Take Charge of Your Professional Growth Through Self-Mentoring


ISE Magazine February 2019 Volume: 51 Number: 2

By Amanda Mewborm

As we progress in our careers, it can be difficult to find mentors. Great leaders who would make great mentors often are too busy. While there are many great formal mentorship programs through employers, alumni networks and professional societies, one opportunity isn’t being fully utilized: self-mentoring. To me, self-mentoring has four main components.

Define your passion

What makes you feel energizes? What activities or work events seem to make time fly by? I’m passionate about opportunities to make a difference for others also make things better and solve problems. I like to collaborate with people from different backgrounds and perspectives and work on projects that will make a meaningful difference as I only have one shot at this life.

What activities make time seem to drag on for you? For me as an extrovert, sit-ting in my office working independently for hours is an energy drain and mentally exhausting.

I use information about my passions and energy drains to select opportunities. All of us have opportunities to consider what tasks to delegate, volunteering, work projects, family activities and events, and how to spend free time. By selecting those that align with your passions, you can make the most of your precious time.

Identify and develop your strengths

Early in my career, I identified skills I wasn’t very good at and put energy into improving them. After exerting effort to improve a skill that was not innate and often didn’t align with my passions, I’d make some progress but rarely a lot of improvement.

About 12 years ago, my employer nominated me for a leadership program that included an assessment by an organizational psychologist. The assessment included timed tests that provided insight into my intellect and how I approached things when there wasn’t enough time to do it all. It also involved an interview with the psychologist and probably a few other components I don’t recall. One major takeaway I still use today was to focus on improving on what I’m already good at and minimize work not aligned with my strengths. The psychologist helped me understand that with very little effort I could become much better at what I’m good at doing. Meanwhile, it would take tons of effort to become better at things I’m not good at doing. This shift in my perspective transformed my approach at self-improvement.

At my next employer, our team took the StrengthsFinder assessment that lists your top five strengths. Knowing this helps you use your strengths to be more successful. It follows the same principle I learned from the psychologist – to develop your strengths instead of improving your weaknesses. We are all different, and your weakness is someone else’s strength. By putting each person in a position to maximize strengths, the team’s performance improves.

Find people whom you admire

We all see great leaders in action daily and want to be mentored by them, but we can mentor ourselves by observing them. What makes this person a great leader? What behaviors can you emulate? How does this person handle stress or a crisis? How do they support the team? What is important to this person? What messages and styles best resonate with this leader?

In my current environment, I am fortunate to have several leaders so I can observe them in meetings and in their interactions. I take time to think about my observations and how I can apply them to my own leadership style and actions. When entering a new situation, I pause and think about what this person would do. Looking at the situation from the perspective of someone I admire is an opportunity to gain new insights.

Not only does observation and reflection result in your own self-development, it allows you to predict how the leader will react in various situations. This can also help you strategize your approach and interactions with that leader. For high stakes situations, I develop “maps” with predictions about how everyone in a meeting will react to the presentation (their perspective) and score each leader’s emotional level around that reaction (how strongly they will feel). Developing this map has helped me prepare presentation materials to proactively address the concerns and interests of each leader in the room. I originally started developing these maps when I worked in sales, where it was important to know the stakeholders, their backgrounds and what was important to each of them. Since then, I modified the concept to serve as a mentorship tool.

Ask for feedback

Feedback is valuable from all levels; it’s not only important how the top executives perceive you. Since it may be uncomfortable for a front-line worker to give feedback to someone higher in the organization, find ways to get feed-back without being overt. You can ask, “What can I do to help you?” “How could we have handled that situation differently?” or “What are we missing in our plan?” These questions open the door for anyone to offer a perspective you hadn’t considered. This also makes you more approach-able as a leader.

Another opportunity is in debriefs after events. Schedule a debrief to get the team back together and ask what went well, what didn’t, what should be done differently next time and for any follow-up that can prevent the situation from happening again or make it easier.

Self-mentoring can be a powerful tool, as you don’t have to rely on anyone else in a formal mentoring program. The main components are to identify your passions, identify and develop your strengths, find people you admire and emulate their behaviors and ask for feedback. How can you take charge of being the best you by using the resources already around you?