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The Importance of Mentoring & Being Mentored

Employee Perspective, People

Written by: Neil Patterson RIBA, OBMI Lead Designer Associate

Mentoring and teamwork are closely connected. Some of the most effective mentoring comes when people are working together in a team towards a common goal. This short story is a perfect illustration of the unexpected satisfaction of the mentoring experience.

In 1990 I took my very first construction project on-site from beginning to end. It was located on Dumbarton Road in Clydebank, Scotland, and consisted of 32 new-build flats or apartments in two four-story blocks on a gap site that backed on to what was the historic John Brown Shipyards. Today, you can see the River Clyde in the distance from the upper floors as all the shipbuilding operations are sadly gone.

The client’s site representative, or Clerk of Works, at the time, was an older gentleman giant named John who, if I remember correctly, had previously worked on the restoration of the Village of New Lanark, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A man, therefore, of considerable experience and knowledge. Over the next year and a half, John became my mentor. As well as passing on a wealth of knowledge and information, his personality and experience provided a subtle presence on site that made everyone both feel at ease and pay attention. He took the time to make sure he was almost always available, and while I was in charge of the Design Team, his careful prompting and questioning at just the right moment would often guide me to come up with the right answer without realizing it. Along the way, there were many challenges and well-learned lessons, but in the end, and as I recall with only minor delays, the project was completed and delivered.

I cannot remember the exact moment, but, around two years after the completion of the project, a call came through to me at the office, and it was John. He was changing jobs and asked if I would write him a reference. I will never know the exact circumstances, but I was both surprised and immensely proud that someone who I had considered far above me on the architectural totem pole actually thought that what I would say about his character could be important and valid. I am also grateful because it proved the effort I had put in and the progress I had made as a professional had been recognized, and it was the first reference I ever wrote.

Some 30 years later, the buildings are still there and still homes, even if they are a little bit more weathered these days. The firm of architects I worked for in Glasgow were known as The Holmes Partnership at that time. They were an excellent firm to work for, and I am not sure, but hope, young architects today can get as much free rein to learn, make mistakes, be forgiven and succeed as I did. I spent eight-plus happy years there before going overseas. Now, I try to follow in John’s path by prompting and questioning at the right moment, passing on any of my experiences or knowledge that may help someone grow personally and professionally.