own projects from start to finish One of the best ways to demonstrate your competence is by developing expert level knowledge of your projects from their scope (objectives, budget, timeline, key stakeholders) to the real-time metrics of their success (progress, setbacks, remaining deliverables, potential issues). Know enough to speak confidently in a team meeting or to share a snapshot with a colleague or key stakeholder. Keep an updated list of your top three priorities to ensure a dynamic approach to managing the work even when deadlines seem a long way off in the distance. Part of taking genuine ownership, of course, is knowing when to let someone know when things aren’t going well. Whether it’s a crisis or a slow slide backwards, take a minute to organize your thoughts. Why isn’t the project going to plan? What 2-3 potential improvements to the managing tasks that might put the train back on the track? How long would it take to make the changes? It’s important to take responsibility if you could have handled something better but aim for productive solutions in place of over-apologizing. Report back regularly to key stakeholders Even when things are going well, be proactive about reporting back to your managers and team leaders. Keep it to a high-level overview but here are some formats that might work: “Last week, this week, next week” in an email- offer some context for where we’ve been, explain any new information from the past few days, and list upcoming tasks. Drop in and say it casually- Some supervisors respond best with a quick visit at the beginning or end of the day- whenever they have more time to focus. Establish your own Friday wrap up template- Every Friday, on your way out the door, send a few notes in an email about a specific project or issue. Notice where you need support Of course, we can’t be perfect at every single thing but notice where you consistently fall short of expectations. Forgetting to update the monthly report every now and again is normal. However, if you are always overwhelmed by the status updates, unable to start without reminders, and consistently populating the spreadsheet with errors, you might need a little mentoring in task management. Are you having trouble focusing? Do you need to find an app that can help you stay organized? Don’t be afraid to talk to colleagues about their process. Also think about asking your manager for advice and suggestions to make sure they know how serious you are about being efficient in your work. Be a confident decision-maker When you spend too much time considering what could go wrong, it’s hard to make a move. To avoid decision-paralysis, it can help to set a specific amount of “thinking through it” time, similar to a deadline. Write a list of potential outcomes and consider seeking help from an outside party. Remain objective and try to avoid emotion and, especially, don’t let the fear of judgement from others hold you back. Forbes Magazine reminds, “it’s progress not perfection.” In other words, it’s better to take an action that might be imperfect then do nothing at all. Demonstrate your commitment to those around you In addition to pitching in and maintaining a strong work ethic, the way we talk about our work can speak volumes about our commitment to our organization and colleagues. A confident leader is careful to avoid taking too much credit or, conversely, sounding defensive. Consider the messaging that results from the following phrases: But also… learn to accept praise While humility is an attribute of strong leadership, don’t turn away praise when it comes your way. If someone tells you that you’re doing a good job, make sure they know how appreciative you are that they took the time to tell you. Accepting compliments can be awkward but positive feedback is as critical to your success as critical words. You might say, “I’ve been really lucky to have been placed on this team” but don’t squirm or change the subject. You earned it!
