March 2020

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Mentoring: A Lasting Impact

Being a mentor is a lifelong position that doesn’t stop when you leave the office or job site.
Erin DeFrieze
Erin DeFrieze
Professional Services / Application Engineer
Lynxspring, Inc.

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I had the privilege of taking part in a panel discussion at this year’s AHR Expo in Orlando, FL. The topic of the discussion dealt with how to bring more women into leadership roles in the industry.

Although there were many great topics and sub-topics that evolved from that discussion, I found that one topic seemed to be of great focus even long after the panel discussion had ended. That topic was one of mentorship. Everyone I spoke to seemed to have similar stories of both positive and not so positive mentoring experiences throughout their careers. I found it very interesting to hear the different perspectives that everyone I spoke to had developed from their respective experiences; and what they were able to take away from those experiences into their own development and career paths. 

I began to think back onto my own career and the many mentors that I was fortunate to have, both male and female, all from different positions in the industry. I realized that each person I had encountered over the 22 years I have been in this industry has had some sort of lasting impact on me and how I handle situations or even the knowledge base I possess.   One of the loudest and longest running voices I hear in my head even today is the one that deals with how I interpret communications, both spoken and written.  As a woman, I will admit that I tend to overthink things sometimes and will often have to remind myself to stop. The words that still stick with me are, “Stop being such a girl.” Yes, let’s face it; I tend to be one. Men are by far more direct in the conversations than we women are.  I often have had to stop and wonder if I am understanding something correctly that someone has just said.

If we hope to grow as an industry and bring in more young women or even young men, we need to be cognizant of the way we are mentoring them. How we interact and share ideas and knowledge with one another will be what they will take with them into the future as they become the leaders of our businesses. We need to teach the younger generation not only the “how to’s” but the “why’s” and the “respects and expectations” of our industry. Some of my best mentors where the ones that not only told me that “This is how you do X, but this is why X is done that way.”  We, too often tend to ignore the “why” leaving out the most important part of mentoring — the understanding. Anyone can be told what to do and robotically follow orders, but the best and brightest are the ones that understand the why.  When you fully grasp what you do, you are then on your way to developing hopefully not just a good knowledge base but possibly a passion for it. The “respect and expectations” are true in all aspects of your daily interactions. I once told my daughter’s pre-school teacher, who had just finished telling me that my 5-year-old didn’t have the right to not care for another child’s personality and that my child needed to be told to like everyone, that she the teacher was wrong. We all have the right to not care for another person for whatever the reason, but what we do have to do is respect that person. They are human and deserve at the very least the respect that comes from that.  We need to convey those expectations as mentors not only in our words but in our actions. I once worked with a gentleman who was the air balancer on a project that I was the controls programmer on. I was very young, and it was my first time working with a balancer. This gentleman was older and was the spitting image of Santa Claus. I instantly felt at ease until he spoke to me. That day was by far one of the worst in my career, and to add insult to injury “Santa” wrote a letter to both his employer and mine cussing me up one side and down the other. It nearly broke me. Not only was the older role model berating me instead of teaching me, but he looked like SANTA and Santa didn’t like me! Fortunately, my employer and two of the electricians that had been there that day helped to pick me back up. They reminded me that even Santa was a novice at some point and had to learn what he knew. I took what I learned from those men that day and I grew from it.  

Being a mentor is a lifelong position that doesn’t stop when you leave the office or job site. It is something you carry with you in all aspects of your life. Get involved with your kids or in your local community.  There are Future Lego Leagues and Robotics Clubs around the world that are always in need of people with the skills we have to offer.  These kids are our industry's future.  Start mentoring them now. Help them to see that we offer those STEM positions that they are always hearing about. Help them to see the diversity and the evolution of the HVAC and Building Automation industry as a whole. Be that mentor that will have a lasting impact on the future.


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