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Build a leader habit: Become the mentor you wish you had

gabcimato profile image Gabriele Cimato Originally published at flawedengineer.dev ・4 min read

This is a cross-post from flawedengineer.dev

Wether you got into tech by completing a CS degree, a bootcamp or simply self-tought, having a mentor to guide you through the first steps is always desirable.

This holds true at every stage of your career. In general we seek guidance to climb to that role or position we wish for. We hope to meet somebody who can help us avoid horrible mistakes. Someone who can show us good practices and get our thoughts in line with filed experts.

Sometimes we get lucky, sometimes we don't. No matter what your experience is (or was), you should aim to be THAT mentor.

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The Mentor We Dream Of

Early in my career I was hungry to learn (and actually still am) and fill the gap with experts in the software engineering field. I was hoping to join a company with strong leads who could show me the way. I was ready to put in the work, I was just looking for some guidance.

I was lucky to have co-workers to learn from, but none were the mentor I was hoping for. I had a boss to report to, expectations to meet and the rest...I had to figure it out.

Most of the work an engineer is supposed to do, boils down to "figuring things out" yourself.

In my young and naive mind this is what I expected:

  • A senior who's an expert in the software engineering field
  • A patient mentor who could guide me and tolerate my mistakes
  • High expectations, so that I always have to try my best
  • Someone who is excited to share their knowledge and eager to see me grow
  • Someone who would gradually give me more responsibility
  • Someone who has clear in mind a growth path for me
  • Strict but understanding

I could go on even more but I hope you get the idea. I had high expectations and I was ready to deliver. But then reality hit. I had to learn the hard way. I had to find out what the best practices are, how to allow myself to make mistakes without disrupting anyone else's work, take great responsibilities early on, try my best to learn with books and any other mean available to me.

It was a real hassle but I learned a lot in the process. I was scared, upset, frustrated, fulfilled. All sorts of emotions. I made it our ok, without the mentor I dreamed of.

You Don't Need a Mentor

This is non entirely true. A better way to put it is "you don't necessarily need a mentor who's there holding your hand".

While I think that having a mentor is a privilege, you can still make it without one. There are many communities, resources, books, classes, workshops out there. It's hard not to improve unless you really don't want to.

You have to start by forgiving yourself for making mistakes. Try your best to make informed decisions but don't be hard on yourself if you do it wrong. Do you really believe that all those field experts out there had it right on their first try ?

It takes a lot of practice and a lot of mistakes to get better at anything.

My general recommendation is also the following:

Allow yourself to make mistakes in a contained environment so that your errors don't leak.

I find that making mistakes is one of the fastest way to learn. You tend to better remember that time you spent hours fixing a bug, but not really when everything went smoothly. This is why I reassure people around me (especially juniors) that making mistakes is ok. On the other hand we have to make sure that our errors are self-contained and don't leak.

Long story short, if you are willing to, you can set yourself up for success even without a mentor. It's a lot of work, a lot of active effort and a lot of mistakes but you can do it!

Learning in public can also be beneficial, once you put it out there you have the whole internet helping you out.

Be the Mentor

As I mentioned before I believe that having a mentor is a blessing. Just because you didn't have one doesn't mean that no one should. On the contrary, knowing the pain you had to go through why not become the mentor you wish you had ?

I always found that good mentorship is a natural trait of a good leader. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, being a good mentor is also about empowering people around you. While I've been trying to go over main habits and traits of a leader one by one, you'll easily see that they are all intertwined.

This can be another way to empower people around you, help them grow, be patient, set the bar high but be understanding, show the way.

Conclusion

Early in our career we hope to be guided by an outstanding mentor. We won't all get this lucky and most of us will have to figure things out as they go.

That is OK and is not an impediment to your growth and your career. You just have to put in the work. If you want to be good leader though, you can (and should) become that mentor you hoped you had. Challenge yourself and others by teaching. Put your knowledge to test. Help others grow and guide them to avoid critical pitfalls.

BE THE MENTOR!

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