A mentor’s not-so-subtle push led Regina Waters to become a professor.
“As a senior, she wrote on a paper, ‘If you don’t go to grad school, I will kill you.’ That was Gloria Galanes,” she says with a smile. “I very much admired her. She was encouraging, and yet honest and had expectations.”
Waters says Galanes was well known as a tough professor among her classmates in the mid-1980s. “That just was an enticement to see what she was all about,” she adds.
Over her 26-year teaching career at Drury University, Waters says she has mentored countless students and alumni. And she’s benefitted from the mentorship of others.
“All of us have different levels of self-doubt,” she says, recalling Galanes’ investment in her decades ago. “She helped me see that a mentor can encourage, responsibly so, to help size up someone’s talents and encourage pursuit of those talents.”
Waters’ advice on mentoring
Affirm the journey.
“Affirm the person and that person’s journey. Be their fan, but be honest. Remind folks that they’re on their own professional journey and that there will be lots of steps taken. Sometimes, the steps are forward, sometimes they’re backwards [and] sometimes they’re sideways. We get very competitive and we see folks where it’s all so easy and it just happens and falls in place. That’s rare.”
Listen with care.
“A good mentor listens and helps unearth unproductive assumptions. What you start to hear is why people are making some decisions or some assumptions guiding how they’re thinking. And if you start peeling away with the whys, you often find there are some unquestioned assumptions there that come from past experiences or some advice that really needs to be dusted off or put aside. Mentors create safe spaces.”
Highlight the possibilities.
“A good mentor illuminates the playing field in which people are trying to thrive and succeed. Helping understand, in subtle ways, what are opportunities, what could be the pitfalls? A good mentor can do all that without a heavy hand.”
Connect before crisis.
“A good mentor promotes not only connections but also nurturing that connection. Be open along the path of this journey to meeting people, understanding what makes them tick, how they got there and nurturing relationships. You never know where a connection will take you. My concern is when people only reach out to the network when they need something, when they sense trouble is on the horizon. The connections and the network work much better when you feed it.”
Guide but don’t decide.
“A good mentor is asking questions and guiding, but ultimately everyone makes his or her own decisions.”
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