Mentoring has been an important aspect of our profession for as long as anyone can remember. Better known in the beginning as an apprenticeship, young professionals were given a formal introduction to the profession by shadowing a “master” of architecture. Through this very structured process, the young protégé would learn the necessary skills needed to become an architect and would ultimately become a master of his or her craft. Today, mentoring might look a bit different but the principles are still the same – Mentors have a profound impact on the personal and professional development of emerging professionals, mentoring provides guidance and wisdom to the younger generation, and mentors have the ability to play a significant role in the future of our careers. Simply put, mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.
Over the past several years, our profession has seen a decline in the commitment from our professionals to mentor today’s younger generation. While there is no hard scientific data out there to prove why this is happening, we can still look at a number of things that have changed in our profession over the past several years. As much as we love it, technology has played a significant role in the lack of mentoring of today’s emerging professionals. The casual mentoring that happened by observing the work off someone else’s drawing boards has morphed into only what can be seen on a 21-inch monitor screen. Collaborating on a set of drawings has changed from looking over the shoulders of everyone in the office to placing a “Save to Central” request to someone sitting across the office or across the country. Cost has also impacted our profession – it costs more for us to do our jobs. In today’s tough economical time, firm leaders are constantly looking at the bottom line and paying careful attention to staff productivity and overhead costs.
Simply put, today’s emerging professionals aren’t getting the mentoring they need to have a successful career. So what can we do about this? First off I think there needs to be a recommitment to our profession. We need everyone, both young and old, to understand the importance of mentoring and how it directly affects the future of our profession. Once we’ve all made that commitment to fostering the future of the younger generations, we need to know how to do that successfully.
Today’s emerging professionals are different than the previous generations our profession. To be a successful mentor today, you need to think of yourself as a Yoda. In the second Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker discovers that he needs help on his journey to become a Jedi Knight. Luke recognizes that he can’t achieve his true potential without some guidance and training. He needs someone to provide direction and practical knowledge so he can acquire the understanding and skill needed to become a successful Jedi. Alone, young Luke may not have seen all his potential but with his mentor Yoda by his side he became the most powerful Jedi ever. Yoda demonstrates how to give support to an individual, how to offer challenges that permit one to learn and grow, and how to provide vision so that the “mentee” gains confidence and eventually independence.
When mentoring today’s emerging professionals, encourage us to explore new ideas, give us the freedom to develop new ways to solve old problems. Challenge us daily and set your expectations high. We are a generation of high achievement and we thrive when we are successful. In the end, in order to be a successful mentor to the emerging professionals today you need to be a Yoda. By taking this approach to mentoring you will not only be giving us confidence needed to do our job but you will also help us develop that sense of independence that is so greatly needed in our profession. Now is the time for the profession to rededicate itself to mentoring the next generation of leaders. Mentoring benefits everyone – emerging professionals, our firms, and the future of our profession. If we act together we’ll be able establish a culture of mentoring that will be effective and apropriate for the 21st century.