On Mentorship and Community Contributions

> Reflections and what I learned as an MVP mentor
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Overview

I had the privilege of mentoring a few junior developers this year, as well as an up and coming developer who will be applying for MVP this year. I have a number of reflections as a result. Many of these reflections are inspired by and even directly quoted from books such as "Nine Lies About Work", "The Manager's Path", and "Leadership Secrets of the Rogue Warrior".

On Community Contributions

  • Getting started is the hardest part. So just start.
  • Aggressively remove friction to make contributing as easy as possible.
  • Minimalism is key -- do not get hung up on unimportant details.
  • The work must be grounded in Love. It's all about "love IN work". Finding love in what you do, rather than doing what you love.
  • Content idea: the most gripping stories are those concerning identity — who we are, where we are, and where we are going.
  • A lion can easily catch field mice all day long. But the lion will starve. Sometimes, despite the risk and work involved, it's worth our time to go for the antelope.
  • Community contributions aren't about checking all the boxes on your MVP application -- they are about maturing and becoming a leader. The process is transformational, and you should act accordingly.
  • Break long blog posts into series.
  • Eventually even the deepest knowledge will atrophy -- this is why we write and share.
  • Ensure your blog has a RSS feed -- once you're plugged into the Sitecore feeds, this can greatly increase your visibility, and makes your content far more likely to be featured in a Sitecore newsletter.
  • On many occasions, I went down technical rabbit holes and came back with nothing to show for them. Often times, you get so far only to realize that so much more time would be required to finish. There is nothing more disheartening than spending time on something that never sees the light of day because of a failed experiment / attempt. But that is still worth sharing. When it comes to Sitecore, there is so much that the community does not know. If you can share your failures, you never know who you might help. All it takes is the right keyword for your contribution to show up in Google, and while the content might not be the answer, it might be the clue that someone needs to solve their problem.

General Reflections & Tips

  • Plans scope the problem; not the solution -- things change very quickly. Often times, the world moves too fast for plans.
  • When you catch a whiff of inspiration, follow it... NOW.
  • We all want to be seen when we are at our best.
  • Radical change requires RADICAL CHANGE.
  • Life is about work, work is about life, and both are about people.
  • Creativity begets more creativity. Money begets more money. Knowledge begets more knowledge. Friends beget more friends. Success begets more success. Most important, giving begets more giving.
  • Real power comes from being indispensable. And indispensability comes from being a switchboard, parcelling out as much info, contacts and goodwill to as many people, in as many different worlds, as possible.
  • Stop and ask "why?" when you feel inspiration or awe or wonder.
  • A desire for simplicity easily shaves into a desire for conformity...
  • Giving advice is like giving blood — blood types aren't always compatible.