What does it take to be an effective mentoree? Yes, you read that right. This article is about the work of being mentored. Being mentored sounds passive, but effective mentorees aren’t waiting to be transformed. They are actively engaged and working in their mentoring experience. Mentorees will often hear that they should “drive the mentoring relationship.” Taking initiative, being prepared, acting on suggestions, and following up are obvious ways to take the wheel. However, there are more subtle behaviors that can make a mentoree more effective in their mentoring work. Below are some ways to take your mentoree role to the next level. Know your “why.” Many mentorees come to the mentoring relationships with a list of short- and long-term goals to work toward but may have spent less time evaluating their underlying motives. Improving your communications skills is a specific, achievable goal, but understanding what you hope to gain from doing so creates a different level of intention and opportunity for growth. Do you want to become a better communicator because you hope to become more persuasive, expand your influence, form connections, or strengthen relationships? If you are still unsure what you would like to accomplish in the mentoring program, take a moment to envision where (or who) you would like to be in three to five years. Ask yourself what it is about that future version of yourself that appeals to you—are you more successful, more confident, more influential? Understanding what is driving you will help you figure out what to focus on and how to steer your mentoring experience. Communicate your needs. Once you pinpoint your underlying drivers, the next step is to communicate them clearly to your mentor. Be specific about what you want to achieve and how you would like your mentor to help. If all you know is that you want to be more successful or feel more accomplished, don’t be afraid to ask your mentor to help you figure out what that means and where to start. Establishing what you hope to gain provides a starting point to help you and your mentor chart different potential paths. The more you clarify your goals and communicate your needs, the more effective your mentor (and you) can be. Ask questions. Effective mentorees ask questions—and thoughtfully consider the answers. Ask your mentor questions about business processes or skills you want to master, challenges you want to overcome, experiences you want to gain. Ask them questions even when the answer seems obvious or when you already have an idea or set view of things. Asking questions opens the door for new ideas and perspectives, which is a good thing when you are looking to develop and grow. The mentoring relationship provides a safe space. Take advantage of that open forum and unfettered access to the views of a seasoned, experienced mentor. Welcome and accept feedback. Being an effective recipient of feedback is key to being an effective mentoree. In fact, the ability to receive—and actively seek—feedback is key to being successful in any role. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to accept feedback that is less than a raving endorsement of how we would like others to see us. Even when we ask for it, constructive criticism can generate internal resistance that leads us to push the feedback away. In their book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well,” authors Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen urge readers to focus on cultivating a “pull attitude” toward feedback. They write, “Creating pull is about mastering the skills required to drive our own learning; it’s about how to recognize and manage our resistance, how to engage in feedback conversations with confidence and curiosity….” Ask for your mentor’s feedback and be ready to consider it fully—what makes sense about it, what seems worth trying, what might they be right about, how could you apply it? If you struggle to accept feedback despite your best efforts, this may be an important area to focus on during the program. “Thanks for the Feedback” and other books on the topic can be a great starting point for mentoring conversations and work around this crucial skill. Be grateful. Countless studies have shown that gratitude can change our brains, our lives, and our very selves. Showing appreciation can lead to deeper connections, increase prosocial behavior, improve self-esteem, and enhance mental strength. These gains align with successful, effective mentoring. We all have the capacity to cultivate gratitude and focus on what we already have, not just what we are striving for. Be grateful for your mentor’s time, advice, feedback, and suggestions. Be grateful for stretch assignments and networking opportunities. Be grateful for mistakes that enable learning, challenges that facilitate growth, and the achievement of goals, big and small. In each mentoring activity, look for opportunities to feel gratitude and express appreciation.
