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Mentoring: Five Actions that Support Leadership Development

November 1, 2016

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Who is the mentor?                                                              

Halfway through the two-week outdoor leader training, Keer, the course manager responsible for leading the training, called us together to talk about creating a culture of feedback. The outdoor education leaders taking part in this conversation, myself included, traveled thousands of miles to Hong Kong. We are English, Chinese, Canadian, Indian, and American – citizens of the world. We have varying skill levels in the outdoors; some entering their second season of leading, others having led for more seasons than they care to admit. Not surprisingly, we also have backgrounds in different cultures and customs.

Meryl, a second season outdoor educator, chose me as her partner to conduct these frequent and open feedback sessions. I believe Meryl selected me on account of the relationship we had already begun to build. In the one-week we had known each other, as with any new colleagues, I made a point of getting to know her as an individual, independent of the group. In regards to feedback, Meryl wanted to enhance the interpersonal and technical skills she already possessed and gain new skills that would allow her to blossom into a successful outdoor leader.

When our feedback sessions quickly developed into a mentoring relationship, it was not a surprising transition; I was in my tenth season of outdoor education. Not all feedback needs to transition into a mentoring relationship. In the case of Meryl and I, we were both invested in the relationship and saw an opportunity for both of us. For me, I wanted to share my outdoor skills knowledge as other leaders had shared with me early in my leadership career. For Meryl, she gained consistent guidance in addition to the opportunity for improvement through feedback.

We set up a system for our feedback and mentoring sessions:

  1. Set goals for the season by discussing interests and known areas for improvement.
  2. Check-in at least once a week in a formal setting. More frequent, casual check-ins are good addition as well.
  3. Make a detailed plan for Meryl’s 5 –day programs instructing students in the outdoors.
  4. Shadow Meryl at least once a week during a lesson/activity she was leading.
  5. I would model and lead at least one lesson/activity per week in which Meryl could observe.

As a mentee, when receiving feedback:

  • Don’t justify the information being shared. Consider taking notes; I do this because otherwise I listen but then have trouble remembering the specific feedback.
  • Stay open. Don’t close yourself off. The responsibility of a mentor is challenging; they have carefully crafted the feedback they are sharing with you.

At the beginning, Meryl confided in me that although this was her second season it felt as though it were her first. We worked away from this notion over time. Meryl led activities such as kayaking with newfound proficiency. She facilitated new activities like map & compass weekly.

Perhaps you’re in the second year of outdoor leadership or second decade. Now is the time to find yourself a mentor or mentee: celebrate the knowledge we have and share this with other eager outdoor leaders.

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Lindsey Mersereau

Lindsey Mersereau is the Leadership Training Assistant at the Appalachian Mountain Club.