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Rethinking Mentorship: What’s Your Particular Set of Skills?

Posted on October 6, 2019


leslie knope advice

Today’s Buzz is by Katie Babits – connected on LinkedIn and Twitter!

What I am watching: Unbelievable

What I am listening to: NPR’s Planet Money

What I am reading: The Tattooed Soldier by Hector Tobar


Lately I’ve been thinking about mentorship, relationships, and the people who have impacted my career. I have never belonged to a formal mentoring program, yet I had the privilege of knowing people in local government whose insight, support, advice and camaraderie helped me to be where I am today.

In considering what people have done for me informally, I realized that might be a learned trait I happen to pass on. With a background in local government HR, I have a knack for navigating the complex & tedious hiring process we all know & probably don’t love. And when anyone expresses interest in local government, from “Will an MPA help me get a job?” to “I’m thinking of doing [insert job that can found in local gov]”, my response is generally, “Shoot me your cover letter & resume, & how do you feel about supplemental questions?”

You see, I have developed a particular set of skills. And while those skills don’t help me find people who have been kidnapped while traveling abroad, they do help people jump into the next chapter of their career. I happen to love it. I still strongly believe that the right job is waiting for the right person, & vice versa. It’s just that getting that person to that job is done in an antiquated method that likely inhibits the right person’s name from being typed into that offer letter. So I volunteer my skills (albeit unsolicited) whenever anyone seems like they would benefit from them.

This is an example of informal mentorship. We’ve all become pros at something. Most likely we have all become pros at multiple things, & some of said things we are pros at because we just really dig the content matter. I have a friend, Jason, who loves systems. He doesn’t care what the content is, if someone comes to him & says, “Hey, I really need to whiteboard this out so I can find out how the system fits around my content.”, he will rearrange his schedule & book out a conference room with the biggest whiteboard to help someone get to where they need to be. It is not in his job description that he needs to do this. But it is something that brings him joy & thus both he, the random person in need, & likely the organization benefit from him sharing his skill. And he is truly a master at whiteboarding systems.

two dudes & a giraffe
One of these is Jason (hint: it’s not the giraffe)

Often times we think of mentorship as part of a program: you sign up, you’re assigned a mentor, you develop a schedule, you have checkins, they introduce you to people & you make lifetime connections. This might be through the Local Government Hispanic Network’s Padrinos/Madrinas program, the League of Women in Government Coaching Corner, the Veterans Local Government Management Fellowship, or the National Forum for Black Public Administrators MENTOR Program. These are awesome opportunities and I recommend checking in on what they offer. Even reach out and have a conversation to see if what is being offered aligns with what you are hoping to achieve. That conversation alone could develop into a relationship spanning your career.

What is unique about the above opportunities is that everyone participates on a volunteer basis. Much like ELGL, these organizations are full of people who are energized by doing what they love and using their skills to help others in their careers. My challenge to you is to think about what drives you. What do you get all Leslie Knope about? She loves parks & rec, I love helping people advance through their careers, my friend Jason nerds out on developing efficient & effective systems. So think about that think that makes you light up in a way that makes people want to listen when you speak about it because your energy drives their level of engagement. Then think about how you can share your particular set of skills with people who may benefit from it. It could be writing for the Morning Buzz about it. It could mean giving someone your card when it comes up in conversation, & letting them know they can reach out if they need help, a person to chat with, or a whiteboard session.

Conference check in

Recognizing that you’ve developed a particular set of skills is a great first step in becoming an informal mentor that doesn’t require dedicating a specified amount of time. Then keep your ears open & have the conversation whenever your nerdy skillset is piqued in a conversation. Share your knowledge when people are looking for a lifeline. Carve out a little bit of time for people who want to grow in an area you thrive in. Remember the ways in which people have helped you in the past, & learn from them how you’re able to pay forward through your particular set of skills. You may not be able to rescue people who have been kidnapped while traveling abroad. But you might just run into people whose skills have led them engage the brightest minds in local government. Or who advance inclusive local government by empowering LGBTQIA+ leadership. And you might be surprised what you can develop and create.

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