Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received? Jeff Pelletier looks back to his first design job, and finds that great mentorship doesn’t always come in the form of sharing pre-packaged nuggets of wisdom. Sometimes, it’s about trusting and empowering young employees, and Jeff’s been paying it forward ever since.
June 12, 2017
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received?
This is one of those big questions, but it's something I’m sure we all have an answer for, or at least, we've all contemplated. Expanding our knowledge base happens not only with experience, but with advice from trusted mentors along the way. A discussion came up recently at Board & Vellum regarding our official mentoring process, especially as we grow as a company. Long story short: though we don't literally assign you one official mentor, mentorship is integral to how we operate, as we tend to do everything in pairs, learning from one another. Without any official process, though, some of the more formalized advice that gets passed on from one person to another comes up organically instead. It can’t really be controlled or organized, although, I'm not saying this is a bad thing. In my experience, some of the best professional advice I've received was not delivered in bullet points or anecdotes. Rather, it was through experiences. When thinking about this, it coupled perfectly with the recent ArchiTalks blog post topic: mentorship, so here goes.
Looking back over my career (which sounds relatively silly to do at the age of 39), there were numerous people who helped build my professional demeanor and skill set – good AND bad influences, to be quite honest. (I imagine many people end up doing things the opposite the way they think someone they used to work with would do them.) But, one experience that tends to sit the most with me, came from the team at my first design job at Mancini Duffy in New York City.
I was fresh out of college and excited to have my first job. I also had almost no idea of how little I actually knew about working in the professional world (which is a whole separate issue for another day). I was eager, determined, and ready to learn. Now, many people hear about stories of how new employees at design firms are tasked with one mundane detail for years before they’re allowed to do anything else at all. That wasn’t my experience, and I’m thankful to my bosses and mentors – William (Bill) Bouchey, Tony Schirripa, and Avery Handy – for that. Instead, they assigned me a variety of design tasks on a corporate trading floor and some executive offices, and I was (carefully) allowed to run with my ideas.
Now here’s 20/20 hindsight: knowing what I know now, I’m amazed they took the leap and let me run free. I have very high standards for the people I work with, and I try to not forget how green I was initially, but it really amazes me to recall how little I actually knew. I’m not even sure that I would have hired myself if I was in their shoes. So, thanks, guys!
I was only at Mancini Duffy for about a year before I realized that living in New York City was just not for me. But, in that short time, I was allowed to help design a trading office, travel for work, present to clients, and basically hit up every part of the project. I’m sure I screwed up more than a few things (thankfully I don’t recall any examples, so I’m guessing if it did happen, it wasn’t too major), but they kept faith in me and basically called my bluff. ("You say you think you can do this? Fine. Do it.")
Coming out of school, I was confident and cocky and filled with determination. They didn’t shy away from it, or try and put me in my place, but instead inspired me to back up what I was saying with my work. I did all I could to make them proud, and their confidence in me was something I was acutely aware of every step of the way. I recall going home and practicing a client presentation in front of a mirror. I stayed late to look through books on rendering with colored pencils to improve my drawings (side note, I could have read way more, given how they looked). I combed through books and any other pieces of inspiration looking for furniture selections that I thought would be fantastic. (And yes, an architect right out of Cornell at his first job doing interior design work for corporate projects really does default to Le Corbusier chairs. So, thanks for humoring me, Bill, and allowing me to keep that chair in the presentation, even though we all knew they weren’t going to select it.) I knew I had mentors who had faith in me and that I didn’t want to screw that up. That is an incredible motivator.
Looking back, that faith in people is still what drives me. Any person (at any experience level, with any background) has skills that can be brought to the table to do amazing work. There isn’t some point in our career when architects and designers suddenly know everything. We are here to solve problems and step up to the challenge. Remembering what that team at Mancini Duffy taught me – that having faith in staff (sometimes blind faith) and letting them shine – is essential not only to their development, but also for the health of the firm. Mentoring doesn’t just come from short little tidbits of advice (although those do help). It also comes from the attitude and the environment you cultivate and share with others. Their faith in me has led me to do more than I ever thought I could. Remember this when you’re working with someone new to the field and you’ll be amazed what you (and they) can get out of it.
This post is part of the ArchiTalk series organized by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. Historically, he has selected a theme and a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s posts. This year, the themes have been selected by a variety of contributors. This month’s theme was selected by Mike LaValley of Evolving Architect and is “mentorship”. To read how others interpreted the theme, please explore the links below.
Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship
Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff
Mark R. LePage - EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
teach them the way they should go: #architalks
Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor
Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored
Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
I've got a lot to learn
Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides
Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor
Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Advice From My Mentor
Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust
Samantha R. Markham - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why every Aspiring Architect needs SCARs
Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?
Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
5 Mentors that are in my life
Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Gabriela Baierle-Atwood - Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
Ilaria Marani - Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)