By Barbara Zlatnik, CAE
As someone in the later stage of her career, I’ve been searching for ways to give back – to society and to the profession that became my life’s work entirely by accident. (Sound familiar?) I’m active with the Houston Society of Association Executives, an organization that is near and dear to my heart. But when Education & Events Director Aaron Hernandez, CAE reached out to me about serving as a mentor to a member of the 2017 Leadership TSAE class, I was delighted for the opportunity, albeit nervous about something I hadn’t done before in a formal way. I was happy to serve again in 2019.
There are the more obvious benefits of mentoring: the rewarding feeling you get from helping a colleague, receiving as much or more from the mentee relationship as you give to it, and the opportunity to exercise and strengthen your leadership and counseling skills. One less obvious benefit is the opportunity to participate in the Leadership TSAE program, a simply phenomenal opportunity. I can’t say enough positive things about this program. If you have early to mid-career staff, encourage them to apply. I believe it is a career and life-changing experience.
As we’ve all joked about at one time or another, even our mom/partner/best friend really has no idea what we do. As for new acquaintances, we all kind of dread the “So, what do you do?” question. Like you, I go through my whole spiel: “I work for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. I’m staff support for a number of their technical divisions made up of volunteers that develop content, network and learn within various technical disciplines.” Typically, the next question is “So, you’re a mechanical engineer?” Umm, no … and I’ll try again, trying to relate it to an association with which they might be familiar.
In a mentoring relationship, similar to participating in TSAE, ASAE or similar organizations, we get to skip all that confusion and jump right to talking about our challenges, trials, joys and successes. It’s such a relief to be in that safe space, one on one, with a person you get to know over time.
I read in one article about mentoring that “you shouldn’t try to boil the ocean” during your interactions. How to be a great manager, how to be a strategic leader, etc., might be too big of topics for bi-weekly, one-hour meetings. For me, we fell into a natural rhythm of the mentee sharing challenges, me asking probing questions and then sharing how I might have handled a similar challenge in my career. We discussed how my situation was different, how it was similar and possible solutions.
I think it’s hard for some people to share failures. If you want to be a mentor, I think it’s absolutely critical that you are willing to share mistakes and what didn’t work. The “how not to do something” conversation is probably one of the most rewarding a mentee will have. I may be biased, but I had two outstanding mentees. These are women who I admire and of whom I’m so proud. They are excelling in their careers, fighting battles, working through issues and achieving amazing success. I can say without a doubt that I received more from the relationship than I gave. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to know them and be a part of their professional lives. And I’m happy to say that we have continued to get together to catch up and see each other through professional challenges and change.
Barbara Zlatnik, CAE, is the Senior Manager, Segment Operations for the Design, Materials & Manufacturing Segment of ASME. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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