January is National Mentoring Month and what better way to start a new year than to reflect on the impact a mentor had on your career. Better still, how can you be a mentor to someone as they navigate their professional development? We reached out to our ICMA network and pulled together helpful tips on how to prepare to be a successful mentor. 

8 questions to ask yourself before mentoring   

When looking to serve as a mentor, consider the following questions to ensure you have the right mindset and availability. Remember, at its core, mentoring is about relationship building and service. This relationship, however short or long, could potentially develop a future local government manager.  

  1. Are you a good listener?
  2. Do you have the time and attention to dedicate to mentoring?
  3. Are you willing to serve as a role model?
  4. Are you prepared to provide constructive feedback?
  5. Do you have a genuine commitment to take an active role in someone’s life?
  6. Can your personal, professional, and cultural experiences positively influence your mentorship?
  7. Does your job function offer real-life examples to help a mentee?
  8. Will you celebrate and support your mentee's accomplishments, big and small?

When in doubt, reflect. Former city government employee and current ICMA staff member Jessica Cowles suggests,

“Think about all of those individuals who have had a meaningful impact on your own career. First, thank them! Then consider how you can provide that guidance and inspiration for someone else." 

What makes for a successful mentorship

On the flip side, a mentee needs to be engaged, a good listener, open to feedback, and willing to share their experiences. A good match can make the difference in communication, goal-setting, and managing expectations. An eagerness from both parties can result in a mutually beneficial partnership. Acclaimed writer and activist Maya Angelou simply stated, “In order to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care. You must care. You don’t have to know how many square miles are in Idaho, you don’t need to know what is the chemical makeup of chemistry, or of blood or water. Know what you know and care about the person, care about what you know, and care about the person you’re sharing with.”

Danya, an engineer and local government professional states,

“[Mentoring] completely changed my life. It’s changed my outlook on career building, knowing yourself. Just having a sounding wall to bounce ideas off of. Mentoring has been very rewarding for me because now I feel like I have someone on my side cheering me on. I’ve never had that feeling before.”

As a mentor, Danya enjoys mentoring because of her passion for breaking the misconceptions of women in the science field.

Familiarity and diversity are important when choosing a mentor. You can get a broader perspective from both like-minded individuals and colleagues with different viewpoints. 

“When you’re picking mentors or folks you admire or want to learn from, I would suggest you have at least one mentor who is kind of a lot like you so they can share experiences in how they worked through; but then also intentionally choose others and get a variety so you can ask them about their perspective of similar things or things in general.” - Penny Ferguson, county manager, Johnson County, Kansas.

Practical Tools and Mentoring Resources

Looking for an opportunity to mentor? Consider ICMA’S Coaching Program, now in its fourth year. The coaching service supports individuals interested in a career in local government. “The ICMA Coaching Program aims to help emerging leaders accelerate their development and fill talent gaps at all levels,” says ICMA Senior Advisor and Next Generation Initiatives consultant Dr. Frank Benest. To explore one-on-one coaching via CoachConnect, visit icma.org/1-1-coaching

Join the 6,000 who participate in our free coaching webinars. Session topics vary. 

If you relate to Danya and Penny, you’ll want to listen to the rest of Local Gov Life podcast episode from season four titled, “Learn as a mentee, be a mentor, and pay it forward”. ICMA members shared their real-life experiences as mentees and mentors and the difference it made in their professional lives.

If you or someone you know is a retired manager who is willing to use their expertise to support the next generation of government leaders, then sign up for ICMA’s Senior Advisors Program.  ICMA Senior Advisor Ed Daley states, "Every mentoring relationship is different. Success is determined by the two or more participants involved and it will be different in every situation. As senior managers, many of us tend to focus on the problem and solve it. A better approach is to emphasize listening and develop a complete understanding of the entire situation being discussed.  The mentee will often develop the best solution for themselves and the situation if they walk the mentor through it.  The mentor's task here is to serve as the sounding board and let the other party lead the discussion to a successful conclusion. Meaningful relationships lead to successful mentoring." 

National Mentoring Month is a good reminder to be of service to your colleagues and their professional development, no matter their local government experience. ICMA has resources and programs to support you as a mentor. 


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