“Mary will explain that.”
It’s a simple sentence but one that means a lot to Mary Hebden, EI, a transportation designer and three-year employee of the firm. She says that her mentor, Matthew Phillips, PE, senior project engineer in the transportation group in Lake Oswego, OR, says that kind of thing often.
“In big meetings he will call on me to explain things, shining a light on me and my work,” said Mary. “He allows me to be seen and recognized.”
If mentorship was a superpower, we’re pretty sure Matthew would be the Superman of mentors.
“He is very senior, and it just seems like he has a passion for supporting junior staff,” Mary gushed. “He is able to explain things in a way that everyone can understand, and no matter how busy he is, he always makes time for you.”
If you know Matthew, you know being featured for this article is, in his words, “uncomfortable.” But after hearing some of the things Mary (and others) think about him, he acknowledged that it is reinforcing.
“As a supervisor or mentor, I don’t always know what they’re thinking. It’s good to get some positive feedback and maybe know some of the things I’m doing are working,” said Matthew.
Some of the other positive attributes include supporting staff’s career goals, caring about the person, and letting those under his wing move and shift to other departments and projects, even if he and his group might mourn the loss.
Matthew said some of these best practices go against his nature and were either stumbled upon or developed through trial and error. “Long ago I had someone who worked for me say, ‘you’re always busy, it’s hard to talk to you’,” recounted Matthew. “I realized it wasn’t enough to have an open door, I needed to force making time and go sit on the couch with people.”
In addition to learning while doing, Matthew realized he wanted to apply himself to becoming the mentor DOWL needed and searched for industry best practices. One of his favorites is to give nine positive comments before giving one negative one to help build team trust.
“I really had to grow that muscle,” said Matthew. “And honestly, I now get a kick out of giving other people credit.”
Mary admits that if someone meets Matthew for the first time it might not be obvious that such a caring person lives behind the private exterior. “I wouldn’t describe him as warm and cozy, but if you are lucky enough to have him as your mentor, in time you realize he is your biggest advocate,” said Mary.
But in typical Matthew fashion, he simply gives Mary the credit for her success and considers the achievements of his group. “It’s really a golden time in my career,” reflects Matthew. “I have never had a better team, and I know a lot of people in the firm would be thrilled to have any of them join their group or work on their projects.”
We see you, Clark Kent.