Monday, April 2, 2007

Mentors - part 1

After my master's degree classes at Ohio University, I finished my degree by completing an internship at Disney's Wide World of Sports in Mega Events department (yes, that actually was the name of the department). DWWS actually just celebrated its 10th anniversary. I started there just two months after they opened. What a learning experience!

The biggest factor in my learning experience was the mentor I was assigned. I can't express enough how important it is to find a good mentor. My mentor (JC) was assigned at random and I was extremely lucky. If the person you're working for isn't a good mentor, find one.

Some of the things to look for in your mentor:

1) Someone who wants to be a mentor.

One of the funniest stories I've heard about mentors, and saddest really, came from my intern class at DWWS. One of the other managers assigned as a mentor asked JC how often she talked to "her intern." JC didn't quite understand the question and asked, "You mean how many times during the day?" The other manager's response, "You mean you talk to your intern every day?" That person still works at DWWS. Subsequent interns assigned to him asked to be moved to other departments and assigned other mentors. Find someone who's not being a mentor simply because they were assigned to by the intern manager.

From day one, JC was great. She let me attend EVERY meeting with her. Simply being in the room for the planning meetings and hearing the conversations at an upper management level allowed me to absorb so much. I was like a sponge. After meetings, we would talk about what happened in the meeting, why a decision was made, and then she would answer any questions I had about the meeting. It was the biggest factor in my learning so much so fast. The people in the room had decades of experience working in sports, and I got to learn from every one of them.

2) Someone who will let you be involved and give you assignments to help you grow (if you work for your mentor).

On the second day of my internship, JC said, "You're going to be the event manager for the Inner City Games." I'll never forget my response. I was scared to death and shocked. I told her, "I've never managed an event before!" Her response was great. She told me, "Don't worry. I won't let you fail. I'll guide you through the planning, but you're going to do the actual planning and manage it."

Too often, I've seen managers who won't let interns or young employees take the lead on projects. The key is that your mentor actually allow you to do the work. Your responsibility is to provide regular updates, ask questions, and get feedback. A good mentor should also allow you to make your own decisions and mistakes, yet not allow you to make any decisions or mistakes that will jeopardize the project.

3) Someone who likes to teach

Mentors should be people who like to teach and pass on information. They should sit down with you and review projects, review best practices, share examples based on their experiences, etc. Good mentors want to pass on their knowledge.

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