It’s almost Thanksgiving and, at TTC, we often like to underscore the gratitude season by seeking balance and appreciation in our professional lives. This month, we are going to map our way to thankfulness by cutting out the static and zeroing in on the things that are working well and staying steady, no matter how small. When it comes to life, grief, disappointment, and fear can strike at any time: the unexpected illness of a loved one, being passed over for a promotion or a project not going the way we hoped. Whatever its source, taking a measured approach to managing disappointment can foster personal and professional growth and push you to a place of gratitude. First, manage your expectations A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review HBR published a list of strategies for coping with work-related disappointment. They urged readers to arm themselves against the lingering effects of disappointment by first managing their expectations that any situation will be free of it. Even when something goes as planned, we might not feel as satisfied by the experience as we hoped. Though disappointment is sometimes unavoidable, the worst thing that can happen is that it festers, morphing into resentment and apathy. “When we catch ourselves thinking negatively,” HBR advised, “we should redirect our energy and focus on positive solutions.” While it might be difficult to let go of a disappointing experience, not letting go of it creates unnecessary stress and makes it harder to find forward momentum. Keep in mind that disappointment is an occasion to build resilience and widen perspectives. It can even help you make better and more informed decisions in the future. Rally around your long-term goals. Though this particular situation did not end up as planned, it is not a derailment. You might simply need to reframe your path. Bring the growth mindset to the front Shape shift your thinking! Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck developed the notion of a growth mindset which is centered on the belief that talent can be improved over time. People with a growth mindset look for opportunities to develop their talent through hard work and feedback, both good and bad. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, leans into feelings of inferiority and the belief that each of us has only a certain capacity for success or a finite level of intelligence. People with a fixed mindset begin to doubt their abilities compared to those around them. If you notice others are finding greater success, don’t slip into insecurity. Use your growth mindset to find inspiration in the steps they’ve taken. Examine their experience and network as possible factors. Focus on the positive Navigating a challenge or obstacle is a powerful opportunity to demonstrate your leadership capacity. Start with being candid about your disappointment and what needs your attention. Consider setting measurable goals to gain more experience in a specific area, better your knowledge or improve your outlook. Shift your language so that you talk about what has happened with positivity and persistence. Make sure those around you understand your awareness of why this has happened and be sure to convey your openness to grow from the experience. Let them know that this experience has motivated you. Now, welcome gratitude Seek out the positives. Think about the things that are solid at the moment. What is going well? Where are the bright spots? What holds steady even as the situation evolves? Lean into your successes, no matter how small, as you prepare to make your next move. This is your opportunity to launch a new and grow. If you’re finding it hard to access gratitude in your current situation, it might help to write down your next moves. Eventually, you will probably be able to see why something turned out the way it did but, until that happens, here are some productive steps to take: Consider your expectations. Do they need to be adjusted? Are you being too hard on yourself or others? Are you being unrealistic? Open up to a friend or mentor. It can help to seek emotional support. Try to talk to someone who isn’t directly related to the issue or in your office. Do something different. Map out a new project and set goals in another area. Taking some time away might be refreshing. Examine what is getting in the way of your contentment. What, specifically, is causing you unease? Is it something temporary? Is it in your control? Can you think of a different perspective on it? Sit down with your supervisor. If you are hoping to achieve something different, talk to your manager. Don’t be grim, choose positive and energetic language so they understand your genuineness.
Kathy Wentworth Drahosz traveled to Orlando this week to kick off a formal mentoring training session for the University of Central Florida’s (UCF) Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Mentoring Program! The WISE mentoring program matches successful professional women in STEM related positions with young women in their sophomore and/or junior year at UCF. Due to the pandemic, last year’s program was all virtual, this year we were able to facilitate a hybrid program (both live and virtual). “The use of technology has been a game changer the past 18 months”, comments Drahosz, “partnerships who may not have had an opportunity to meet face to face, were able to enjoy connecting through Zoom. Mentors from government and industry (Johnson and Johnson, Duke Energy, Blue Origin, Naval Air Warfare Center, Lockheed Martin, and more) signed up to help the students this year. The sophomore and junior year can be challenging for some students. “It’s always wonderful to see our industry and government partners take such interest in growing our future STEM women leaders”, said Melissa Dagley, Executive Director, Initiatives in STEM.