For Mentors

  • You don't need to tell your mentee what to do. You need to tell them why. Why it matters.
  • Never ask your mentee to do something you wouldn't do yourself.
  • Leaders always go first.
  • Your role as a mentor is to create more leaders / mentors.
  • Leadership does not live in the average; in the abstract. It lives in the real world.
  • Keep an updated list of tips and tricks for your mentee.
  • Keep goals small and specific, with a deadline. For example "by tomorrow, post a question on SSE" or "send me a rough draft by x day".
  • Meet regularly.
  • Understand your mentee's goals / motivations.
  • Clearly define expectations.
  • Clearly define next steps and action items.
  • Mentees need milestones.
  • Negative feedback sets people back and actually impairs people because it invokes the fight or flight response.
  • People don't need feedback. They need ATTENTION.
  • Being kind is better than being nice.
  • To be able to manage others you must first be able to manage yourself.
  • Make sure the mentee understands the "why" behind the goals. For example:
    • Higher compensation
    • Status
    • Resume building
    • Self actualization
    • Recognition / awards
    • Exposure
    • Leadership development
    • Turbocharging knowledge, career, etc.
  • People on the ground want to engage with the world as it is; not as some ivory tower executive says it should be -- understand that your mentee may see you as a person who is in an ivory tower and in a privileged position with advantages and efficiencies that they don't have.
  • Never underestimate how many times and how many ways something needs to be said before it sinks in. Communication is hard.
  • If you want people to learn more, pay attention to what is working and focus on that.
  • Imagine someone is late for a meeting. There is a cognitive bias in which we tend to think that they are late because of some intrinsic characteristic or flaw about them rather than an external factor. The fundamental attribution error. Especially around negative behavior. We also tend to not treat ourselves the in the same way. If we do bad or screw up, we will attribute it to external factors.
  • Figure out how your mentee works.
  • Have them repeat their commitments back to you (ex. "I will have x done by x time").
  • Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.
  • Authority requires more than a title.
  • Perfectionism is partly borne out of fear of failure. Notice this.
  • When you think about changing someone's life, think about how hard it was to change your life.
  • It's more appropriate to analyze people's MOMENTUM than "potential"; who they are and how fast they are moving. It's all about physics. Mass and velocity. Not the pseudoscientific “potential”.
  • Call your mentee to a higher standard that they might not even know they are capable of.
  • Celebrate your mentee's wins along the way -- be very specific about specific things they did that impressed you.
  • Understand that looking to other leaders provides clues, but like any form of mentorship, we must embrace our own individuality and carve our own paths. Copying other people is inferior to doubling down on our own authentic selves. From this, we can deduce that if we are ever interested or confounded by something, we should do some initial exploration, but then we should dedicate time for an intense period of INDIVIDUAL THOUGHT on the subject. Questions should be asked. Assumptions should be challenged. It's so wild that we rarely come up with interesting questions on our own.
  • Are you inspiring to your mentee? Do they want to be you, or emulate some of your qualities?
    • Being a mentee is an act of forgiveness; that the person we follow IS idiosyncratic and flawed in many ways, but that doesn't matter, because something in them inspires us and gives us certainty when the future is so uncertain.
    • Followers sacrifice themselves to follow, and what they get in return is confidence.
    • We follow people who are very good at something that matters to us.
    • We trust the seriousness of leaders, and we only follow when we see that they have done more than us; seen more than us.
    • We experience leaders emotionally.
  • Show your mentee your MVP applications and how you did it -- it can give them a sense of what to reflect on as they progress.
  • Aim to be a strong leader in the sense that someone, be they a random person online, or the MVP judge panel, can look at your contributions and presence and easily see that you are a leader.
  • Look for MEASURABLE success metrics; not for what is "true".

For Mentees

  • Make it easy for your mentor to help you.
  • Your success is determined as much by how well others know your work as by the quality of your work.
  • No prevarication and no excuses -- you either did what you said you would do, or you didn't.
  • Do not seek a mentor. Seek to do things that will attract people including mentors.
  • Do things that will inspire your mentor.
  • Ask questions -- a lot of questions.
  • Take notes, summarize action items, use a calendar, schedule time to work and learn.
  • Understand that your mentor likely carries the "stone of triumph", whereby the recognition or position they have achieved often comes with a heavy price. Their situation might not be as easy or advantageous as it seems. Don't expect them to tell you this.
  • Focus on building momentum.
  • Focus on the process, not the outcome.
  • Get in your "comfort zone". We actually learn the most when we are IN our comfort zone; that's where we are most creative and insightful.
  • Balance when it comes to imagined change vs. predictable execution, focus mostly on the predictable execution.
  • Keep track of your contributions and accomplishments -- this will make your life much easier during performance reviews, self reflection, and when applying for MVP.
  • Make community contributions part of your daily routine.
  • Gamify where possible -- look no further than the Stack Exchange model for inspiration.
  • The work is about learning. "To teach is to learn again" - H.J. Brown
  • Find people who can help you. Co-workers are a great start. You'd also be amazed at how willing the community can be to help you.
  • Come to meetings with agendas.

Becoming an Expert

You grow the most neurons and synaptic connections where they already exist. Focus on the strengths and not the weaknesses. The brain grows most where it is already strongest, like new buds on an existing branch instead of an entirely new branch.

Ten tips to become an expert:

  1. Get out in front and analyze the trends and opportunities on the cutting edge
  2. Ask seemingly stupid questions
  3. Know yourself and your talents
  4. Always learn
  5. Stay healthy
  6. Expose yourself to unusual experiences
  7. Don't get discouraged
  8. Know the new technology
  9. Develop a niche
  10. Follow the money

Closing

I can think of no finer words to summarize the spirit of this post than those of F. Scott Fitzgerald:

He smiled understandingly. Much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced--or seemed to face--the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.


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