What I’m watching: Daisy Jones and the Six
(Elvis Presley’s granddaughter leads an ensemble cast that follows a tumultuous rock and roll band, its two charismatic lead singers, and their music from the 1970s.)
What I’m listening to: Also, Daisy Jones and the Six playlist (I’m a sucker for the nostalgia from the limited series and they have a whole album/playlist to keep the music going.)
What I’m working on: April’s Earth Month activities with my new Climate Action and Sustainability Team, including our first citywide Eco Fair since the pandemic
I’ve been spending my time with a lot of Millenials and Gen Z’ers lately, particularly those participating in programs I was once a participant in myself. My office is hosting a Coro Fellow who is participating in their capstone project as part of Coro’s experiential learning public affairs fellowship. And last week our HR Team and I wrapped up the Assessment Center and made offers to next year’s Management Assistant Fellows.
Meeting some of the next generation’s local government leaders is inspiring – the local gov future is bright. But after the process is over and all the excitement dies down, I’m often left feeling old, isolated, and unnecessary. These are all strange emotions for someone extroverted who identifies as generally happy, positive, and always building my “coalition of the willing.” It feels as if time has moved so quickly, and while I’m nowhere near the end of my career, I am definitely yearning for that sense of youth, excitement, and eagerness that seems hard to come by as one rises through the ranks of city government. (And it certainly does not help when a candidate respectfully refers to me as a “veteran city employee” or when a candidate shares in their cover letter how they were “born at the turn of the century”…. wait, what?!?) Yet, one thing that has helped me capture feelings of eagerness and youth and helped me feel useful and connected has been mentoring.
Some mentor/mentee relationships are informal and have developed organically over time, while others are part of a formal program I have elected to participate in. In some interactions, we have coffee and talk about whatever is on our minds that day. In other interactions, we cover specific training and workplace tactics or discuss possible career moves. Still in other interactions, we practice work therapy and commiserate, strategize, and problem-solve. But in each and every relationship there is coaching, mentoring, and connection and we each display camaraderie, honesty, vulnerability, and support.
Early in my career, I was focused on the traditional type of mentor – characterized as an advisor and support person for someone less experienced, and is often described as being between an older employee and a younger one for the purpose of career development. I was seeking guidance on how to be an up-and-comer, tapped for important projects and having opportunities to move up the career ladder. It was exciting to be in the presence of other local government leaders who had made their way into leadership and were taking notice of me and my skills, making me feel valuable. I think about how this made me feel when dedicating time to connect with mentees.
However, there are many other types of mentoring where colleagues mentor each other (peer mentoring) and where the traditional mentoring relationship is flipped (reverse mentoring), but all are focused on growth and development. And as you lean into your career, you may find other mentoring relationships to be more beneficial for where you are and what you need.
When looking for a mentor, I encourage you to think about the type of people who may be a good fit for what you are seeking to learn, absorb, and observe:
Decision-makers: Contacts who can provide you with direct leads, direct work, or bridge you to contacts who can
Information sources: Contacts who can provide valuable insight into companies, industries, trends, and people about whom you need to know
Cheerleaders & Allies: Contacts who will provide references, testimonials, and will vouch for you, will speak your name in rooms you are not in, or sponsor you to be in those rooms; gives you support and encouragement
And when you’re interacting with them, here are things to incorporate to build a solid relationship:
Show reciprocity/be a resource: For every favor you ask, return with something of perceived value; find ways to help your contacts
Show your authenticity: When you’re genuine, people want to get to know you and help you – people connect with people
Stay in touch: Connect in person, online, and stay in touch, even when you don’t have an “ask”
Seek to learn: Be open to learning about a variety of topics; there is something to learn in every exchange
Respect people’s boundaries and feelings: Be mindful of the limits someone is willing to go to help you, and be respectful of other’s needs and feelings
I appreciate this article from Forbes because it calls out that there must be a certain chemistry of reciprocity and mutual respect between mentor and mentee for the relationship to blossom for both, and focuses on traits in each of accessibility, authenticity, objectivity, continual learning, values, and being open to all avenues of human connection. This resonates with me and is especially true when I connect with colleagues at different levels of the organization who allow me to benefit from their energy, their different outlook and perspective, and their ideas. This connection helps eliminate my feelings of isolation and loneliness as I feel my age and stage in my career.
It also provides the following benefits and opportunities:
Building my team. I can nurture, develop, and help high-potential individuals within my organization into the highly capable leaders I can count on as I advanced in my career. I know who is aligned with my style and outlook in the workplace, and may have the opportunity to hire some of these folks to be on my team in the future.
Cross-generational understanding. I gain exposure to the experience, mindset, and network of someone in a younger generation. I have learned that what I wanted in a job around mission and purpose earlier in my career is somewhat similar, but also the grind and work-life balance is very different for others.
Exposure to new trends. I get to learn about current technology trends, social trends, and technical knowledge from people who may be closer to the trends themselves. I have learned how to maximize Teams and am now a super user. I now also know what cheugy means. IYKTYK
Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. I get to learn from the perspective of those with different backgrounds and lived experience, and what it means for them to be a part of our organization.
Fresh ideas. I get to discuss ideas and possibilities with someone with a fresh mindset unencumbered by years of experience with “how it’s always been done.” This is one of my favorite things because they can see possibility where you see barriers.
Personal development. I get to learn and practice coaching skills, have access to opportunities for greater self-awareness, and get input and feedback on my crazy ideas from someone who doesn’t report to me or is blocked by hierarchy.
Giving back and leaving a legacy. I can pass on earned knowledge, wisdom, and skills to the next generation of leaders, shaping the future of the organization through the people I might influence. This has become a larger presence in my mind as I sit with feelings of isolation and lack of value.
As I grow as a leader, people may choose to engage with me as a mentor for a variety of typical reasons and motivations. We’ve all learned about the importance of finding a mentor, and what I most appreciate about these interactions is that I feel like an equal, they are not transactional, and they are intellectually stimulating, helping me learn. Meeting with these folks can pull me out of my funk and energize me in just the way I need. If you are looking for inspiration, check out these TED talks on mentorship.