As a young person I looked at mentoring as a weakness or a professional way to address a shortcoming or vacancy on a skill set that I lacked. Mentoring conversations made me uncomfortable, clammy and vulnerable and quite often, I did not like them.
Today, I’m grateful for the mentoring and coaching experiences I’ve had, and continue to have, and I’m proud to be a mentor to some amazing people and leaders. To be a coach or mentor, you have to be willing to be coached and mentored yourself and that is not always easy. Let me explain.
Two words, pink sweatpants. I left my supervisors office with alligator tears in my eyes as I swiftly walked to my car to cry while wearing hot pink sweatpants. Yep, hot pink sweatpants and a YMCA cotton T-shirt. At the time I was a Teen After School Director and I wore recreation or active wear to relate and engage with the kids. In my monthly one on one with my supervisor she shared some feedback with me. She said, “While the sweatpants make you relatable to the kids, sometimes it makes you look like a teen yourself and not the program director which is a professional role. Wearing sweatpants makes your coworkers feel limited in their ability to have you help in other departments because you look too casual. When elevated leaders visit our Y, I want you to show up the best way possible, and pink sweatpants are not it.”
I was crushed. How could I have been so immature? How could I have lacked that much self-awareness? How long had I been letting down my coworkers? The tears streamed down my face with confusion. But after a few swift wipes with some tissues I decided to accept that feedback as an opportunity to be a better leader, and I bought work pants, in normal colors.
Do you want to know who noticed? EVERYONE! But most importantly the teens. They thought it was weird. My look was elevated and they asked me why. I took my experience to educate them, sharing the mentoring and coaching feedback I had received and how I wanted to be a professional leader. I saw many of them grow and thrive in this discussion as lightbulbs went off in their head regarding my experience.
I didn’t talk about how hard the feedback was, how uncomfortable it made me. How crushed I felt temporarily. I talked about how grateful I was that another leader cared about me and my future. I shared how valued it made me feel that they wanted me to be the best version of myself, even if the conversation getting there was hard. I told those 13-17 year old teens in our Y program that I was thankful for that coaching and mentoring and that I hoped their ears, eyes and hearts were open to developmental feedback too.
Mentors are there on some of your best days, they help you through stagnant seasons and will pull out the best of you when needed. Having and being a mentor is a gift with endless ripples of impact.
Think of your circle and I’d invite you thank a mentor in your life. Give them a call, send a note or text. Hold a little space and celebrate their role in your life, personal or professional because their presence in your is truly a gift.
Tera Thomas; YMCA of Greater Omaha Vice President of Advancement