January is National Mentoring Month, an annual campaign dedicated to raising awareness about the power and impact of mentoring. Mentorship, the act of experienced individuals sharing their knowledge and wisdom with less experienced colleagues, is not just a feel-good opportunity. It’s a strategic investment in the future of our people, our organization, and the industry.

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, we asked the following experienced construction professionals and mentors across AP’s regions to share their insights on being a mentor and growing in the industry:

  • Brad Dean, Senior Superintendent | AP Mountain States | Mentor of the Year in 2023
  • Tom Dykhoff, Senior Superintendent |AP Midwest | Over 51 years of experience at AP
  • Chad Schleicher, Director of Business Development II | AP Southwest | 14 years in design/construction
  • Dave Herzberg, Vice President/Project Executive | AP Midwest | 33 years of experience at AP
  • Randy Allen, General Superintendent | AP Gulf States | 14 years of experience at AP
  • Molly Weiss, Chief Human Resources Officer | AP Business Services | 24 years in Human Resources

They’ve all seen firsthand the importance of mentorship in helping young professionals succeed in the construction industry. We discussed their own experiences with mentorship, the benefits of mentorship for both mentors and mentees, and tips on how to make the most of a mentorship relationship.

In your experience, what are the most significant benefits of having a strong mentor at different career stages? 

Chad: A strong mentor can help you navigate different elements of your career through all stages. Each stage of your life brings unique variables or nuances, so having a strong coach or mentor can help you navigate and explore ideas with a fresh perspective.

Randy: The construction work itself isn’t the hard part, the hard part is learning to depend on other people to follow and execute your plan, manage others, and get everyone focused on the same goal. Having a mentor to lean on for advice or support in those moments can truly help you develop better habits and disciplines that will help you further develop your career.

Molly: Our needs change as we grow through different career stages.  Early in my career, I looked to my mentors to share wisdom, keep me from getting derailed, and lend me confidence in my own abilities.  Later, I needed advice on specific situations or challenges. These days, my mentors (and yes, I still have them!) have become friends with whom I exchange big-picture thinking or overall strategies.

What initially drew you to become a mentor? What do you find most rewarding about being a mentor? 

Tom: In my 51 years at AP, I have been very fortunate to work with a variety of great leaders. Because of them, it became second nature to simply help others as I have been helped throughout my tenure.

Chad: I find watching others grow and succeed very rewarding, the greatest successes achieved as a mentor can be what I do for someone else.

Molly: I had some great mentors that made a big difference in my life and career. I learned first-hand how impactful having a strong mentor could be, so I want to pay that forward. I absolutely love seeing people grow new skills and abilities – and how their confidence grows along with it

Dave: When I got to a certain point in my career and had a moment to reflect, I realized I had many great mentors throughout my time at AP. The knowledge my mentors gave me wasn’t mine to keep and take with me when I leave. Hopefully, I can provide value by sharing what people have helped me with. What is most rewarding at this point in my career, is to see younger people succeeding.

What are some key principles or values that guide your interactions with mentees? 

Tom: One thing I like to do with anyone, not just those I mentor, is establish common ground. This helps build a meaningful and easy-to-grow relationship. I believe excitement is an important principle; finding what excites someone often leads to understanding what motivates them. I see my mentees as equal, no matter where they are in their career, and I see mentor/mentee relationships as an opportunity for both people to learn.

Brad: One of the most important pieces of advice I received early on was, “not to answer the question but give wise guidance.”  I try to be genuine and fair and approach things with humor and confidence.

Randy: A key value is keeping everything easy and honest. The people you’re mentoring need to know you’re being sincere. Feedback is not easy to give, receive, or ask for, but if you establish trust early, nothing can get in the way of helping a mentee.

How do you tailor your mentorship to the individual needs and goals of your mentees?
Dave: People have different personalities, viewpoints, and skill sets. Spend time understanding them and tailor your approach accordingly. One day it’s an arm around the shoulder, another it’s a kick in the rear. Early in my career, there were times when I had one person who would do both and I appreciated that.

Brad: I truly listen, ensure I understand their goals, am honest (sometimes brutally honest), and make myself available to them. Focus on these things and you can be a positive influence on anyone.

What are some key values you believe every mentor should prioritize in their relationships?

Randy: My key mentoring values are honesty, integrity, confidentiality, and accountability.

Brad: Authenticity, passion, reliability, self-discipline, and integrity.

Tom: Always treat your mentee as an equal. We both have an opportunity to learn from this relationship.

How do you create a safe space for open communication and vulnerability within your mentor relationships? 

Molly: I listen really closely to what the mentee needs that day. Sometimes they just need to talk about what they are experiencing that week, and sometimes they want to work on bigger topics. Keeping the time open and flexible lets my mentees know they are in the driver’s seat. I’m also not shy to share areas where I have made mistakes. That makes it safe for the mentee to know that no one has it all figured out and we are all just trying to do our best.

Chad: Be vulnerable. Be okay with imperfection. As a mentor, share a personal struggle or failure. Listen and understand the person. Provide positive reinforcement and be empathetic to their situation no matter how different from your own.

Dave: I establish credibility and vulnerability by relaying some of my experiences and mistakes, so they know what they’re experiencing and feeling is normal. This creates a personal connection and reminds them I am not perfect either. We all have struggles, challenges, and problems.

How has your approach to mentorship evolved as you’ve gained experience?  

Brad: I’m a slow learner in this area, I didn’t truly realize my ability to be a good mentor because I was too focused on the project at hand. With experience comes crucial insight and knowledge. I’ve found myself using this to guide my mentees deliberately and efficiently.

Dave: Mentoring is designed to be about the mentee, but I often learn a lot about myself in the process.  When I am giving advice, I find myself not only talking to my mentee but also to my younger self. When I first realized this, it struck me that when I’m telling someone about my experience or giving guidance, I could be talking to myself 20 years ago.

What advice do you have for aspiring mentors who are just starting? Or for people seeking a mentor?

Tom: I have found that mentoring opportunities can come from the most unlikely places. If you are always open to helping others and asking for ideas or suggestions, it can lead to all sorts of new adventures and connections.

Randy: If you want to be a good mentor, learn to be honest and don’t sugarcoat things simply to avoid a difficult conversation or situation. As the mentor or the mentee, it takes commitment and time. You must be all in if you expect to help someone or if you plan to gain anything from having a mentor.

What’s one piece of career advice you wish you had received earlier in your journey? 

Tom: Never be afraid to ask a question, you never know what you may gain.

Brad: Learn how things work instead of trying to make things work the way you think they should.

Molly: The only competition that’s out there is yourself and how you can improve every day. I see a lot of people new to the workforce wanting to get ahead faster than others or comparing their progress to others. The truth is that none of us started in the same place and none of us are going to end in the same place, so comparison is not only unhelpful, but also unrealistic.

Randy: Embrace change because it’s coming. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Chad: Chase the experience versus the money because the experience will allow for greater growth and better career paths. Look for experience that builds a foundation to get to where you want to go.

Dave: Develop the ability to see a bigger picture, earlier in my career, I needed help with that. I needed somebody to say, “No, wait a minute we can figure this out.” Everyone needs someone to remind them it is going to be okay, no matter how tough you think you are.

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