May 08 2013

Mentoring Advice for the Next Generation of Higher Ed IT Leaders

New IT leaders should seek advice for climbing the ladder of success.

To progress in a career in today's increasingly competitive workforce, it's not enough to simply possess relevant knowledge, skills and abilities. Mentors can make all the difference in whether a professional reaches his or her career goals.

Although the importance of mentors in professional ­development has long been recognized, today's mentoring has evolved beyond the traditional one-on-one, hierarchical mentor/mentee relationship into mentoring styles that embrace the increasing complexity of the IT landscape, as well as new avenues of ­interaction such as social ­networking.

Throughout my career, I've been blessed with the help of many mentors, without whom I wouldn't be where I am today. Certainly I ­benefited greatly from traditional one-on-one mentoring relationships with more experienced individuals in the field, but I benefited equally from other types of mentors, particularly my peers.

Traditional mentoring relationships have provided me with a ­number of expected benefits, such as sponsorship for promotions and greater organizational visibility to ­allow me to develop valuable professional relationships; however, I've also found peer mentoring invaluable. I now meet with one of my peer mentoring groups biweekly via Google+ Hangouts, which allows us to video chat as a group using stand­ard webcams. Four or five of us in this group share a common bond in that we are first-time CIOs. Our video chats allow us to share common experiences, provide mutual support and bounce ideas off peers who don't work on the same campus.

In 2010, I had the honor of being ­selected as the chairwoman of the EDUCAUSE Professional ­Development Advisory Committee.One of our projects that year was to update the EDUCAUSE ­Mentoring Kit (­special-topic-programs/mentoring) to ­reflect new styles of ­mentoring that have arisen from societal changes and the adoption of new ­technologies in ­communication.

New Schools of Thought

Although traditional one-on-one mentoring is still valuable, different mentoring styles now ­incorporate nonhierarchical relationships between individuals, varying time commitments and a variety of ­mentor roles.

The "circle" style of mentoring, for instance, involves a group of peers who are co-learners and who act as both mentors and mentees, sharing knowledge with each other.

The "invisible" style of mentoring takes advantage of the rapid ­increase in the amount of information available electronically. A mentee may never actually meet an ­invisible mentor, but his or her success — and what aided it — is the subject of the ­mentee's intense research.

Mentoring relationships aren't ­always successful. A winning mentoring relationship will more likely come about when proactive steps are taken, such as creating a ­professional development plan to gain ­self-­awareness, to focus on ­professional goals and to facilitate development of steps required to reach those goals; identifying what mentoring functions are top priorities; selecting the mentoring style or styles that best suit those ­functions; and setting clear ­expectations for how to conduct the mentoring relationship, and how each ­participant hopes to benefit. ­

Certainly those who have bene­fited from a mentor's help should consider paying it forward. Become a mentor and help someone else. You might end up with the most valuable takeaway of all.