Are we born to lead or follow? Are there any certain, genetically determined traits found in some people that naturally puts them in a leadership position? In today’s post, Dr Monika Stuczen shares her thoughts on what it takes to be a good leader and simple tools that make for effective leadership. Enjoy reading!
I was born into an average working class family and grew up under communism in my country. I can’t say that my parents or the society helped me to become a confident child. I was rather treated like someone without any rights to speak, especially at school. If you spoke out loud, it was seen as a lack of respect towards adults and teachers so we always kept our thoughts and opinions to ourselves. As a young person, I was so shy that even a trip to the shop was a challenge because I had to speak and ask for what I wanted. I so hated this feeling of shyness and over years was trying to do everything to overcome it by exposing myself to many challenging situations which required me to be more open and take a lead.
We recently attended a conference themed around inclusion in Higher Education. As students and staff shared their academic and career success stories, a common theme rang through their talks – they all attributed their ‘big break’ to having a mentor. We realised that mentorship was not just an important but an essential ingredient for career success. In this article, Amara discusses how mentoring can make a difference in your journey as an aspiring professional.
Mentorship can be defined as a personal development relationship where a more experienced and knowledgeable person (mentor) teaches or guides a less knowledgeable or experienced person (mentee). A mentor shares their knowledge, experience and contacts with their mentee; empowering the mentee to achieve their career goals. Mentors lead, motivate, inspire, teach and sometimes coach their mentees. If you read autobiographies of people who have made noteworthy achievements, a mentor’s contribution is usually gratefully acknowledged. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group noted that mentorship could be ‘the missing link between a promising businessperson and a successful one.’ Do you have a mentor? Do you think you need one?
What the view like where you are? – The most important thing my mentors share with me is the benefit of their experience. A mentor has been where you are. This is where I separate the terms ‘coach’ and ‘mentor’. A coach does not necessarily need to have your personal experience but a mentor does. A mentor has been ‘in your shoes.’ A career mentor has been in your role, dealt with that issue you’re struggling with, overcome that problem that is currently brewing or failed at a task that is coming up ahead. A mentorship relationship is important because you are given a unique leveraging opportunity to learn from someone else’s knowledge. You can learn from their success as well as their mistakes. By their position of being above you on the career ladder, they have a different view.
A mentor can have a panoramic view where we are tunnel visioned.
The view does matter – mentors can see what is coming ahead of you but crucially, they can also see your blind spots. The decision to undertake a PhD has turned out to be an important turning point in my life/career because it set me on a path which has led to places I never thought possible. My mentor encouraged me to go for a PhD. He saw potential in a bright, shy, confused final year undergraduate student – something I had not even seen in myself. I had many ‘teachers’ but he was a mentor. So I ask again, what can you see?
Working hard is essential but is it enough to get you where you want to go? – A few years ago, I applied (unsuccessfully) for a consultancy. I thought I had sent in an awesome CV, personal statement and cover letter but I (apparently) hadn’t done enough to get my foot in. Within 12 months, I was contacted by the same institution to do the same work with them. How? They had been disappointed with the individual they went with and I had a mentor who had a good relationship with the institution put in a good word. Someone who knew my abilities, skills and expertise connected me with an organisation that could benefit from what I had to offer. In today’s interconnected world, everything (well almost) rises and falls on relationships.
I am a hard worker. I believe in putting in the work and being enthusiastic about achieving my career goals but I have learnt that it is not just cliché that ‘who you know – and who knows you – is as important as what you know’ in getting where I want to be professionally. A mentor can open doors that you cannot get through on your own simply because you have not had the time or opportunity to develop key relationships.
Who is your mentor? – Anyone who has something to teach you and is interested in doing so. You can have a mentor for a season or for a lifetime. It is important you recognise potential mentors so you don’t miss out on personal or professional development opportunities. I talk to a lot of frustrated PhD candidates who are angry because their PhD supervisor is unwilling or unable to mentor them. Ever thought about a postdoc in your Department instead? Or a former PhD student who is now in industry. It can be difficult for academics to mentor PhD candidates for non-academic careers when they have been in academia for all of their professional life. Maybe your line manager isn’t interested, so look for someone else! A mentor does not always need to be in a senior position; they could simply have been in the organisation longer. A mentor might not be the person you get on the most with at work but they should be someone who you aspire to be like in whatever area you need mentoring in. If anything, you can learn from their areas of weakness as ‘how not to do’ something. Mentoring is a relationship with another person. Your mentor is human and will have strengths and weaknesses so bear that in mind as you make your choice.