People often ask us- “how do I choose the best mentor for me?” This question is broad, but understandable. There are multiple metrics that contribute to a successful partnership. Experience is important, but is it more helpful to have years of experience or a certain type? Maybe it’s easiest to collaborate with a colleague who shares a similar communication style, but would it make a bigger impact to absorb attributes from someone who operates a little differently?Set developmental goalsThe best way to get started is by setting your developmental goals. Jot down some notes:What are your career aspirations?Where do you want to be in five years?What will it take to get there?Pull your story together as a pitch that you can lay out quickly. For example, “I would eventually like to be a supervisory IT specialist, so I am working toward a technical detail. I enrolled in this program to hone new technical skills that will help me get there.”Identify your ideal mentorThink about the capabilities or functional background your mentor should possess. Consider whether you are looking to stay in your area or bridge into a new career field. Weigh the merits of seeking specialized experience versus a rich and varied organizational background. Forbes Magazine (https://www.forbes.com/.../4-things-to-look-for-in-a.../...) pointed out that it doesn’t always matter how many years of experience they have, its more about whether their knowledge and expertise is going to be helpful to you in the job you’re doing or the job you hope to get. Identify a mentor who will push you outside of your comfort zone and who is willing to give honest, candid feedback.Create a list of potential mentorsOnce you’ve prepared your pitch and identified the characteristics of your ideal mentor, create a list of potential candidates. Research your candidates’ backgrounds. You might even solicit advice from an outside source like your supervisor or people in your professional network. Try to collect information from articles the mentor may have written or explore their contributions to highly visible projects. NPR https://www.npr.org/.../how-to-find-a-mentor-and-make-it... reminds mentees to “recognize the difference between a mentor and a sponsor.” The purpose of a mentor is to give you guidance and impart their own experience, not to get you a promotion or a raise.Arrange Meetings with your Top Two or Three ChoicesOrganize a list of five potential mentors and arrange meetings with your top two or three choices. The purpose of these meetings is to explore the possibility of establishing a partnership. When speaking with each candidate, find out as much as you can about their accomplishments and character. Partnering with someone who shares some personal commonalities- such as charity work or raising children- can make relationship-building easier too.Ask guided questions about the mentor’s background such as:How did you get to where you are today?What factors and skills have made a difference in your career?What have you found to be the secrets to your success in this organization?Then be prepared to share some information about your background, accomplishments, and areas in need of improvement. Be honest and forthcoming as a good mentor will also be evaluating you to see if the match will reap worthwhile benefits.Prepare as if you were going to a job interview. Lean in and give it your all. Be warm and enthusiastic so that the mentor has an idea of what it would be like to work with you.Prepare for “The Close” with Your Elevator SpeechAn advantage of using an elevator pitch when speaking about your career or aspirations is that you can show you are capable of taking the lead. Instead of waiting on the other party to direct the conversation, and potentially away from what you would like to discuss, you can assertively explain what you need and have to offer.Communicate your interests in being mentored by this person.Share your expectations of the mentoring partnership.Estimate how much time you plan to commit to the partnership.Explain why their talents suit your developmental needs.Once you have narrowed down your mentoring choice, e-mail a message to the mentor expressing (or reaffirming) your interest. Be prepared for the possibility that your potential mentor will not be able to accept so that you can respond with grace and professionalism despite the initial disappointment. Likewise, if you find after speaking that the mentor is not right for you, be prepared to communicate that directly and respectfully.Identifying and selecting the right mentor is both critical to the success of the mentoring partnership and a challenging task. Doing your homework ahead of time will ensure the process moves smoothly for you.
Some conversations are downright terrifying. Even if you are a confident person with competent communication skills, trying to fulfill a need without being able to predict the outcome (“Will she say yes?” “Is he going to be upset?”) can be overwhelming. When returning from maternity leave after the birth of my first child, I was fraught with worry over letting my boss know that I’d need to take the 4:50pm train out of the city every day to relieve the babysitter on time. When I tried to find the words, all I could see is how this new schedule made me less. It was a busy Manhattan office where few had children and many routinely worked well past traditional business hours. I agonized over the timing, the verbiage, the perfect rationale. The more I tried to get the request just right, the more I spun circles, moving from anxiousness to avoidance. Eventually, I couldn’t spend another second trying to perfect this question that I had convinced myself would mark the end of my career. There was a job, a newborn, a train, and a babysitter. No amount of handwringing was going to change those variables. And, as it turns out, my supervisor was great. She just wanted to know if it was okay for her to get in touch with me after 5:00 pm if something came up. Capitalize on the moment A lot of us are currently on the edge of transition. Many have summer vacations in the pipeline and we’re beginning our re-entry after many months of working and schooling from home. There might be something you are looking to ask your supervisor but don’t know how to get started. Perhaps you want to work remotely more often, take time off for a trip, or ask to be considered for a new position with more responsibility. We’ve spent over a year accomplishing our work completely differently than ever before which leaves us with a strong position