I’m brand new to digital project management (DPM)—only three months of experience to date—and a ton more to learn. Almost a year before I started my current position, I started learning and networking. I realized that books and research weren’t going to be enough. I needed help. Being new in any industry is daunting, but add tech to that and it’s downright terrifying. I needed people to help me figure out my role in a new, exciting, and crazy industry. I wouldn’t be telling this story if I didn’t have such great people in my life.
A woman I met at a social event set up a Slack channel for me and another new DPM four months ago. Our Slack channel is a repository of information, conversations, and questions about ecommerce and project management. The three of us share interesting articles and insights, and we talk about things like imposter syndrome. This particular topic was a favourite, because it really addressed how I’d been feeling the whole time. But we also talk about technical aspects of the job, giving each other opinions on software like Asana and Trello. We have some good laughs, too (like betting on who attends the most meetups). We’ve really gotten to know each other. I’m a student and she is my mentor—not only that: she’s my friend.
But this isn’t all about me. Mentorship isn’t a one way road. Ultimately, the protege is not the only person who benefits from a mentorship. If you’re thinking about being a mentor, please know: I (the learner) am here for you as much as you are for me.
Mentorship is nurturing relationships
In a mentorship, we nurture our relationship and incidentally find out new and unexpected things about ourselves. Maybe I learn that you like kickoff meetings but still get butterflies before you start a conference call. And you learn that I get really anxious if my team isn’t at least ten minutes early for our client call. We open ourselves up to each other. Maybe we even feel out new social circles that challenge us to be outgoing and gregarious. This relationship building inspires of us to grow stronger attachments. We help challenge and temper each other.
Mentorship is trust
What is trust about? Trust is me being able to open up to you and count on you not sharing our confidentials. Trust is you being able to tell me about that time you overshot your estimate and how you made it right with your client. You know, the learning that comes from our first time blunders. You have stories and those stories help me be better at my job. But because you can reflect and consider your own growth as a PM, this sharing also helps you be better at yours, too.
Mentorship is feedback
On that note, we both need open, honest, and relevant feedback. You’re here to help me grow, but I can help you know how the coaching is going. Teaching makes you a better learner, too. We can chat about what we’re doing well, and what we both need to work on. We can tackle topics that you’re still learning on your own path which gives us both a clear PM plan to shoot for. I’ve learned that the key to getting and giving good feedback is to be non judgemental and as specific as possible. I’ve also learned that the best listeners are the ones who remember what it was like not to have the answers.
Mentorship is practice
Then there’s those tasks you do every day without thinking. Like brushing your teeth: you don’t think about how or when to apply the toothpaste. It’s a habit. On the other hand, if you go camping and stop brushing for three days straight, you start to realize the importance of great dental health. Our brains are designed to make routines the same way. They help us process important information throughout the day. The problem with this is that when we get into routines, our brains shut down, and we stop learning. You teaching me things is an excellent way to stop and review what you know. For example, my mentor and I meet every other week or so to review our schedule and budget. Because of this she’s forced to get out of her routine, be aware of what I, as a new learner, might find difficult, and be able to explain concepts to me in a way that lets me parse the why/how/when.
Mentorship is respect
I respect your history as you respect mine. I am not an empty vessel. You are not the jug. Instead, we’re both active participants in a relationship built on mutual respect. Let’s brainstorm together and use our shared experience to fix problems we might both encounter. You’re the expert in this field, but I have ideas we can share that might make you think differently about the work you do, too. My questions will force you to unlearn and relearn all over again. We’ll never know if you don’t say yes.
Mentorship is reciprocity
I’m not here to suck information from your experienced PM brain. I’m here to learn from you. So give me tasks. Have an RFP you need edited? Let me stretch my writing muscles. Need some QA work done? Let me find those bugs. These tasks will give me a platform for growth and will take some work out of your busy schedule, too.
Mentorship is a mirror
Think back on the people in your life—the friends, teachers, and mentors— who helped you become sturdy in your shoes. What made them awesome? The best ones look back and recognize the supportive words and insights of their own mentors. Great mentors can identify their strengths and their weaknesses; they know where they can impart knowledge and where they need to grow. They can also help teach students what it means to look in the mirror and really see themselves. Are you a mentor? I sure hope you give it a try. Sometimes it takes a grateful student to show you the teacher you were always meant to be.