January 2017 is Local Government Mentor Month! All month long, we’ll be learning from people about how to be an effective mentor (as well as celebrating the people who have mentored us). Ashley Monroe, Assistant City Manager, City of Iowa City breaks down the How To’s of mentoring for us in this edition.
I’ve always been the mediator in my family, with friends, with co-workers. I’m the person that takes in information from upset, confused or excited people and brings it back. I try my hardest to give feedback without being unkind or abrupt. As I’ve grown up, I joyfully started to own this role. I relish being that even-keel for someone to come to with issues, concerns or questions. I acknowledge coaching and mentoring as a skill I love and want to share with others.
Now, where am I going with this today?
The skill of mentoring is meant to be shared. You don’t have to be a highly experienced executive to exchange wisdom with others. It’s YOUR experience. It’s YOUR heart that can be open to others. It’s YOUR ears that they’ve chosen and you have the ability to take it in and provide feedback. We should and we can do this simple thing for others. Really listen and draw on experience or knowledge of others’ experiences to help the person in front of you. Your base of knowledge as a teacher is now “the human experience” or “expert gamer” or “spreadsheet master.” You can do this!
Generally, it’s not as clinical sounding as the list below but you get the gist:
- Listen to the issue
- Ask questions that clarify the issue
- Ask questions that will allow them to see the issue from an alternative perspective
- If asked, provide honest feedback
For those who are new in your field: Ask questions. Observe who it is that you get along with, who you trust, who you see others respect, and ask that person. Ask them about their career path. Ask what they’ve enjoyed most or found most frustrating. Ask about their aspirations or what they’re doing to make those dreams of theirs a reality. Tell them what you would like to accomplish, short term, longer term, career-span term, and see what they know or people they can connect you to.
If you’re not the right audience for the issue at hand, tell them that, and suggest a different person, a professional counselor, a family member, a supervisor, HR, whoever it is that could really be of service in that situation. A small bit of guidance can be a real help. It can be frustrating when somebody who needs to hear what is shared and doesn’t heed that advice right away. We need to remember that the seed of thought has been planted; they have been introduced to that idea and may act on it someday.
Hold what they’ve shared in confidence (or not, if it’s detrimental to life-safety, etc.), and move on, being glad that they see you as trustworthy and an ally in their pursuits. The next issue they ask you, the phenomenal baker, could be which mini-torch to buy for their crème- brûlée recipe or what mandolin makes the best zucchini slices. (I confess that I am not even close to a “Chef-testant” so I’m mostly guessing that those are things that exist.) We are all people and have a range of things we deal with at work and home. Don’t be too pressured to stick to office-only rules – seeing the person you regularly talk with as a whole person helps a lot.
The field of professional government is extra wonderful because we borrow from each other all the time. We see what others do first, and then replicate it. We know most people in the area and might be lucky enough to know someone across the country in a city far away. Point is, local govies have an outstandingly huge knowledge base with information we share publicly all.the.time. We need to use it to our advantage.
So, whether you’re a baby bird, new to this strange frontier, or perhaps, a teenage bird swooping around the tree, scoping possibilities, or an adult bird that is totally chill with hanging in the nest, we’re out there, in this shared world. We can help each other, just by opening a dialogue of mutual respect and honesty. Somehow that analogy got away from me, but it demonstrates that while we each have a place, we won’t be there forever. Each of us can give a little knowledge to others. That info can help others spread their wings and it also adds to your experience as a teacher, guide, and compassionate colleague.