In her great guest post on mentoring, Amy Bland talked about the CALLI mentoring day and how the mentoring relationship is supposed to work. I wanted to follow up on her thoughts once I found my own mentor, and I’m pleased to say I’ve found a mentor for the year-long CALLI program: Nancy Maday, the Children’s Services Manager at Pikes Peak Library District. She’s also a co-founder of CLEL (Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, a fantastic organization that I currently volunteer for as a member of the Steering Committee–check out their website if you haven’t already) and is passionate about children’s librarians either moving into management or learning to lead from wherever they are in the organization.
I feel so lucky to have a found a mentor that so perfectly matches up with my goals for both CALLI and my career. When we chatted briefly on the phone to decide whether we would be a good mentor match, it already expanded my thinking of my role and how it relates to the whole organization, rather than the day-to-day aspects of my job (I also talked about this quite a bit in the post on the organizational map). I’m lucky to be a part of CALLI, which has a formal mentoring program as part of the year, but I think mentors are important regardless of whether they are formal or not. I’ve had many mentors throughout my career, and here are some things I recommend thinking about when looking for a mentor:
1. Look for a mentor who will question you about the big picture. My first librarian mentor has always been the person I go to when applying for jobs or considering a job change. She is always thinking about, and helping me think about, how this step relates to the next one. Having someone who will help you think strategically about your next job and how it fits into your career arc is incredibly important.
2. Think about what you would like to gain from this relationship. Do you want a mentor who is one step ahead of you in your career and can help you take that next leap? Or do you want someone who is several steps ahead of you, where you’d eventually want to be, and see if they can help you build a path that might help you get a job like theirs? Or do you need someone to help push you in your current role, whether or not you have any desire to move up in the near future? All of these are great reasons to have a mentor. Just decide what you want up front and approach the person who will help you where you are.
3. Remember that mentorship works both ways. This relationship isn’t just about you and your needs as a mentee. It’s also about your mentor. This article has some great thoughts on the mentor/mentee relationship and how you can be a successful mentee. All relationships require give and take. While your mentor will be your guide and hopefully giving you lots of advice and teaching you a lot, remember that you will also be bringing your experiences to the table and your mentor will be learning from you as well.
4. Come prepared to your meetings. As the mentee, you are responsible for bringing the topics you want to talk about to your meetings. Make sure you’re prepared. I’m keeping a running tab of notes about what I want to talk about with Nancy when we meet in person early in December.
5. Find someone you click with. You might be talking about sensitive issues at your work with your mentor. You want to find a mentor that you can feel comfortable asking really probing, sometimes difficult, questions. My boss had worked with Nancy previously, so I asked her if she thought she would be a good mentor for me. She told me she thought we had similar communication styles and ways of looking at the world that would make us a good mentor match. When I spoke with Nancy on the phone, that was reinforced for me, and I felt like we’d really work well together.
6. Don’t pick your supervisor as your mentor. Some of this is a dictate of the CALLI program (they strongly recommend you don’t pick your supervisor as your formal mentor), but I also fully agree with it. Not that your supervisor can’t be a mentor in your life–I learn so much from mine and definitely consider her one of my mentors–but for a formal mentoring program, it’s good to have someone outside of your organization who can give you a different perspective on things you and your supervisor might not be able to see as clearly. Also, see #5–you may need to talk about sensitive things, or work related problems, and it might be impossible to be as frank as you should be with your boss.
Those are my thoughts on finding a great mentor. If you don’t have anyone in your life you consider a mentor, you don’t have to wait to be a part of a program like CALLI to find one. Librarians are some of the most generous, helpful people on earth. Look around in your community and reach out to someone you think you could learn from. You won’t regret it!