Quis Mentor ipsos Mentors?

19 December 2017

Chris blog image

Blog written by Chris Morris, Group Manager at Interpret Geospatial Solutions

From 2-3 December 2017, members of the New Zealand Emerging Spatial Professionals (ESP) came together for a mini conference/AGM in Taupo.  It was a weekend of thought-provoking presentations and learning, combined with fun events and socialising. Throughout 2017, the ESP group have been growing into their new-found status as the most interesting and progressive kids on the block, and wanted to recognise companies and individuals in the community that have helped ESP members grow. Out of this, the Mentor of the Year and Organisation of the Year awards were born.

It just so happens that I was awarded "Mentor of the Year" and Interpret was awarded "Organisation of the Year".  I'm so proud of these awards, as I believe this reflects the values and attitude towards graduates and emerging spatial professionals that I have personally endorsed and which permeate thoughout our organisation.  I want to personally recognise Nathan Hazelwood, without whom the ESP would probably not exist. He is a mentor to many and had he not removed himself from the nomination round, I am quite sure he would have won and been well-deserving of that win.

Nevertheless, for me winning this award got me thinking about being a mentor and mentorship in general.  It’s fair to say that most mentors do not set out to become mentors, rather their role elevates them to a position where others look to them for guidance.  How that guidance is delivered though, is what separates mentorship from line management - a point I’ll come back to later.

I started to think about the mentors I have had thoughout my own life and came to the conclusion that mentorship is a very personal thing.  Most of my mentors have not been formal, in that they were assigned to me or me to them.  Instead they have been people that I have met, who have offered a take on the world that I resonated with and wished to emulate.  In some cases, they may not have even known that they were my mentor, because I have admired their capability from afar.  That is the thing about mentors, you don’t just have to have one and you don’t have to have the same one forever.  Mentorship should be fluid because you are not trying to become a clone of someone else, rather a mentor should help you become a better version of yourself.

Mentorship can be an activity that helps guide you through your career.  It’s something in which both the mentor and the mentee participate in, with a shared recognition that the intention is to gain insights or make decisions about a particular career situation.  Alternatively it can be a conversation had over a coffee that provides a bit of general guidance about dealing with an issue at work.  Both provide value which will help to shape an individual's career.   And it is this, I think, where being a mentor and being a line manager differ somewhat.  Mentorship is about guidance, helping someone find a path rather than telling them which path to be on.  It’s about sharing experiences, not defining an action.  It’s not about the company but about the mentor - sometimes company and mentor values will differ.  Ultimately being a mentor is about being a sounding board and helping the mentor navigate a destination that often they already have in mind, even if they don’t know it themselves.

So I offer thanks to my mentors, you have helped me become the person I am.  And I would encourage anyone who doesn't have a mentor to seek someone out, who can help you with some of the hard questions in life.  Their guidance can be invaluable in shaping your path.  And finally a huge thank you to the ESP for highlighting the importance of mentors through these awards.