Zach is in college and works part-time at a car wash, where his boss is a mentor. This “Inside Voices” blog shares his insights on how to be a good mentor.
This is our second blog for our “Inside Voices” series, periodic interviews of professionals at different points in their careers – and in the employee lifecycle – to hear about their experiences and insights around skills and competencies. Here is the first blog – How to Identify Transferable Skills for a New Career. We hope you like the series!
Zach is a college student working part-time at a car wash. The owners saw potential in Zach. They promoted him and challenged him to take on a leadership role with the team. One of the owners, Stan, has become a mentor. In this “Inside Voices” edition, Zach shares his experience and insights on what makes a good mentor.
Avilar: Tell us about your first day at work.
Zach: Everyone introduced themselves on my first day, which was about two and a half years ago. There was a team of three or four people and mostly I observed what they were doing and tried to help.
Avilar: What kind of training did you get at work?
Zach: Mostly, it was on-the-job training and learning as you go. Washing a car takes at least two people, commonly three or four, so I was able to do my part with a coworker checking my work right behind me. Whatever side I was on, someone would tell me the order to do things and what to look for. Then, they would oversee my work until I was ready to do it on my own. That helped me learn to methodically wash each car.
At the end of every night, we hose down. At first, I didn’t understand where the dirt was supposed to go when someone said, “Go hose down the tunnel.” Then, Stan told me to “sweep it into the pit,” which helped me and my coworkers to better visualize how to properly hose down the tunnel.
Also, when I first started, Stan said to ask myself, “Why is this person coming to the car wash today?” That helped me focus on the customer.
What helped me to learn quickly was asking a lot of questions. I learned to not be afraid to ask.
Avilar: How would you describe Stan as a boss?
Zach: He’s the least bossy boss you could have. He leads by example. He does all our maintenance, builds the track, washes cars, and takes out the trash. Just because he’s an owner doesn’t mean he doesn’t do the work.
He’s good at explaining why something needs to happen. Rarely does Stan have to say anything to someone that isn’t doing a good job. If he does, there’s no yelling; just teaching or sometimes expressing disappointment.
He’s shaped my view as a manager.
Avilar: What are some examples of feedback Stan has given you?
Zach: In the first couple of weeks, I was working on the basics and Stan told me, “You pick up things quickly.” He noticed me being good at my job, which encouraged me to work harder.
He’s good at saying, “That was a good call,” when I make a good decision. That’s positive reinforcement, often in front of people. He’ll also pull lines from movies or quotes to give us feedback. He’ll say, “Technique! Technique!” like Spongebob Squarepants when he’s pointing out how to do better. It’s a fun way to give us feedback.
Avilar: In what other ways has Stan encouraged you or challenged you.
Zach: Three weeks ago, we were talking outside the tunnel after washing cars. It’s my last semester in college. Stan told me a saying his dad used to say, “You will bloom wherever you’re planted.” It was encouraging to hear that from him. Whatever anxieties I have about my future career, they are diminished because Stan believes in me.
I remember when Stan’s brother, our other boss, challenged me. At one point, we had three employees leave in one month. One got an internship, one moved away, and the last one got a new job. I was the most senior manager and asked for a raise. I got the raise, with an understanding that I would become a “taskmaster” in my words and actions, so the team would stay busy even when the car wash wasn’t busy. Sweeping the lot every morning. Training others to do things in down times. That challenge helped me take more responsibility for the team and for taking care of the business.
Avilar: What makes a good mentor?
Zach: Acceptance. Accepting mistakes instead of putting people down shows that it’s okay to be wrong and the world’s not going to end because of it.
With a good mentor, you can ask questions no matter how dumb they are. They are happy to help.
Being happy to talk, too. Someone to look to for advice or to brighten your mood. Stan is always ready to have a conversation about anything. It could be how you’re feeling, the world of tennis, or other random stuff. He has a way of having a conversation with you and you walk away feeling better.
Avilar: What would you like to say to Stan about his mentorship?
Zach: I don’t know where to start, honestly. I appreciate everything he’s done. I appreciate the positive attitude when he comes to work. The advice. Talking about random stuff in the office.
He’s been a great example to me and the rest of the employees. His relationship with the employees has allowed for a lot of growth because he points out when we’ve done a good job or when doing something in a helpful manner. Also, his life advice has helped us grow as employees and as people.
If you’re looking for ways to help your team members become a mentor or to advance a mentorship program at your workplace, download our Competency Management Toolkit to get started or contact us to find out how Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ competency management systems can help.
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