Mentoring

For those of you who are just starting out, seek out mentors who display a professional & positive outlook


Cindra Dunaway | Monday, January 7, 2013

As I have mentioned in several of my past articles, I have been in public safety communications for more than 20 years. Unfortunately, it wasn't until the last seven of those years when I came to my present agency that I was exposed to all the possibilities that come with my profession.
 
My Mentors
After acclimating myself to a larger agency that did things so differently than what I was used to, I finally volunteered for the newly formed training team. The more time that I spent on the team, the more I realized I had found my niche and soon became friends with our training coordinator, Chris. We ended up having so much in common it was eerie: We discovered that we had gone to the same middle school, had both started in communications practically the same year and we both were married to deputies. We've been working together for more than six years now and she has motivated me probably more than she realizes. I think what really attracted me to Chris, was her passion for communications and more specifically, training. I finally had someone that felt the same about 911 as I did. We often come to each other with the exact same ideas and sometimes even finish each other's sentences!
 
Most of my past (and some of my current) co-workers think of me as the teacher's pet. I prefer to think of it as someone who is investing in her career. Instead of sitting back and complaining about the things that can't be changed, I prefer to get involved. I volunteer because I like to be busy and want to help something or someone who needs it. I volunteer because I think I'm worthwhile, my career is worthwhile, and making things better for those coming up behind me as worthwhile. Chris has fostered that belief and allowed me to take part in many endeavors that has helped me grow in my career. She has encouraged my writing, teaching and training. I can only imagine where I would be if I had only started my career here from the very beginning! Since I have met Chris she has been promoted to communications manager and she continues to mentor me and anyone else that chooses to be involved. He motto is and has always been, the more the merrier!
 
I would be remiss if I didn't mention another person that has been a wonderful resource and mentor to me over the past three years. I met Dave Weisz with Motorola Solutions at the APCO International Conference in Houston, Texas, three years ago. Our training team had won the "Get Your Agency to Houston" award and we had publically thanked several local sponsors for their role in helping us get there (Motorola being one of them.) Dave approached our table, introduced himself, and expressed his appreciation for all of our hard work. We later had our pictures taken with him at the Motorola booth and over the next three years, we too have also become fast friends. Along with his friendship, Dave has offered his professional advice as well as a sympathetic ear, which has proved to be priceless to me in my career. It was nice to have someone removed from the situation, but still in the industry, to give me common sense advice, offer a different perspective and to "talk me off the ledge" when the occasion called for it!
 
Share Your Experience
Last month, I talked about who watches us while we work. For the experienced folks and supervisors, have you thought about all the talent that's sitting around you on your shift? Sometimes, all we need is a little encouragement to shine. Have you thought about being a mentor, or, at the very least, sharing your experiences? I think that in our line of work, it's imperative that we nurture and encourage our new hires. It requires a very specific type of person who can function successfully. We need to encourage newcomers to grow and mature into the seasoned, high-performing, professional public safety professionals that the public expects to have serving them. 
 
It's becoming popular for agencies to assign peer mentors to new hires as part as their formal mentoring program in order to familiarize the trainees to the culture and training program that is so unique to our profession. There are even several training topics out there for forming your own mentoring program. I wish we had something like this when I first started back in the industry. I watched so many people over the years "wash out" simply out of frustration rather than not being able to handle the logistics of the job. I'm sure that with a little encouragement rather than the "sink-or-swim" attitude that's unfortunately still prevalent in some agencies, these folks could have risen to the occasion instead of looked back on the experience with anxiety and a bitter taste for the profession.
 
What we do is amazingly complex and intimidating for anyone who has never been in the public safety field. The consequences of our actions, good or bad, are monumental. We need to lift each other up and be team players at all times. I'm not saying that you have to "love" the people you work with but we do have to work together for long hours, weather it is in the communication center or in the field, and you want to be able to rely on your shift mate when the chips are down. Everything depends on it.
 
Final Notes
For those of you who are just starting out, seek out those that display a professional and positive outlook. Those are the ones that you want to model yourself after. It is so easy to get caught up in all the negative things that come along with our careers. If you are lucky enough to find a mentor, do yourself a favor and take notes, be observant, and listen with an open mind to their advice. Maintain a positive attitude and take care of your mental health with a healthy outlet. If you can accomplish this, you have half the battle won. And before you know it, the new trainees will be looking to you as a role model, and management will be looking at you as a potential leader or supervisor.
 
Be safe, my family.



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Cindra DunawayCindra Dunaway is a 9-1-1 dispatcher for the Lee County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office. Contact her via e-mail at cdunaway@sheriffleefl.org.

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