It’s been a little over six months since I started working with my first Career Development Manager (CDM). Being new to Atomic, the role, and this type of relationship, I’ve had a lot to learn. Over that time, my CDM and I have evolved our process and approach to refine our dynamic. These are my reflections on six things that have improved our mentor-mentee relationship.
One element that has helped our mentor-mentee relationship grow has been meeting consistency. I’ve had mentors in the past but mainly reached out to them for specific situations. This is the first long-standing mentoring relationship I’ve had. Consistently meeting has helped me establish a habit of reflecting on what has happened since we last met. I now address issues sooner and receive more actionable feedback.
Flexibility in the Unknown
Not having had a CDM or CDM-like relationship in past jobs, stepping into this dynamic was challenging for me. I didn’t know how to best use this dedicated resource. To be honest, this is something we continue to work on.
One thing I do know about myself is that my brain comes up with lots of ideas. I guessed that in the first few months of our meetings, it would be messy and focus would come later. I shared this with my CDM early on. To her credit, she stuck with me while I figured out what I wanted to focus on.
Feedback is a healthy part of any relationship. While our goal was to openly offer feedback as it comes up, designating a time for reflecting on the higher-level process and outcomes can be useful.
After a few months of regular meetings, we decided to hold a retrospective. This went well and resulted in two main takeaways. One, we would retro more regularly. Two, we would structure our meetings more towards the now with a few guiding questions.
We collaboratively came up with the following flow:
- Pulse check – addressing immediate concerns/needs
- What is keeping me up at night work/home related (what challenges am I facing right now at home/work)
- What is a win since last time?
- Check-In on short-term goals/in-progress work
- What am I working on? How is that going? Any blockers?
Balancing Celebration with Critical Feedback
One favorite addition we have made to our relationship is to focus on what has been going well in addition to things I’d like to work on. Something my CDM noted was that I tend to focus on what did go as well as I wanted or what I wanted to work on next. This made me laugh as I’ve heard this before. What I’ve taken away from this is that I can work on balance: offering both critical feedback and acknowledging success. Especially when I reflect on my own work.
Evening the Playing Field
Having less experience sometimes comes with the belief that my mentors “have it all together,” which, in reality, isn’t true. I love it when mentors and role models share what is currently challenging them. For me, this humanizes them and builds trust. It sets the tone that this is a space to share the messy aspects of life whether that is personal or professional.
Hearing what my mentor is struggling with also offers perspective. People encounter different challenges at different career and life stages. Hearing about these builds empathy and awareness. Often in hearing these, I have found a new lens for how people approach and manage issues that arise. For me, this is part of how I add tools to my toolbox and grow.
As a bonus, this can also plant the seeds to transition to a peer-to-peer relationship.
Becoming a Mentor
At the beginning of this year, I started working with our Baker and Cook Fellow regularly. Roles now reversed, this experience has changed my relationship with my CDM.
I immediately noticed the challenge of working with someone enthusiastic and motivated, and who has LOTS of shifting ideas. It’s not unlike working with a passionate client who wants to do everything all at once. Then, there is the added challenge that you don’t get to work with them every day or even every week. So how do you hear them out, help them focus, and remove blockers so they can continue until you meet next? That is a question I am still answering.
True to the Atomic value of Teach and Learn, becoming a mentor is an opportunity to practice what you have learned and see your own growth. Rounding back to where this post started, mentoring has reflected my growth to me. I can recognize problems I wouldn’t have noticed a couple of years ago. And I now have tools in my toolbox to help guide our fellow in tackling these problems. I see where I can help and more clearly what gaps I still have.
This past year has been full of changes, and I’ve thrown a lot at my CDM over the past few months. I appreciate her willingness to roll with it and help me set a direction. We’ve had meetings that result in actionable takeaways and satisfying clarity. And we’ve had meetings where neither of us knows what the next step is and there is the heaviness of uncertainty. But we keep coming back to the table to listen, ask questions, offer feedback, collaborate, and help each other grow. Thanks, Jing!