for any changes we want to make. If you are seeking more authority or responsibility, articulate the way you’ve navigated the recent obstacles. If you are hoping to expand your remote working routine, quantify the output you managed this year from your home office. Be respectful and persuasive. Take the conversation into your hands In the TED Talk series “How to Be a Better Human” series, Daryl Chen says that sometimes we avoid difficult conversations because, even if something hasn’t been going our way for a while, we’re worried we might make things worse. He urges us to “move toward- not away” from the conflict. Be informed but stay humble. When asking for something, ask the other person about their experiences. Keep quiet, especially in the beginning. Once you address the question (for example, transitioning to a new project?) be quiet for a few minutes. Give the other person a chance to talk. Try to see things from their perspective. Why might there be hesitation on their part? What other issues could they have going on in that moment? If you sense things aren’t going your way, try to slow the dialogue by paraphrasing the other person’s points. Taking time to show that you are listening and thinking critically demonstrates your genuineness. A recent Harvard Business Review article described how asking questions can also be a persuasive tool. It requires humility to give the other speaker space to elaborate on a position that contradicts your own. They said, “When you listen deeply and sincerely, others feel less of a need to resist you in order to be heard.” Prepare and research No matter what the nature of your conversation, take the time to prepare and practice: Understand your organizational landscape as it relates to your request. What are the trends? Do you know anyone in your situation? Can you ask them about their experience? Explain how this change could help you do your job better. What are the benefits to the organization? How would it make you more productive? Is it a good business decision? If so, what is the return on investment? Write a workplan. How might you adjust your day to absorb this change? What would each day look like in the coming weeks? How will you take charge of this? Explain how you will prove your success. How will you demonstrate a positive outcome? How will you stand out? Articulate- for yourself- why this matters If you’re still having a hard time getting started, jot down three reasons why this is important to you. Project how your situation might be different in a few months- or even after a year- if things work out the way you want. Why is this worth the conversation?
When we talk about balancing our personal and professional lives, we tend to think of these areas as separate. In mentoring relationships, this can translate to concentrating on a mentee’s career path and where they see themselves in the future without exploring more personal topics like relationships or self-image. Focusing exclusively on professional objectives can overlook habits, beliefs, and other aspects that impact our perspective and behavior both at work and at home. The most effective mentoring adopts a whole person approach that recognizes that people have multiple “domains” that can be strengthened to realize greater overall performance and potential. This holistic method helps mentees identify how behaviors and beliefs in different areas of their lives overlap and how improving in one area can help improve in others. This may sound more challenging and intensive, but whole person mentoring simply expands the scope of mentoring discussions, which are still rooted in asking targeted questions, sharing personal experiences and resources, and helping mentees develop skills to continue their growth after the partnership ends. Here are some of the “domains” partnerships can examine to mentor the whole person. Professional. The focus here is on professional and leadership development. Mentoring conversations center on career ambitions and soft skills that come into play in the pursuit of those goals. Pairs work to define the mentee’s goals, interests, and skills, and develop a plan to achieve their objectives. Some pairs also lean into leadership development, exploring concepts like team building and motivating others. Learning activities could include developing a mentoring action plan, technical training, leadership interviews, or attending a professional conference. Social. The social domain encompasses relationships, community engagement, and civic responsibility. Many partnerships at least touch on this domain, particularly regarding interpersonal communication and relationship building. But those conversations can be expanded to help the mentee better understand how they function within a team or could help uncover underlying motivations that connect career choices to a desire to serve a higher purpose. Learning activities could include training on soft skills, like communication or conflict management, or identifying a volunteer opportunity within the organization or in the community. Psychological. This domain focuses inward, examining the mentee’s emotional health and self-appreciation. Here, mentors ask questions crafted to help mentees recognize, manage, and regulate their emotions and better understand how they see themselves. These conversations can help draw a clearer picture of beliefs or behaviors that may be holding a mentee back from actualizing their goals. Learning activities could include assessing personality strengths and weaknesses, reading a book on emotional intelligence, completing a self-concept questionnaire, or identifying opportunities to build confidence. Intellectual. Mentoring in this domain means unpacking the mentee’s broad-based knowledge and aptitude for analytical, critical, and creative thinking. Expanding these abilities is helpful in any professional (or personal) endeavor because they feed the mentee’s capacity for problem solving and innovation. Learning activities could include a critical thinking workbook, diagramming a problem, or discussing ethical dilemma scenarios. Physical. Physical condition has a ripple effect on the mentee’s ability to work in any of the other domains, impacting their energy and self-confidence. Health maintenance and physical fitness can be key to ensuring the mentee has the bandwidth to take on the extra work of personal and professional growth. Learning activities could include working to develop a new health habit or setting a physical fitness goal and arranging accountability check-ins.