How do I get mentored? – Be clear what you want from your mentor and then start developing productive relationships. I previously discussed the importance of using social media as a networking tool. You cannot ask a stranger to be your mentor. Connect first and then nurture the relationship. Find out if there are mentorship schemes you can subscribe to or in your organisation and join them. Universities are now developing their student mentor schemes to help first years with their transition into Higher Education. Read autobiographies of successful people and keep track of what they do. Want to start or grow your business? Read about what people who have accomplished your dream have to say about how they did. Continue to be a part of The Hub and check out our ‘The Professionals’ section. Don’t be put off by negative responses. Keep at it.
Symbiosis and synergy not parasitism – Before approaching someone to ask if they will mentor you, ask yourself what you are bringing to the table. Mentoring requires a lot of effort from the mentor. They will be investing their time in you, they will be introducing you to their contacts – their reputation being on the line if you mess up! If your only interest is getting all you can from them to climb that career ladder as fast as you can, that is a parasitic relationship – where only theparasite you benefits. So bring something to the table. What can you do for your mentor? Do they have a problem you can help them solve? What are their interests? Can you offer your time or skills to help them accomplish their own goals? A wise man told me recently that every leader, manager and mentor loves someone who removes not adds to their burden.
What about you? Who are you mentoring?
Be humble and willing to learn. A mentoring relationship can just be that extra you need in your journey as an aspiring professional. If you enjoyed this article, look out for Part II and share, comment and connect.
Personal development? Professional development? – These are terms that we hear quite often but what do they really mean to you as an individual? Is it simply about developing your skills or does it entail something more? In this ‘Reflections’ piece, Blessing Obinaju expatiates on this topic by sharing her journey of personal and professional development.
Begin with the end in mind – This is our mantra on the Aspiring Professional’s hub. In your field of study, area of business interest or chosen career, is there anyone, business or role model in that position you aspire to be in worldwide? Knowing something about the journey to their attainment or achievement could be a starting guide for you to start a plan for your own global attainment. These days it is not so hard to learn about global figures when you have Google and in most cases these global stars are on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter or have personal websites.
Have a plan – of your own for that career, design, business or idea BUT with a global audience in mind. For example, if you are choosing a course at University, think broadly about how relevant that course is another country or even worldwide before deciding. If creating a business plan, can that business service a need in another town, state, country, continent beyond your current location? So we suggest in whatever your goals or targets, THINK GLOBALLY.
Finally, personal development is catching fire within Africa. I do remember when I made the decision to pursue a career in academia; I was in my third year studying for an undergraduate degree. I remember the responses I received when I mentioned I was going into teaching. I also remember that to most of my peers at the time, it was the joke of the century.
What is my point?
I was perhaps fortunate to have found my first footing in the murky waters – deciding for myself what I wanted and who I wished to become. It would have been easy to have abandoned that footing simply because it was criticized. Why didn’t I? Well, I wasn’t looking at the immediate moment, I was looking at the end goal, as the article aptly stated, I was beginning with the end in mind.
So, how did I crack on?
I was privileged to have had close relatives who were already in the field. Thus, it was easy to research the steps required to attain the height I envisioned. I devised my plan (including options for any derailment or obstacles) and relentlessly followed it. Of course, nothing ever goes strictly according to a laid out plot – it wouldn’t be life if it did. However, what happens when you have a plan is, there is a calculated margin of what I love to call “happen-stance”: occurrences that take you by absolute surprise, frustrate and completely throw you off your path. I’ am sure that some of you are stomping your feet at this moment and screaming ‘Provide us with a detailed breakdown.’ I won’t tease you longer. For those of you who are Nigerians, you will be able to follow the path more closely. I wouldn’t be an academic if this piece had no schematics. So, here’s the plan and I am happy to say I am currently in the last phase.
So, how has this impacted me, re: global relevance? First, one of my most cited papers as an academic is the very first article I published shortly after my M.Sc. This and the various presentations at conferences during the Ph.D., have been quite relevant to placing my feet firmly on the cobbled stones that help us cross the waters which divide relevance and insignificance. As an academic or an aspiring academic, you can never attend enough conference, workshops or seminars in your field. More importantly, my academic experience and my ability to continuously adapt my plans to fit my goals – despite challenges that the world would always throw my way – resulted in a book – The DANCE of Life: A guide to living your best life every day. It has also opened opportunities to share my experience as a STEM ambassador for the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network as well as in several other forums.
There were some critical control steps in my plan;
Location, location, location – Even though I gained my Master’s degree from a country other than that where I currently hold lectureship position, there was no debate over whether or not I should return to my home country upon completion of the degree. It was more of a forgone conclusion because I knew I was aiming for a lectureship position in my home country and that position would pay for the Ph.D.
