May 25, 2017
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Amy Greil: A story of mentoring


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COMMENTARY BY AMY GREIL


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Kenosha County UW-Extension

I have always marveled at huge oak trees.

There are several on my family’s farm and as I walk around the trunk of these masterpieces of nature, I often find many small oaks growing in their shade.

At the same time, seeing the relationship between old, established trees and the new saplings reminds me of something else I once read.

A tree planted in a clearing of an old forest will grow more successfully than one planted in an open field. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the forest tree are able to follow the intricate pathways created by former trees and thus embed themselves more deeply. This literally enables stronger trees to share resources with the weaker so that the whole forest becomes healthier.

Something about the reflection of new and old trees reminds me that we human beings thrive when growing through a strong connection to those who have come before us. Just as young trees do best following the lead of former trees, mentoring relationships offer growth through relationship. Following the lead of a mentor often helps to carry forth the rich life experience that was hard fought in years past.

I have been thinking about mentoring now that I see a close colleague, friend and professional mentor retire.

For anyone who has known the Director of Kenosha County UW-Extension, Tedi Winnett, she has been a force for good — a force of nature in the community for over 30 years. Now this excellent woman who has served as a mentor to me is moving on and I will carry on without the luxury of her guidance, her “shade.”

I felt compelled to take this opportunity to share best practices of great mentoring relationships and connect this to what Tedi has modeled for me for the past four years. Perhaps the following insights will aid you in your professional development, in the creation of successful mentoring relationships, or, even in the nurturing of a love for old/young oak trees.

Mentoring Best Practices:

Strive to increase self-awareness: Research suggests that being clear about one’s own aims and objectives of a mentoring relationship provides greater the potential for intentional partnership and mutual benefit. Becoming more self-aware is an excellent aim whether you are the mentor or the mentee and allows the relationship to be a win-win for the time investment.

Be curious about stories: Listening in order to learn something new (rather than to confirm what is already known) is essential to good mentoring.  Being curious about the other person’s story opens up the possibility of greater connection and value for both parties.

Listen for passion and potential: Great mentoring means understanding what makes the other person tick, what has brought them to this moment in their career, and where they would like to go next. Exclusive focus on overcoming deficits and problem-solving will not fuel a strong mentoring relationship, whereas identifying and building upon strengths and unique passions likely will.

Share crystallized experience: One of the pleasures of mentoring is the chance to share one’s own valuable experiences to aid those coming along a similar path. Sharing learnings through past experience and recalling specific stories make it very easy to connect/apply lessons to the real world.

Maintain high standards of ethics and professionalism: Mentors and mentees must strive to uphold appropriate ethical behavior as professionals. Promoting mutual respect and trust, maintaining confidentiality, being diligent in providing knowledge, wisdom, and developmental support. Mentors should carefully frame advice and feedback so it is well-received and constructive.

Like an old oak on a landscape, Tedi’s career is impressive and a thing of true beauty. Her mentoring has left a lasting impact on me and an enduring legacy across Kenosha County.

The very best to you Tedi.

Amy Greil is a community, natural resource and economic development educator at the Unviersity of Wisconsin-Extension in Kenosha County.


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