Mentorship Builds Meaningful Impact

For many, mentorship relationships have helped to shape their careers, including that of Oxford City Manager Matthew Pepper who shared an inside look into his mentorship journey with Georgia’s Cities.

GC: How would you describe your personal mentorship style?

MP: Personally, I like the idea of a two-way mentorship relationship. Unfortunately, I can be rather selfish and prefer to learn from an experienced administrator than offer my own insight. However, it is important to engage in meaningful two-way conversation. I’m always eager to learn from an old-timer, and I’m getting better at sharing my thoughts with others in local government.

GC: How do you keep mentorship relationships successful and engaging for both parties?

MP: At their base, mentorship relationships are friendships. Most mentees are just looking for a friend.

Mentors have a lot to gain from the relationship if they are willing to really engage with a younger counterpart. Here are a few ideas on how to keep the mentorship successful:

  • Set parameters on how often you will meet (e.g., monthly, quarterly) and under what context (e.g., lunch, by phone, etc.).

When you meet:

  • Talk about each other’s successes and failures.
  • Set collective goals (e.g., what will the mentor accomplish? The mentee?).
  • Hold each other accountable to your goals. (e.g., when will you follow up with each other?)
  • Be a sounding board: Sometimes you just need an outlet to discuss your frustrations about work, etc. without judgment.
  • Share some insights into your personal life— perhaps you just finished a good book or watched a new movie.
  • Express gratitude for your mentor/mentee by offering a sincere “thank you” for your friend.

GC: How would you encourage a fellow, emerging leader in the local government space to find a mentor?

MP: I recommend these steps:

  • Consider your career goals. It is important to find someone working in the field in which you want to join.
  • Choose someone who will challenge you. We all need someone in our corner to encourage us to reach our full potential.
  • Have the courage to ask someone to mentor you. Sometimes we are afraid to ask because we don’t want to be a burden. Generally, people like sharing their insight into their jobs especially with a newcomer.
  • Be a contributor. You may be young, but you still have some insights to share!

GC: There are some younger leaders who do not necessarily believe in the idea of a traditional mentoring relationship, but prefer to have more of a two-way, equally advisory relationship. In your career and experience, have you seen these relationships work? If so, what were the benefits? MP: Personally, I have not seen a two-way relationship in mentoring. However, like any relationship, it is important to have some give-and-take. Given their experiences, a mentor will usually have a lot to share. That’s a great thing. On the other hand, a mentee may have a unique perspective that would benefit the relationship. It is invigorating for a young leader to feel that he or she is being taken seriously by a seasoned leader. It makes you want to work harder to grow your skill set.

GC: What advice would you give to cities interested in exploring mentorship programs to attract, develop and retain emerging leaders?

MP: The short answer: Do it! It is a great way to attract young professionals interested in public service. From a practical perspective, it is important to do your research:

  • Talk with other cities that have mentorship programs about their experiences (e.g., What’s the goal of the program? What works? What doesn’t? Duration?).
  • Identify who of your staff would like to participate. You may find that many of them have already developed mentorship relationships with people outside of your organization.
  • Consider developing relationships with local universities and colleges to create a pipeline for talent. That’s happening now. For instance, GMA’s Local Government Practicum is a great program for both students and cities. The students get an opportunity to complete a meaningful project for a city. In turn, the city gets a quality product and potentially a new employee.

This article appears in the September/October edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.

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