Effective communication is a major topic in mentoring. Success at everything we do- giving and receiving feedback, wielding political savvy, networking, seeking career advancement- comes down to our ability to thoughtfully say what we mean. Over the past year, many of us have polished our online presence and dug deep into our toolboxes to work productively in a virtual world. In this month’s newsletter we are going step back from technology and address good-old fashioned writing fundamentals. Don’t worry the rules have relaxed Admittedly, texting and social media posting have forever altered the writing craft. Some of the hard-nosed grammatical rules we learned in school have been lifted, for example: it’s okay to start a new sentence with a conjunction (“But let me know if you can’t access the server.”) if it adds gracefulness to your message. You can end a sentence on a preposition (“Which session were you in?”) if it makes the sentence clearer. Even capitalization can be optional depending on the medium. The north star for correspondence in the modern world is clarity. In other words, your emails need not sound Shakespearean for the sake of proper grammar. Please do not misunderstand relaxing the rules for rushing your process. Be a careful writer and an even more careful editor of your own work. The final chapter of Strunk and White’s prized writing guide, The Elements of Style, urges: “Write in a way that comes easily and naturally to you, using words and phrases that come readily to hand. But do not assume that because you have acted naturally, your product is without flaw.” Be concise: fewer words make a bigger impact Say what you mean and say it quickly. Be polite and conversational but try not to couch your point in too many niceties because the meaning could be lost. Consider these two passages: Example A: “I hope you are well! Let me start by saying how grateful I am for the opportunity to work on this project. I have really enjoyed getting to know everyone and the very challenging work and hope to continue working with this team for a long time. I did want to let you know that I’ve actually had some trouble accessing the platform. Do you have any idea who I should contact for help with this? Thank you again. I really hope to see you soon!” Example B: “Hi- Who should I contact for password help? Thanks! Enjoying the experience and the work!” The second example quickly outlines the sender’s needs. Their straightforward phrasing also better expresses their genuine appreciation because it’s easier to see what they’re saying. Taking too long to get to the point is confusing and frankly, you lose the reader’s attention after a while. Be genuine but also direct and succinct. Here are a few tried and true tips for eliminating wordiness: 1. Qualifying words such as “really”, “very,” and “definitely” are distracting. If a situation needs more emphasis, then find a better word. If you are “really happy,” maybe you are “thrilled.” If you are “very concerned,” perhaps you are “worried.” 2. It takes more words to be vague. Asking for the item “somewhat quickly” sounds clunky and offers no answers. If you need your colleague to step on it, advise them to expedite or fast-track. Better yet, tell them you need it by Friday at noon. 3. Lean on key nouns and action verbs to cut down on unnecessary words. Notice how trimming Example A made the purpose of Sue’s spreadsheet much clearer. Example A: “Sue made a spreadsheet in an attempt to keep us organized.” Example B: “Sue’s spreadsheet will keep us organized.” 4. Keep prepositions under control. Prepositions are those little words that show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and some other word or element in the rest of the sentence. These words (with, into, up, of, for, about, because of, during, concerning…) should be attached to an object. While it is important to say things precisely, too many prepositions can cause a reader’s eyes to glaze. See how eliminating at least six unnecessary prepositions transformed Example A from a weighty overbearing sentence to a powerful point (Example B): Example A: “An understanding of what the organizational mission is about will be necessary for any employee working with the team who wishes to move up in this division.” Example B: “Team members looking for advancement will need to understand the mission.” Avoid the passive voice Passive writing, though hard to identify, can quickly weaken your message. The sentence subject should be the person or thing taking action rather than an action happening to the subject. One trick is to reduce the distance between the subject and the verb: Example A: “The brief was filed by Mark on Tuesday.” Example B: “Mark filed the brief on Tuesday.” In example B, Mark is one word closer to the brief. You won’t always be able to avoid passive phrasing, but overdoing it makes for dull reading. Check your writing to make sure most of your sentences are active. Cut diminishing words from your vocabulary There are certain words and phrases we should limit because they dilute our meaning and diminish the importance of our needs: Just Hopefully Actually Kind of Consider how those words can come across as nervous and undeserving, “I just wanted to check in.” No way. You needed to check in. Not just. “I am checking in because the staff meeting is tomorrow.” Or even, “Hopefully you saw my note.” If they have not responded to you, stronger language will urge them to prioritize: “Did you see my note?” Similarly, you aren’t “actually writing because” you are “writing because.” Also cut sentence openers such as “I feel…”, “I think…”, and “I believe…” Be convincing with your words and put your salient points out in front. Not “I feel we are on target for our goal,” but instead “we are on target for our goal.”
