Yesterday, we held our inaugural Treehouse Mentoring Day, where 72 Microsoft Valued Professionals (MVPs) from all over the world - from New Zealand to Norway, South Africa to Sweden, Peru to Portugal - packed themselves into a tiny, cozy treehouse in the middle of the woods on the Microsoft Redmond campus to learn about the secret sauce (if there's one!) to mentoring others, and helping people from diverse and often underprivileged backgrounds find their path to a career in technology.
It's currently in the thick of winter in Seattle, and there was no heating in the treehouse - save for a tiny space heater in the corner - but participants soon got cozy in the treehouse. There were no AV/PowerPoint slides or fancy technology to serve as distractions. Instead, participants were now faced with (gasp!) the prospect of having to interact face-to-face with other human beings in a small, enclosed room, and learn about the truly humanizing topic of mentorship, and why it matters.
Participants in some sessions got to practice their skills in a round of speed-mentoring, while others got to deep-dive into the challenges and opportunities in developing a successful mentoring relationship. It soon became clear that there is no secret formula to being a good mentor - what you do need, however, are key traits and qualities such as empathy for others, the ability to listen and to know the difference between managing and mentoring.
Apart from mentoring, participants also discussed about the concept of "Imposter Syndrome", which everyone around the room nodded in agreement to acknowledge that it is indeed real - almost everyone grapples with it, but the key is in how you convert that fear into motivation and action.
Speaker Laura Hunter, Principal Program Manager of Security CXP, also shared an excellent nugget of wisdom about not confusing "Unfamiliarity" with "I can't do it" - indeed, unfamiliarity is uncomfortable, but it's necessary to get out of one's comfort zone in order to attain true growth.
Many groups also dug into the topics of vulnerability - how being open about your flaws and personal shortcomings as a mentor can also help bridge the perceived knowledge gap between mentors and mentees, where mentees might feel too shy or afraid to reach out to ask for help.
Other groups also got into the nitty-gritty of what to expect in a real-life mentoring relationship - why fit is important, and that it's OK if one or both parties feel like it's not working and moving on to new relationships. Indeed, mentorship is highly personal, and the ability to connect with another person whom you can feel personally invested in is key as well.
Overall, it was an inspiring day of learning, connecting with others and emotional growth as speakers and participants traded stories about what makes mentors great.
As we celebrate International Women's Day today, let's also not forget about our wonderful male allies who have also bravely stepped up to offer their time, energy and expertise as Community Mentors. The beauty of mentorship is that it transcends race, gender, social class or economic background - it's about forming a connection with another human being that could really use another person's perspective and life experiences to get a jumpstart on their careers, and oftentimes, personal lives as well. You'd be surprised at how much you'll discover about yourself in that process.
Interested in becoming a mentor? Visit our Community Mentors Program space for more information.
Have you ever had a great personal mentor in your life? How has that mentor changed your life? We'd love to hear about it - leave us a comment below!
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