Think long term – Notice that my very first job was a volunteer opportunity (yes, it was in Nigeria!). The point of this was, while I was job hunting for academic positions, the volunteer position which was still an education role, ensured that there was no gap period on my CV and I gained additional work experience.
My candid recommendation
Never underestimate the value of internships and do not overlook volunteer opportunities either. Just be certain that they are related to or somewhat impact on your end goal. It is also important to state that the most invaluable tool to really finding one’s feet within those waters is, an ability to constantly increase your bank of knowledge and not just in your area of certification. Being well-versed and well-read isn’t just an attribute of the rich and affluent – thanks to technology – everyone can be. It only takes being proactive and of course, actually desiring to reach your envisioned peak, whatever that is.
Blessing Obinaju is an Academic Researcher, Career Counselor, Life Coach and Image consultant. She works in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Uyo, Nigeria. She is also the Principal consultant at La Belle Vie, providing life coaching services to individuals. You can find her on Twitter @ObinajuBE.
How did you decide on your current career? Did you nurture a dream from a young age and see it through? Did you decide in school when you realised that you had an aptitude for certain subjects? Did you choose a course at University, thoroughly hate it, graduate and decide to do something else? In our latest addition to The Hub, ‘Getting Into – ’ we share information regarding getting into specific careers from professionals in the discipline. In this article, Chidi Amadi, a medical student shares information about getting into Medicine in the UK.
APH: What is your current role?
CA: I am a final year medical Student at King’s College London (from August 2015).
When did you realise you wanted to be a doctor and what steps did you take to get there?
I realised I wanted to be a doctor when I was 16, after my GCSE results (10 A*s and 5 As). I was informed by my school that I was the only student to gain 3 A*s in Triple Science. I combined this outcome with parental guidance, my love for science and a desire to enter a prestigious challenging career … and the passion for medicine was born. The journey to getting into Medicine starts from your GCSE’s and not just A’ Levels.
The steps I took to get here were choosing my A levels appropriately. Chemistry is compulsory, Maths and Biology are desirable – I strongly recommend those three. Your fourth should preferably be a humanities (geography, history or economics) or a language. Getting into medical school is highly competitive, so realistically, you should achieve A’s and A*’s in your A’ Level subjects.
Secondly, I arranged work experience early (hospital, GP and care home). Thirdly, I made sure I was in close contact with those ahead of me i.e. medical undergraduates at the time, newly qualified doctors as I realised that they were best placed to advise me. This was particularly important in preparing for the interview.
How would you answer the question ‘Why would you like to study Medicine?’ Most prospective medical student’s response to that question relates to wanting to care for sick people but you could also do that as a nurse or pharmacist. This is where the advice of those in the profession can prove invaluable. More information on preparing for interviews can be found here.
In your opinion, what are the important skills and personal attributes to succeed in Medicine?
Medicine is a long course and an even longer career to embark upon so you must be ready for the challenge. It needs dedication, consistency and the ability to think laterally. Working as a doctor involves problem solving, often using an indirect and creative approach. Beyond subject knowledge, to succeed in the medical profession, you must also have excellent communication skills – especially listening. Further information about skills required can be found here.
Can you describe a typical working day?
9-12: Ward round (presenting patients’ cases to Consultants and seniors as they review them)
12-1: Lunch break
1-4: Clinics with consultants, teaching with seniors or self-directed ward activity
What do you like the most and least about your job?
Like the most – the diversity of what needs to be learnt.
Like the least – I can’t remember when I slept before 1am.
What do you wish someone else had told you before you embarked on your academic/professional journey?
That I should be prepared to be challenged beyond my preconceived limits.
What advice would you share with anyone interested in studying Medicine and how can one get in?
Motivation – If you want a title, money, or fame then please do not study Medicine. You will save yourself a lot of time, effort and save patients a lot of headache which come from unenthusiastic doctors. Assess your interest in studying Medicine and ensure it is genuine – a real interest with a primary focus. Medicine has to be something that you really want to do.
Preparation – I would advise also that you start your journey early! Prepare a strong personal statement, get some work experience and start your UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) and Biomedical Admissions Test (BMAT) revision even before the start of your AS level exams. ‘The early bird catches the worm.’
For more information on getting into Medicine in the UK, please visit the Medical Schools Council guide for students.
Chidi Amadi is a final year medical student at the GKT School of Medical Education, King’s College London.
We hope you have found this article useful. If you have any more questions or career pathways you would like to see profiled, please send us an email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.