It’s been a rough year full of challenges, changes and setbacks. But in all of this darkness, one bright light has been a new sense of permission to talk openly about struggle and hardship. To say out loud, without fear of judgment—This is hard. I’m lonely. I need help. The hard truths that once made us feel vulnerable and exposed now help us feel connected because, no matter who you are or where you live, we’re all going through this in one way or another. In the mentoring community, this cultural shift sets the perfect backdrop for starting an important conversation about one of the most critical skills a person can build in life—resilience. Resilience is the capacity to not only cope with difficulties, but to recover from and overcome them. And like any other skills, it takes practice and intention to develop. Below are some ways that mentoring partnerships can make resilience a focus in their mentoring work. Start the conversation and be ready to listen. Finding opportunities to talk about resilience won’t be hard. Even in ordinary times, life is full of challenges and setbacks. Despite this, partnerships often focus their discussions on how to prepare for success and spend a disproportionately small amount of time talking about how to bounce back from failure. Mentors can bring resilience into focus by making it a regular practice to ask mentees to share the challenges they are currently facing, as well as how they are dealing with those challenges. What coping strategies do they use? Do they have a strong support system? What actions have they taken to overcome the challenge? What did they learn and what did they change to carry that experience forward? Acknowledge negative feelings. Part of building resilience is learning how to share our troubles with trusted members of our support system. It can be hard to talk about problems, failures, and hurts, and few things can be more dissuasive than a listener who responds by advising you to keep a stiff upper lip or reminding you that at least you have your health. It is always important to be an effective listener, but especially when you invite someone to share something difficult with you. Effective listening means acknowledging that challenges, big or small, can generate negative feelings and practicing compassion for the person experiencing them. Phrases like, “It sounds like that was a tough time,” or “That must have been really difficult,” validate a person’s feelings of hardship without dismissing or, conversely, magnifying them. Accentuate the positive. While it’s important to acknowledge negative feelings, it’s also important not to focus on them exclusively. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth. Mentors can help their mentees take advantage of that opportunity by helping them find and accentuate the positive in their hardships. With a mentor’s objective perspective and guiding wisdom, a challenging relationship with a supervisor or colleague can become a chance to learn how to work with different DISC styles. A blundered presentation can become the genesis for a three-way partnership between the mentee, mentor, and supervisor to identify ways to improve, chances to practice, and an opportunity to try again. Both of these examples illustrate that finding the positive is key to building resilience, and that being resilient is not just about how you cope with a challenge, but how you move past it. End your conversations about challenges or failures with a clear vision of the good that can come from this problem and an actionable plan to carry out a resilience behavior or strategy to bring that vision to fruition. Draw on personal experience. When it comes to getting through a challenge, advice is nice but hearing about how someone else overcame a similar barrier can be even better. Even the most accomplished among us has experienced failures and setbacks and has something to offer in the way of anecdotal evidence that this, too, shall pass. When it’s the mentor’s turn to talk in a conversation about resilience, they should be open and honest about the stumbles and hard times they’ve dealt with on their journey. Dig deep into your memory bank and pull out the failures, fears, insecurities, and bad habits that threatened to hold you back at one point. Share what you learned from those challenges and how you adapted your behaviors, thought patterns, and coping strategies from one challenge to the next. What did you gain from those hard times that you might have missed out on had you not experienced them? Revisit the conversation and celebrate the victories. Mentees will likely not master resilience in one conversation, and even the most resilient mentee can benefit from thinking critically about how to build or maintain their tolerance for change and challenge. Revisit challenges regularly to evaluate how resilience behaviors or strategies have worked, and celebrate their progress or tweak their approach as needed.
