This month I was prepared to write a column focused on current events. There’s no shortage of topics these days, such as the surprisingly positive jobs report in January, or the odd contradiction between the rise in U.S. orders for manufactured goods in December and the data from January that suggest a slight and continued contraction in the manufacturing sector.
But this month’s cover story by our managing editor tackles the very hot topic of environmental, social, and corporate governance (or ESG) policies. Plant Services Managing Editor Anna Townshend reports on the ways that the global focus on ESG is impacting both plant operations and the sustainability software market. Also, this month is the first installment of our new column Industry Pulse, written by Adrian Messer and which will address issues and events facing our industry.
So this month, I’m turning to a more personal topic: mentoring. My career began as a teacher, in a college English department where only a handful of instructors had a science background. As one of those handful, I was asked to develop a second-year writing curriculum that would support students in the Engineering program. These were students with tremendous talent who also had been told their entire lives by parents, teachers, and friends that they were lousy communicators, and it meant something that their teacher could speak their language.
It was also my privilege to work at that time with the student-athlete tutoring program. This involved helping students push themselves academically, even when they were exhausted from pushing themselves athletically. Whether football players or track athletes, whether first-year students or seniors, they all came to the tutoring program in a moment of exhaustion and vulnerability.
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At its heart mentoring is about cultivating talent and instilling confidence, especially at times when people may be feeling vulnerable. Maybe you’re breaking into the field as a fresh college grad, or as a veteran engineer, and either way, no one told you about the uphill battle to build your contact list and get grounded in industry best practices. Maybe you’re a first-time supervisor who has no idea how to manage teams comprised of your friends. At that point, it is worth seeking out someone who will help you navigate your next steps.
Mentoring also involves advocating in an organization on behalf of your mentees, amplifying the voices of those who might otherwise go unheard. I find this aspect of mentoring is often based in providing others with what you yourself most desire, but may not always have had access to. Support. Friendship. Advocacy. Guidance. The feeling that someone in power sees how your work is adding to the success of the company and then communicates this upward and downward.
The best mentors listen closely, and then use that knowledge to build space, opportunities, and connections for their colleagues to succeed. Mentoring also represents faith in the future, of both your immediate organization and of the next generation.