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Mentoring the leaders of tomorrow

by Justin Pelland, AIA, LEED GA
Design Technology

For leaders in any organization, it’s important to recognize that the junior staff of today will eventually become the leaders of our organizations tomorrow. Mentorship is an integral way for firm leaders and project teams to support young professionals’ growth and shape their career development. From licensure exam preparation to project visibility, we’ve found that the most productive mentorship experiences are built on dedication and communication.

It starts with time

Whether we’re racing towards a project deadline or clearing tasks off our plate, it’s easy to forget that time is the single most valuable resource we have. We can’t make more of it and we need spend it wisely. Mentoring, like all priorities, requires time. In prioritizing our staff’s experience and growth, it’s imperative that we give them our undivided attention when focusing on their needs and questions. We need to put aside time for junior staff, individually or in groups, to help them learn, understand, and grow. This can be in the form of 30-minute weekly check-ins, daily touchdowns, or less formal discussions over lunch.

Building alignment

With everyone primarily focused on serving our clients and delivering projects, it’s important to identify opportunities that align a project’s goals with an individual team member’s skills and desired areas of growth. This will ensure our staff remains engaged in the work they’re performing and help them fill gaps in their experience to better round out their skillsets. While a junior team member may not have the skills needed to document a complex condition, providing visibility into those tasks will prepare them to tackle those responsibilities in the future. Similarly, we should consider what an individual team member is interested in learning and then find opportunities to delegate work that matches their own ambitions.

Trust, transpency and respect

No mentor / mentee relationship can be successful without trust, transparency, and respect. The best mentors are ones that clearly and openly communicate with their junior staff, providing their mentees with a comfortable, judgement free environment to ask questions or request advice. Many junior staff won’t ask important questions or request help simply because they’re afraid of how it might be received or reflect on them. We should all do our best to ensure our team members are treated with respect and that we encourage them to come to us whenever they feel they need our input.

Mentoring beyond

One of the most important roles of a mentor is to serve as an advisor beyond project work and direct skillsets. Young professionals have a tremendous amount to learn over the course of their career, only a portion of which comes from direct project experience. There are a lot of areas where we can support the growth of our junior team members beyond the work they’re doing on projects including discussing the path to licensure, encouraging involvement in various committees or local organizations, and providing broader advice on career advancement. When staff feel that the firm is invested in their future, they will be invested in the future of the firm. As these team members become leaders in the organization, their community, and the industry at large, mentorship will have played a tremendous role in their success. By striving to be strong leaders and dedicated mentors, we can set an example for generations of architects and designers to come.

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