This week, I took a back-to-school photo of my three children- right there on the porch, next to the flowerpot, in front of our pink door, as we do every year. Only it isn’t September, it’s March. My kids are among the throngs of school children returning to school after nearly a year of learning on their computers in the kitchen. Returning to school was a big milestone! My sons shoved their belongings into their old backpacks. One resisted brushing his hair and the other tried to get away with a pair of mismatched socks. They were excited to walk into their school building but also understood that today was merely the day after the weekend which followed Friday- a string of ordinary days, halfway through the school year. My daughter took a much different approach from her brothers. She purchased a new set of colored pencils, straightened up her spiral notebooks, organized her binder, set out her clothes the night before and fussed over her lunch to ensure it seemed special. How different kids can be from each other, I thought to myself. But then I realized what was really happening: my daughter was creating a fresh start. Halfway through the year, during a transition, she saw an opportunity to begin again, jump start, rev up, reboot. It was brilliant, actually. Staging a reboot through mentoring We don’t need to wait around for new years’ or a job change. If we’re looking for a reboot, we can capitalize on a transition, the way my daughter did. Participating in a mentoring program, for example, presents an opportunity. Mentoring work expands our perspectives on our organizations and enhances our access within them. The middle of a mentoring program is a good spot to position a start line. Fresh start “buckets” Consider some of the major outputs of mentoring work such as professional development, enhanced networks, and technical skill-building. Think of them as buckets from which to pull a fresh start. Here are some strategies: Professional development- One of the first tasks upon joining a mentoring program is writing professional and career goals. Planning thoughtful progression toward meeting them does not need to end with the program activities. Let these goals be the launching pad for targeted discussions with your supervisor about the kinds of projects you want to work on and competencies you hope to gain. Put a standing date with your supervisor on the calendar to address your goals regularly. This will demonstrate your focused determination. Networking- You’ve been introduced to your mentoring partner and likely aim to make new professional contacts beyond. Setting and meeting networking goals in a mentoring program requires some advanced work. You need to articulate your experience and intentions quickly and efficiently. You also need to express your needs: “I want to learn more about…” “I hope to meet someone from this department because…” Once you put together this story, keep it close and continue to use it. Meet people in all directions, not just where you’re headed but where you’ve been. Whether encountering people in the halls or on zooms, keep using that advanced legwork to show your authenticity and drive. Continue to be an active networker. Remember: Look for opportunities to help others. Ask questions in meetings. Follow-up after meeting someone new. Be yourself. Technical skills- A diverse Mentoring Action Plan (MAP) should include at least a little bit of skill-building. Once the activities are complete, you might narrow in on one single skill such as time management or public speaking and commit to making that “your thing” this year. Say to yourself, “starting today, I will look for any opportunity to polish my public speaking skills.” Here are some ways to do that: Pick up the phone- at least once a day- instead of sending a text or email. Prepare comments ahead of meetings and spend extra time ensuring they are clear and concise. Use fewer words and be direct. Be mindful of posture and looking others in the eye. Minimize fidgeting. Put away your phone. When you hear a good public speaker, jot down a few notes on why they were effective. Practice what you plan to say. Rehearse the anecdotes and gestures you plan to use. Show charisma.