50 Years of Mentoring

Charles Cochran Profile Photo

If I had to give a single piece of advice on mentorship to young engineers it would be this – one mentor is not enough. We all have our weaknesses (or “areas of improvement” as Becky White taught me to frame it), and it would be rare to find one person that could be a fix-all for you.

I have had three great mentors in my career at Sain – Jeff Stephenson, Jim Meads, and Becky.  Jim and Jeff are very experienced engineers, and I have been picking their brains on traffic engineering-related issues for almost a decade now. I think similarly enough to Jim and Jeff now that I feel like I can anticipate their responses when I come to them with a question. With Becky, our skillsets and personalities are not so overlapping, and she has really helped me develop my non-technical skillset.  

Early on in my project management career, I was preparing for a public meeting. I had worked out the finer details, or so I had thought, like the meeting date, time, and location. And then Becky started asking me very specific questions – “Have you been to the meeting room? How many people can fit in the room? Can we hang drawings on the wall – if so, what type of fastener are we going to use? Do they have audio/visual equipment, or do we need to bring our own?” I had no good answers and felt woefully unprepared, both for that conversation and for the public meeting itself. But that one discussion with her completely changed how I prepare for meetings and made me a much better project manager. And after that, I started to lean on Becky for more and more advice.

There was nothing forced about my mentorships with Jim, Jeff, or Becky. There was no formal mentorship program that assigned me to them. What led to our strong mentor-mentee relationships was their openness (literally their open office doors) and my willingness to be vulnerable and ask them questions.

Reading Charles’ thoughts on mentoring warms my heart. We mentor because we want to help others grow and flourish in their careers, but we also do it to build relationships and increase our own learning.  Charles has learned from me, but he’s given me just as much in return. It is not unusual for me to walk in his office and ask, “How would you approach this issue?” or “What do you know about this subject?” I’ve come to respect his intellect and the many talents he brings to our team.

At its core, mentoring is about taking an interest in someone and helping them see and use their innate talents and abilities. In a strong mentor relationship, both parties benefit from the shared learning. I cannot imagine what my career would have looked like without the gifts provided by mentor relationships.

I love the quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can.” I’ve been fortunate to have mentors who called out skills in me that I did not recognize, challenged me to rise to the occasion, and were willing to give me a push to step up and do what my self-limiting thinking was preventing me from doing.

I’m so grateful for Sain’s mentoring culture. It made all the difference in my career, and I see that continuing in our next generation of leaders.

Becky White Profile Photo