Do you prefer reading books or listening to music over partying for your “rest time”? Or planning deliberately instead of taking spontaneous ideas when speaking in the front of a crowd? Are you feeling drained after interacting with a lot of new acquaintances, wanting to retreat? If your answer is yes, there’s a big chance you’re an introvert (or ambivert) like me.
Us introverts have to rest after a certain amount of social interaction. It doesn’t mean that we hate people… our brain has different wirings on how to recharge ourselves. Due to my introversion, I tend to evade unnecessary social interactions since young, which inhibited my social skills. Growing up, I realized their importance and ended up analyzing my extroverted friends to catch up. (Yeah, that sounds nerdy, I know.)
I learned that social interaction takes different forms and contexts. In the professional setup, these interactions come in various kinds – discussing in a meeting, writing technical documentation, listening to a person, and giving proper response. Out of all of them, I took an interest in a particular interaction: mentoring. And I want to share what I learned about it as an introvert in this post.
As humans, I believe most of us learn from experiences. A mistake from the past, for example, provides reasons and steps to prevent a similar outcome in the future. Thankfully, we don’t always need to learn these lessons from firsthand experience. Reading one’s experience through books is a great example. Another alternative for reading is (surprise, surprise) mentoring!
A proper mentoring could significantly accelerate the mentee’s growth. In the process, a mentor tailors lessons based on the mentee’s needs. In addition to the lessons, they also provide a living example for the mentees – an advantage which reading lacks. In my opinion, nothing increases confidence more than someone who models on how to do something properly.
In addition to the mentee’s growth, the mentoring process forces the mentor to grow, too. Besides the required accountability from “practicing what you preach,” the mentees could also drive the mentors out of their comfort zones through their questions. I experienced these on my career growth, and I’m thankful for it.
From a business perspective, mentoring provides a long-term value. On The Effective Engineer, Edmond Lau states that investing in your team’s growth is one of many high-leverage activities, which will multiply the given effort as a result. Mentoring is one of them since it will help the mentees to grow and take part in the mentor’s responsibilities. Following the mentees’ growth, the mentors could delegate their tasks and tackle more challenging responsibilities.
Last but not least, I have seen the impact on both being a mentee and a mentor to career and personal growth. My personal growth is the main reason why an introvert like me bother writing a post about mentoring. It also helped me to push my comfort zone a little bit wider every time I get demotivated as a mentor.
Make a one-on-one routine
As an introvert, I reluctantly start social interaction with others. My comfort zone as a junior engineer was working on my code while listening to music or reading through technical blogs. Sure, I could speak in front of the public or explaining in-depth technical details in a one-on-one setting, but those events require enough preparation and happen infrequently. This comfort zone was blasted when I got promoted and requested by my manager to mentor junior engineers two years ago.
Based on my mentoring experience in college, I know that I need to ensure my mentee’s growth by checking on them periodically. The context is slightly different, though – I still need to deliver my day-to-day job! Left alone, I might ignore my mentees due to my introversion and use my workload as an excuse.
To battle my comfort zone, I decided to schedule my mentoring sessions. I sent a periodical schedule for each mentee in my work calendar. Having it on the calendar helps me to plan my day, leaving me with no room for an excuse. It also helps to remind the mentees to allocate time for the sessions, too! On top of that, it prevents others from disturbing us during the allotted time.
When having a one-on-one session, it’s important to remember that your mentee is human. Your mentee has a personal life, and it affects their performance in the workplace. This fact has driven me to ask for their well-being at the start of a session. Is there something that they’re concerned about outside of work? Or perhaps a great experience from last weekend? The answer could be anything – A typical “everything’s fine,” a passionately-told story, or an in-depth discussion. Your mentee might be reluctant to open up on the first few sessions, which is normal. Try to open up to them first. Share your experience or thoughts when they share theirs, and deliver it in a positive language. Offer help when possible.
After discussing their concerns outside of work, ask for the work-related ones. Should they raise technical questions, try your best to ask their thought process first before giving the answers. If it’s outside of your forte, refer to others who might be able to help them. Don’t hesitate to ask them to explain the solution when they solved it – and appreciate them when you learned something new!
There are times when your mentee’s concerns related to the workplace. Listen to them well, since you are their go-to person to raise their concerns to the management. If you’re not senior enough to offer a helping hand, you could raise it to your higher-ups, too. It’s also a good chance for you to impart cultural company values or lessons – e.g., how to tackle an over-promised feature.
Last but not least, ask for their technical growth. What have they learned since the previous session? You could improve this by assigning a specific material or book to be discussed, which is even better if it applies to their day-to-day work. For me, I always assign new hires to read the Clean Code book for starters and discuss each chapter in each session.
Remember to take notes on every session, based on the date. Writing down their concerns and learned lessons will help you to track their growth. It will also help you to follow them up on future sessions. Those notes could also serve as evidence to the management during their periodical performance review.
Continue reading “Commit #8: An introvert’s take on mentoring engineers”