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Inspiration in your hands: Mentors

Amy te Plate-Church Published on 24 November 2015

When asked to describe a mentor, attendees at the Central Plains Women’s Dairy Conference in November 2015 shared these words: role model, confidant, coach, guide, cheerleader and supporter.

Each of us can probably list a handful of people who have filled those roles – perhaps a parent, another family member, a teacher or coworker – and we celebrate those supporters.

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In a mentorship, mentors provide very intentional support, agreeing to commit time and to guide a mentee (an individual who desires such coaching). The most effective mentorships are planned, with an intentional focus on goals and growth.

With the many different hats dairy folks wear each day, our personal and professional lives can be enriched through a mentor’s support. Let’s explore what a mentorship is, and is not, and how mentors can support our ambitions.

True or false?

Mentoring and managing are the same. FALSE.

Good mentors guide us as we work to achieve the goals we set for ourselves. A manager is usually thought of as more administrative, likely in a supervisory position and can impact salaries and career advancement. For some, the control a manager holds could be a barrier to a truly open relationship. Oftentimes, it’s beneficial to have a mentor from a different organization, farm or business, to encourage greater openness about feelings, challenges and opportunities.

Only mentees learn through the mentor experience. FALSE.

Many mentors will say they gain as much – if not more – as their mentees. Mentors often cite benefits of learning, gaining new perspectives, listening better, developing leadership and personal skills, giving back and honoring those who’ve helped them.

It’s important to live close to your mentor. IT DEPENDS.

With the technology at our fingertips, it is definitely possible for effective relationships via phone, video, Skype, email, social media – or some combination. “It depends” because this is a personal choice. Some mentees thrive with more face-to-face interaction. Meeting in person certainly can help you become acquainted, build trust and speak candidly with each other.

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Mentoring is only for younger women. FALSE.

A mentor can bring much-needed perspective regardless of age or experience. Consider that lofty goal or that big challenge you’ve been mulling over but haven’t yet achieved or solved. Perhaps working with a mentor can help make that happen. In times of transition – becoming a parent, joining a family business, changing jobs, being an empty nester and so forth – mentors can be an extra source of support and guidance.

A good relationship with a mentor will last a lifetime. SOMETIMES.

If you have a mentor for a lifetime, that’s fantastic! Appreciate those truly special people who helped shape your life. In a world of change, it’s likely that mentors and mentees will remain closely involved for a shorter, focused time frame.

A mentor needs to be someone in the same line of work. FALSE.

The right fit for a mentor depends largely on the goals of the mentee. Some goals may be dairy-specific, and many could be more general. For example, someone aiming to improve skills in group or meeting facilitation may seek out a professional who leads workshops or support groups.

How does mentoring fit for you?

A good mentor will push their mentee to set goals and work through obstacles to achieve those goals. Before seeking a mentor, ask yourself:

  • Am I really ready to accept a mentor? Am I coachable?
  • Will I set goals and work hard to achieve them?
  • Will I accept accountability?

Where do you want to go? And how can a mentor help guide your journey? The more specific your answers, the better, as those answers determine whom to consider as a mentor.

If you’ve recently started farming and aim to develop farm management skills, you may seek a more experienced farmer as a mentor. Ask a professional who works with several farms, such as a vet, consultant or salesperson, if they know a fellow producer who could be a good mentor. Perhaps you’re an aspiring agvocate wishing to grow your skills; consider a more experienced blogger or social media advocate to be a mentor.

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When considering who to ask, decide if you prefer someone close-by or if a long-distance mentor works for you. What qualities would you expect and respect in a mentor? Finally, whom do you know who meets your expectation? If no one comes to mind, who can help connect you with a mentor?

Once you have a mentor in mind, contact him or her and ask them as clearly as possible. Explain why you are seeking a mentor and what you expect. How would you like to connect, and how often? A common expectation is a one-year commitment, with meetings or calls every two weeks, or at least monthly. Because it is a commitment, offer the prospective mentor some time to consider, ask questions and respond.

Once your mentorship starts, respect that commitment by scheduling meetings in advance and sticking to those times. Agree to keep conversations confidential and discuss any concerns that may arise. Understand that an effective mentor will stress accountability, so respect a mentor who is persistent and expects action.  PD

Amy te Plate-Church is chairperson for the Dairy Girl Network Inspire mentor program. Raised on a family dairy in Iowa, she has 20 years of experience as a dairy industry professional. She is a communication strategist for CMA, a public relations firm focused on building trust through the food system. Email Amy te Plate-Church.

Traits of effective mentor partners

Mentee

  • Goal-oriented
  • Emotionally ready to grow
  • Leads in setting meeting times, goals and action steps
  • Coachable
  • Accepts the need for accountability

Mentor

  • Actively listens
  • Asks thought-provoking questions (without giving answers)
  • Connects to other resources
  • Is persistent toward accountability
  • Allows the mentee to shine!

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