Mentoring Leaders for the Future of AAPG

Divison Report: EMD

As AAPG celebrates its 100th year, we continue to work hard to ensure the next century will also be successful. Many excellent efforts and discussions have been centered on growing Young Professionals (YP) membership in AAPG, culminating in the formation of AAPG’s first Special Interest Group (SIG) in 2015. In addition to the ongoing work by the YP SIG, its leaders, members and champions in AAPG, we would like to expand the involvement of the general membership to be our partners in this effort.

One of the more common questions we hear from Members is: where will the next generation of leaders come from, and how can I help?

An Alternative to Burnout

Many people have had negative experiences when trying to recruit volunteers and officers from a population of people new to AAPG (students, YPs, new hires at their companies, etc.) This has been an ongoing issue for the Energy Minerals Division (EMD) as well. We rely heavily on the same core group of veteran volunteers, and have varied in our success in recruiting and retaining new core volunteers.

Why is that?

Our tendency is to find people with potential or interest, then immediately load them down with “opportunity” to spend all their energy on our priorities, and we burn them out.

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As AAPG celebrates its 100th year, we continue to work hard to ensure the next century will also be successful. Many excellent efforts and discussions have been centered on growing Young Professionals (YP) membership in AAPG, culminating in the formation of AAPG’s first Special Interest Group (SIG) in 2015. In addition to the ongoing work by the YP SIG, its leaders, members and champions in AAPG, we would like to expand the involvement of the general membership to be our partners in this effort.

One of the more common questions we hear from Members is: where will the next generation of leaders come from, and how can I help?

An Alternative to Burnout

Many people have had negative experiences when trying to recruit volunteers and officers from a population of people new to AAPG (students, YPs, new hires at their companies, etc.) This has been an ongoing issue for the Energy Minerals Division (EMD) as well. We rely heavily on the same core group of veteran volunteers, and have varied in our success in recruiting and retaining new core volunteers.

Why is that?

Our tendency is to find people with potential or interest, then immediately load them down with “opportunity” to spend all their energy on our priorities, and we burn them out.

Instead of continuing that trend, we would like to work with you, the AAPG Membership, to establish a mentoring culture.

I’ve been best able to explain the issue through analogy: Imagine you were the head of a department in a company and you met a new hire. After chatting with this person, you thought that they might have some leadership potential.

Do you then:

  1. Immediately offer them a supervisor position, starting tomorrow?
  2. Refuse to let them adopt any responsibility, ever?
  3. Work with them over time to develop their potential, find their aptitudes and give them the tools for success, so when they are ready to step into a supervisor position, they have a strong foundation?

I might have biased those choices.

Obviously, you would do neither A nor B in your business.

So, why then, do we do this in AAPG?

Why do we not seek out new volunteers and gradually ease them in to leadership, setting them up for success?

Well, several barriers exist:

  • Most AAPG volunteer positions do require a strong level of commitment. If someone is going to volunteer, we don’t really have “starter positions.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we do need to be aware of it, and of what we’re asking of people.
  • Those who seek new volunteers don’t know where they’re hiding.
  • Those who want to volunteer don’t know where they can go, especially if they want to give back, but only have a limited amount of time or other resources.
  • Mentors don’t always know where to go for resources. Building a new generation of leaders isn’t easy or simple, but it’s a skill we can develop like any other.

The Challenge

Are these barriers surmountable? I’d argue that they are, and that we’re making progress.

This brings me to my challenge.

This year, I’ve challenged every EMD leader to mentor one person. I’m not restricting the challenge to mentoring YPs only – just asking our officers to find one person who shows interest and bring them in to whatever they are already doing. I asked, hoping a few would show interest, and was overwhelmed at the response. People were just waiting to be asked!

Every single leader in EMD agreed to take on a mentee this year. We didn’t invent new positions or responsibilities, we are just asking people to help us out. Suddenly, our pool of potential leaders doubled (probably, I haven’t actually counted).

So let’s apply this model to the previously listed barriers:

  • High levels of initial commitment: Don’t ask for this. You’ll be turned down and miss out on potential new leaders. Instead, ask for small helps. Show people the ropes. Your workload will be lightened, you’ll make a new friend and you might start someone down the path of greater AAPG involvement without asking for his or her firstborn child.
  • Where are all the potential volunteers? The YP SIG is working hard on this. Jon says: They’re everywhere! If you don’t have someone to mentor now, try contacting the YP lead in your Section or Region. They know where to find them. Also, feel free to “like” the YP Facebook page (search for AAPG Young Professionals Special Interest Group). There are nearly 800 people in that online community. (They also have Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.)
  • Volunteers with nothing to do: Believe it or not, these people do exist. Sometimes, they’re just waiting to be asked. It’s hard, as a newcomer, to know how to get involved until you do. Who do you ask? I’d encourage you to get out there and talk to your local geological societies, student groups and YP meetups. Announce that you’re recruiting mentees and mentors. Ask all the geologists you know. The YP SIG is about to launch a call for mentees as well, so we can begin matching skills to the desire to learn.
  • Where do mentors go for resources? If we try to treat mentoring or teaching like a magical skill that some people are imbued with and others aren’t, we won’t get very far. Just like teaching, writing or any other skill, mentoring requires practice. I would advise you to leap right in, but be patient with yourself. Get feedback, read articles, talk openly with your mentee about what works for them. Talk to more experienced mentors. I have a personal library of references I’m happy to share. I’d also like to gauge interest in starting a mentoring SIG: a common space to share experience and advice, vent on occasion and provide a venue for making connections.

So, get out there and find someone to help you out, and build the next 100 years!

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