In 2011, the United Nations named October 11 as the Day of the Girl Child. In the United States, we have the Day of the Girl, a 100 percent youth-led movement for gender justice and youth activism. Day of the Girl falls during U.S. National Health IT (NHIT) Week, which is fitting as one of the NHIT Week points of engagement is increasing economic opportunities. In order to do so, it is important to build a robust, diverse workforce, especially in healthcare.
This year, the theme for the Day of the Girl Child is a skilled workforce, and how we across societies can equip girls with the skills they need to become employable. I am keenly aware that I am blessed – I grew up in a safe home with two loving parents who provided me with an education and the core belief in my potential. And, I’ve been blessed with a handful of mentors throughout my life, who have served as guideposts as I have formed, normed and stormed my way toward high performance.
Everyone can benefit from a mentor. A mentor is on your side, in your camp and in your corner. Mentors need to demonstrate that, while they’re engaged with you, you have their attention and focus. We need someone who can listen to us, in all our craziness and uncertainty, and help us find (or create) our calm center.
Conversely, a mentor can make you distinctly uncomfortable. Once I was telling a woe-is-me story to a mentor, Jane Springer. In response, she told me that when it became important to me, I would find the time. That made me angry and I didn’t want to listen. But, I couldn’t get those words out of my head, and I came to understand she was giving me truth I needed (though I did not want). To have a mentor means keeping our ears, mind and heart open to truth. Not everything a mentor says, of course, is gospel. My point is that an effective mentoring relationship embraces truth, integrity and credibility.
A mentor believes in you. My first mentor was Dr. Robert Ploegstra. As he saw me coming down the hall, or walking into his office, he would cheerfully roar out “SMITH!” Dr. Ploegstra, while supportive, had very little time for my assertions of being lost or unsure. The last thing he said to me was his way of firmly, yet lovingly, kicking me out of the nest: “You’ll be fine, Smith. You’ll find your way.” And, because he believed, I could believe.
An effective mentor sees your potential. They can knit together gems you’ve dropped along the way, over the course of numerous conversations, and weave these gems about you into stories that reflect their journeys. It is often said that we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, and there is truth in that. The life experiences a mentor can bring into a mentoring relationship can powerfully inform our point of view.
Years ago, Ivo Nelson saw potential in me. He took me aside during a difficult time, encouraging the attributes he saw in me. But, he didn’t stop there. He provided counsel on how to effectively address a toxic situation, weaving his own experiences into the advice, and sprinkled with humor and caring. He made it clear that he thought I was up to the job of addressing the situation constructively and successfully. And, like the example above, his confidence in me strengthened my belief in myself.
If you need a mentor, find one. You have options – for example, if you aspire to the C-Suite, there’s a mentor program, CSweetener, that offers HIMSS members a discount.
If you’re at an earlier stage in your career, reach out to someone you respect. Get involved as a volunteer in organizations such as HIMSS through chapter engagement, or task forces.
And, for those of us who are farther along in our careers, it’s an opportunity to give back. To equip the next generation of leaders. Mentoring can be an immensely gratifying relationship, with much to be learned on both sides of the relationship.