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The Power of Mentorship for Data Management Professionals

31 January, 2019 | Margaret Resce Milkint | Professional Development

Data scientists and other data professionals need a combination of education, practical experience, and soft skills to succeed and have a positive impact

 

Introduction

Gone are the days of the Wild, Wild West for data scientists.  In those heady days, the job search process for entry-level data scientists and beyond was relatively painless.  No more.  As the profession has matured and become more holistic, data science has intertwined into enterprise culture and DNA – a more well-rounded data scientist leader is required.

Today’s data professionals need practical experience and soft skills demonstrated by an extensive portfolio of successful projects.  Well-rounded data professionals are better positioned to make an immediate impact from the onset of the analytics life cycle.  While professional development ultimately comes from individual efforts, guidance and coaching from experienced professionals can be invaluable.  Mentorship is a powerful tool for data management professionals at all stages in their careers as they seek to become integral to organizational innovation and strength.

As Oprah Winfrey once said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”  If a mentee comes equipped with the right goal and mindset, a mentor can provide the strategic and purposeful guidance needed to develop and practice valuable skillsets.  By leveraging their subject matter expertise and own lessons learned, mentors could guide mentees through their professional development journeys.

Value of Mentorship

Mentorship is not just for emerging professionals.  Throughout a career journey, all professionals will undoubtedly have varying interests and goals.  As a result, the mentorship one seeks today may look very different from that of 10 years from now, needing a tough love mentor today, but a peer or reverse mentor tomorrow.  As such, every match serves a uniquely different purpose.  Before reaching out to potential mentors, first identify current career goals and take an honest look at the development required to achieve it.  Then, search for the right type of mentor, who can advise, challenge and inspire in those areas.

Mentorship Search Steps

For example, if the ultimate goal is to obtain a leadership position, the best mentor may come in the form of a successful leader with a clear understanding of how to supervise and manage, connect work to the higher enterprise purpose, and motivate others for a collective goal.  An impactful mentor can show their protégé how to navigate the corporate landscape, to inspire and forge strategic relationships.

This mentor can demonstrate what it takes to influence, persuade and inspire teams to outperform and be creative.  More importantly, the mentee learns which of those skills come naturally and which need development for leadership and to effectively transition into that type of role.  A mentor can also help one practice and hone the necessary skill sets.

There is no limit to the number of potential mentors.  A mentor who is an expert at conducting data analysis may not be the best person to assist in expanding a professional network.  A mentor who can provide advice on communicating more efficiently may not be the same person who can inspire a protégé to overcome struggles with delegation.  Having access to multiple mentors allows a person to gain practical advice for distinct areas of professional development focus.

Be open to a mentor who does not look, act, or think the same.  Of course, there is still much to learn from more tenured professionals with similar styles, mannerisms and approaches, as they often experienced comparable challenges in their own career journeys.  By understanding what it took them to succeed, a professional can elevate their capabilities in many ways.  These individuals can help others work smarter, forge strategic relationships and identify future development opportunities.

However, also identify mentors with different styles.  In this case, do not let their varying thought processes or methods are cause for alarm.  A mentor with a different background and approach will broaden perspectives and offer challenges to think differently and more creatively.  Over the course of a career, it will be important to adopt alternative approaches to get a desired result.  A mentor with a contrasting style can explore new ideas and methods.

Benefits of Mentorship

It is important to remember that a person only receives benefits from mentorship if they commit to doing the work.  As the mentee, be dedicated to the relationship and to achieving the professional development goals related to that mentorship.  Nobody can push someone up the stairs if they are not willing to make that climb.  Harness a lifelong learner mentality.  Set guardrails, boundaries and goals and lead with curiosity.  Be prepared to do the additional work necessary to take advantage of advice and to practice newly-found skillsets.  Applications and opportunities are limitless for those with the courage to have the difficult, but indispensable, learning experiences.  The value you derive out of a mentorship is entirely personal.

Conclusion

The field of data and data management will continue to expand and elevate.  It is important for data management professionals to actively seek mentors who can coach, motivate and challenge them.  Although practical knowledge of the field is essential, mentors support the development of holistic leadership skillsets and provide valuable life and career lessons.  As a life-long student, be honest and open to learning with clearly defined goals in mind.  Connecting with the right mentor and cultivating that relationship is essential.  Substantial career success is available to those who can harness the power of mentorship – an intentional, lasting and personal collaboration.

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