Mentoring: Best Way to Learn Skills

I am fortunate to have had two tremendous mentors in my life. My experiences had such a powerful, lasting impact on me, I feel compelled to share my stories and promote mentorships. Last week I shared this diagram and received a good audience here in LinkedIn. I did not do any research or read articles on mentoring, this was based on personal reflection of my experiences.\

Benefits in Having a Mentor
Benefits in Having a Mentor

I believe all students and professionals benefit from a mentor, regardless of their field or discipline. When I first conceived Skills Based Approach (almost five years ago), I put mentorships squarely in the building stage. In A Skills Based Approach to Developing a Career, I dedicate a section to discuss how mentorships work with acquiring skills. I am convinced for many technical skills, learning from a mentor is the quickest, most effective way. You learn from a master who shares their methods and applications. (Besides the technicalities, is there much difference between an apprenticeship and mentorship?)

I had performed well my senior year in college but lacked vision of what I wanted to do with my career.  All I knew is that I wanted to design software applications. Coming from a small country liberal arts college, I landed a job in DC with a culturally sophisticated company. Starting out, I reviewed financials, did data entry, and some other tedious tasks – stuff not uncommon for first and second year workers; still it was drudgery. After a few months, I hooked up with a mentor – someone I have always had tremendous respect for. Together, we worked on an exciting new, innovative software application. In the end, we were successful – our client was extremely satisfied with our product for many years.

In this situation, I was empowered. I still use many of the same methods (coding style, file management, etc.) passed on to me from this experience. He was true; I appreciated clear, honest, and candid conversations. Personally, I met a chief advocate. In return, I worked extremely hard, made suggestions, and offered my friendship. I accelerated my software application skills by a couple of years and my soft skills improved; I became confident working with brilliant people.

In another mentorship, I had a job-sharing role with someone diagnosed with terminal cancer. This was a challenge personally and professionally. He was a gifted, late career software developer who built an application from scratch and had a process to distribute the application on CDs across the country. In about a year, he taught me the process, step by step until I could do it on my own.

I learned some coding skills from a master and a multi-step process to mass distribute a software application. But, more importantly, I learned to work with someone dealt with unfortunate circumstances, someone who invested much of his limited time working on this application. I learned respect.

I believe every student in high school should be assigned a mentor (according to one poll, only one in three has access to a mentor). Similarly, college students should have one– perhaps a professor. Finally, mentoring should be incorporated in onboarding programs. Mentoring is a key aspect of Skills Based Approach.


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