Safety Leader

Friends in High Places: Mentorship’s role in personal and business environments

Published On
Aug 4, 2022

A mentor’s purpose is to help you grow as a person and become the best version of yourself. This may involve helping you achieve personal or career goals, introducing you to new ways of thinking, challenging your limiting assumptions, sharing valuable life lessons and much more. A mentor helps you grow your skills, make better decisions and gain new perspectives on your life and career.

Many people may never truly experience mentorship. Mentorships have significant benefits in business and shaping one’s life. I have been the mentor and the mentee, so I feel compelled to offer some personal and professional insight and perspectives on this process.

Beyond construction

While mentorship can be directly applied to safety-related processes in the electrical industry, its value and importance extend far beyond construction. I believe my success in the electrical industry is a result of my education, training and experience, but most importantly, my mentors. I honestly believe that being mentored had a monumental impact on my career and the life I’ve been able to build and enjoy.

Even more rewarding was the ability to mentor others and watch them grow. There is a huge sense of accomplishment knowing that I’ve helped someone grow and become successful. Mentors don’t need any credit or their name in lights, because that is not what being a mentor is about. Instead, it is the desire to pass on their wisdom and knowledge, and it’s obvious when the mentoring works.

It is often said that poor parenting results in significant challenges for the children and parents. I believe this to be true. However, many people are exceptional parents, even in these difficult times. I believe the mentoring process starts early with good parenting.

I was fortunate to have excellent parents. They were loving and tough when they needed to be, but they were always fair. I believe that their style of parenting had the most impact on shaping my character, ethics, moral values and life outlook.

I’m proud to say that I’ve been very fortunate to receive excellent training and education to facilitate my growth in the electrical field. I knew I wanted to work in this field at 16. While in school, sometimes I took advantage of the excellent opportunities to learn, but sometimes I did not. Like many students, I did better at subjects I liked and not as well at the ones I didn’t.

I fully understand and appreciate that my training and college education made it possible for me to make a living in this industry. For almost 50 years, I’ve been fortunate to grow and excel in the electrical industry. I’ve achieved success as a journey-level electrician, foreman and general foreman, and was fortunate to work in electrical code enforcement. I’ve been truly blessed to have attained all this experience. As I approach the later years of my career, my desire to give back to the industry is now stronger than ever.

A balanced life

All the trade education, training and experience helped me along the way, but it didn’t really do that much to help me make my life a balanced one. That’s where the mentoring comes in. Making a meaningful life requires a whole different level of experience that only comes from mentorship. As fortunate as I was to have all my training and education in the electrical field, I have also been, throughout my life, fortunate to have excellent mentors. That is where the rubber meets the road.

Knowing what I know now, I honestly believe that if I had to choose between formal education or a few outstanding mentors, I’d choose the mentors every single time, hands down. Working to make a living often doesn’t open a door to making a meaningful life. However, I believe working to make a life opens the door to earning a living. You can set tangible, attainable goals all your life and still accomplish nothing in the big scheme of things.

The first step to getting serious about building a meaningful life is getting a mentor. However, it can’t be just anyone. A good mentor must be right for you to be effective. Mentorship is a relationship that endures, but only when it is built on confidence, trust, understanding and support. It takes a serious commitment of time and communication.

A good mentor is one who cares about you and your success and will be completely honest, even if it hurts. The right mentoring can have a positive impact in someone’s business and life. There is an apparent but unspoken bond that develops between a mentor and mentee.

Some key tenets of effective mentorship are providing the right training, advice, positive direction and motivation; celebrating successes; helping your mentee developing attainable goals; and providing unconditional support and coaching.

Finding a good mentor

There are some important traits to keep in mind while identifying the right mentor for you. First, they should be enthusiastic about the opportunity and passionate about helping you and others. Their objectives and rewards are to see you grow and become successful. Don’t attempt to drag someone into a mentoring role if they aren’t all in from the beginning.

A good mentor helps lead you where you want and need to go. They should align with your needs, aspirations and talents. They learn to understand you fully to the point of helping you develop wisdom and exercise good judgment and critical decision­-making. Mentors should not try to mold you into their clone. They should help you become the best you.

A good mentor will often push you out of your comfort zone. They know that “getting too comfortable” is the enemy of personal and professional growth. They will encourage you to try new things, experiment and even fail in some instances. A good mentor will let their mentee get to the edge and discover valuable lessons that support growth and prepare them for their future. Often these lessons direct to business and real-life scenarios. Better decision-making, judgment and understanding comes from the unselfish work of a good mentor.

Your mentor needs to know you on multiple levels, maybe even better than you know yourself. That means they should be an excellent listener who does not allow themselves to be distracted and won’t be afraid of a little silence while they consider what you say. Good mentors will always “be there” even when they are not physically near you. The vision and values they instill live and grow within you, and when it’s time to apply them, they’ll be there for you.

Good mentors provide important feedback: the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly. They will “tell it like it is.” However, they may not always provide you with the feedback you want to hear or what you were hoping for. This is a sign of a mentor who cares deeply about you, and the success will come.

How to be The Best

The best mentors I’ve had seldom told me straight out that my judgment was poor or that I was wrong. They asked questions so that I could see why I was wrong without being told. Those were the real hard lessons that stuck with me and helped in life more times than I can count. I’m grateful to this day for it. In life and your career, you may be able to go it alone just fine, but you are likely to reach your full potential and life fulfillment if you have a little help along the way. Seek out the right mentor and your life will certainly be better for it.

Mentorship can be an integral part of succession planning, but there is a big difference. In the safety aspect of the construction industry, there is a mentoring gap that needs to be filled. Below are a few benefits of establishing mentorship programs:

  • Increased retention levels
  • Reduced turnover due to higher employee satisfaction
  • Increased engagement among underrepresented employees
  • Increased creativity, productivity and employee satisfaction
  • More well-trained employees from pairing them with an experienced employee(s)

Tying a mentorship program to company initiatives and core values is an effective way to gain support. Organizational mentorship programs can be used for knowledge transfer from senior leaders to high-potential employees and skill and employee development, while supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in leadership.

About the Author

Michael Johnston

Executive Director of Standards and Safety, NECA

Michael Johnston is NECA’s executive director of standards and safety. He is a member of the NEC Correlating Committee, NFPA Standards Council, IBEW, UL Electrical Council and NFPA’s Electrical Section. Reach him at mj@necanet.org.

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