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Staff Leadership and Management

Walking the Walk

mentor

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”
– Oprah Winfrey

“Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves.”
–Stephen Covey, The 8th habit

The two quotes above speak so powerfully to the importance of having a mentor alongside you in your life’s journey.

I’ve been fortunate to have had a few mentors beside me in my journey and as I consider our work in after school I’d like to make the case for more mentors/mentee relationships. In order to that, I’d like to present some of the characteristics of such relationships from my own experience.

Each of my most effective mentors lived by example; in other words, they “walked the talk”. They set the example by:

1) Seeing the potential in me and believing in me. Coming from my humble beginnings, i.e., growing up in a boxcar on the railroad tracks doesn’t necessarily come with a long list of “leadership credentials”. However, each of my mentors saw that “magical something” that I didn’t necessarily see and wanted me to see it, to believe it.

2) Caring about me on a personal level. Whenever I was in their midst, I felt important, worthy of their time. You know that feeling you get when someone makes you feel “significant”; that somehow you “matter” in this life. They would connect with me in such a way that I began to care more about how I “showed up” for work, for life.

3) Seeing me as a “partner”. I wasn’t a project to work on or improve. They walked alongside me, not from behind “pushing me” or in front, “pulling me”. I felt honored that they saw me as an “equal” and they cared about my successes and were willing to invest in me personally.

4) Spending time with me. Mentoring requires that you spend time with your mentee. My mentors went to great lengths to make time for me. They saw it as an investment not because they “had to” but rather, they “wanted to”. They were selfless, willing to make themselves available in person, by phone or email.

5) Speaking truth with me. As a mentor they showed great empathy and were non-judgmental. They listened more than they talked. They provided a space that was “emotionally safe” where we could be authentic. They were sincere and encouraging yet able to provide honest and insightful feedback. They challenged me to push through my own fears and shortcomings, to think “outside the box”, and to test my own boundaries. And yes, they were extremely “patient” with me.

So, for all the reasons above, I believe we can improve the capacities and competencies of individuals in our after school programs when we commit to being a mentor or being a mentee.

Author: Gloria Halley

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