Being an effective mentor

Providing a path of light...
I have always been attracted to teaching. Possibly I feel this comes naturally to me as I come from a teaching
household, one parent a retired professor and the other a retired high school principal and director of education. (I guess that means you now have the right to call me out on my spelling and grammatical errors! 

I jump at opportunities to share and impart the little knowledge I have to those working with me and I get to know, and I am eager to learn from those around me. But many times, one does wonder if those efforts have any impact at all, as in many cases, I would move, change jobs and those I worked with and/or mentored I would lose contact with them.

I recently got a pleasant and interesting surprise when a colleague asked me to attend the Senior Project Essay presentation of one of our high students that spent part of their summer internship with me as part of our school system internship program. This particular young man had come right out to say he would like to pursue a career in Construction Management, so that particularly caught my attention. Yay! One more for the team!

Both young men clearly had an interest in the construction sector and that was great. One already had a mentor in his father who is an engineer and the other young man had several family members as skilled workers in construction. So one part of my job was done, getting them interested! 

It occurred to me, that I now had the opportunity to potentially make an impact on the two young men's decisions going into the future. So what would I do to be enable to all them progress positively on their journey of discovery? I simply decided I would do my best to show them what Construction Management was all about and what we do on a daily basis. being high school students, I had to manage the level and detail of information I gave and the best context. My hope was and is, the experience becomes a nugget in their information memory vault as they grow and move onto the other next stages of their lives and decide what path to take. So at the right time, that memory of that internship will come forth and assist in their decision making.   

For the summer they became my "deputies". I did not have any particularly exciting project for them to work on, but, I pointed out to them that Construction Management involves a lot of paperwork, communications by spending endless hours on phone calls and emails, not always having the luxury of time to spend on a busy construction site. I did my best to make their time interesting, showed them how to read a set of plans, and more, and sent them on their way! 

As part of the submission for the Senior Project Essay, I got an advance copy of his report. I liked the title: Construction Management: Building my Future. After the young man spent time with me, he also spent more time with two of my colleagues on their projects and also joined a building organization in his church, and even took some classes in Home Depot! 

A few point he made in his report were, I am paraphrasing:
  • He discovered that Construction Management was a complex profession
  • Construction Management required keeping a host of different stakeholders in check and constant communication
  • He dipped his hands into various aspects, management and the actual execution of a simple construction task. 
  • He designed a home as part of his over all experience and project assignment 
  • Ironically, he wrote, he eventually might not want to be a Construction Manager! 
  • He of course thanked all mentors who worked with him.. 
What I found most satisfying was his reference to a few of our conversations in the report, (Yay!) conveying he had indeed taken away some valuable information from him time with me.

More satisfying was his conclusion, based on his experience with myself and my colleagues, he was still interested in considering Construction Management as a future profession, side by side with actually becoming a skilled construction worker. So at least he was still considering the construction sector!

Ironically I do suspect his potential decision to become a skilled construction worker rather than a Constriction manager, was his fear of effective communication as English was not his first language. But I had also given him some tips on how to overcome what he felt was a handicap and let him know it could actually be an advantage for him to be bilingual. 

I also let him know that he appeared a rather quiet chap. I advised him construction was virtual full contact sport! A construction manager will find many situations where there is a need to be tough, firm and not fear disagreements or tough talk. But to be always conducted with a professional attitude and have the courage and professionalism to shake hands with all after a project is completed. 

I made a point to let him he should not forfeit his dream of becoming a Construction Manager due to his fear of proficiency in English, especially considering that was a problem with a relatively easy solution. I was excited to see him again and even more excited to see that our time together was valuable to him. That was all the reward I needed. I do plan to keep some tabs on him if I can to offer continuous encouragement. 

I believe being an effective mentor entails a number of key attributes, some, but not limited to: 

  • Be an effective communicator with the protege
  • Be an honest broker, give them the entire picture, not just your biased good or bad viewpoint
  • Tell them things they might not to like to hear so long as you believe it is to their benefit, the trick is to communicate this effectively. Constructive criticism.  
  • Listen to and understand their viewpoints, most especially if they differ from yours
  • Admit when you cannot help and suggest where you believe they can get the help needed 
  • Consider their goals and desires and how you can help them meet those goals 
  • Make sure they are able to have access to you as needed 
  • Considering you are probably volunteering to mentor, don't let them feel they are a burden
  • The above means, spend quality time with your protegee, phone, email, face to face 
  • Above all, of course make sure to ask why they wanted a mentor and what they hope the association will provide.  
There are of course several more. I have since signed up for my local PMI chapter mentor / protege program, and was glad i was selected, so I am back at it again. I think it is simply a great gift to share ones knowledge. I suggest you do the same and share yours. Chances are somebody out there would not mind learning from you. 


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