‘The Importance and Best Practices of EM Mentoring’ with Alain Normand, Emergency Manager at City of Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Picture of Alain Normand during EM mentoring interview

Alain Normand is the Emergency Manager for the City of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, as well as a lecturer and renowned expert on EM mentoring.

Interview with Alain Normand

Alain Normand is the Emergency Manager for the City of Brampton, Ontario, Canada, as well as a lecturer and renowned expert on EM mentoring.



CBD: Camilla Barker-DeStefano
AN: Alain Normand

CBD:   Alain, hi. Thank you so much for joining us. How are you doing today?

AN:     I’m very good, thanks. Appreciate the possibility to do this interview. I appreciate that.

CBD:   Fantastic. Well, we’re very, very lucky to have you on. I think you have an incredible, incredible, incredible story in emergency management. And you are doing so many different things that I am sure people will be very, very excited to hear about.

            Could you just give us a rundown of what it is that your current responsibilities are within emergency management? And maybe some of the activities that you do outside your official job as well, please.

AN:     Right. My official job, I’m the Emergency Manager for the city of Brampton, Ontario, Canada. And it’s a city of about 600,000, roughly. And I have a team of six people that run with me. We run the Emergency Management Program, including business continuity, including large crowd event safety and a lot of other things. We’re also doing some community safety support, various areas. Quite busy in that area, but emergency management, I’ve been in emergency management for about 25 years now. And that’s a love. My love, what I do for work.

            That’s the day-to-day work. But I also do a lot of extra-curricular activities, so I teach at York University in Toronto. And I teach courses, particularly in crisis communication. And some emergency management. I also teach occasionally for courses here and there for the Humber College, which is out of Guelph. But I teach all over the province.

            And I teach particularly emergency management for fire chiefs. So, fire chiefs and deputy fire chiefs are often called to be the emergency manager for small communities, but they’re not really equipped, they don’t have the tools to be able to do the job. So I go to various parts of the province through Humber College and I provide these courses that gives them a good introduction, a strong basis to be able to do the job of emergency management in their small community. So that’s another …

            I’m also working, this is more volunteer work, with ADRA Canada. ADRA is the the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, and it’s a faith-based organization and I work on their humanitarian arm. I do the relief part for Canada, I’m the National Emergency Coordinator for Canada for ADRA. And we send … We have teams of volunteers all across the country that respond to all sorts of disasters. More recently, we were involved in the Ottawa and eastern Ontario floods. We are still currently working in Alberta on the forest fires and wildfires that they’ve got there. I coordinate the response with the volunteers there.

            And then I am also a Red Cross volunteer, so on my off time when I can find the time, once in a while I respond to calls. I’ve been deployed to all parts of, mostly Canada, a couple of times in the States, but basically doing shelter management, things like that, with the Canadian Red Cross. That’s about it.

CBD:   That’s fantastic. That’s just about it. Yeah, that makes it sound … When you say that’s just about it, that makes it sound like a small commitment that you have to emergency management.

AN:     That’s right, that’s right. I do participate in a lot of-

CBD:   But, yeah. And you mentioned off time. It doesn’t sound like there’s a lot of off time in your calendar.

AN:     No, it’s-

CBD:   That makes me even more grateful that you’ve chosen to spend some time with us today.

AN:     Oh, I’m happy to do it. I also sit on a number of advisory committees with various associations. The International Association of Emergency Managers, for example. But also provincial governments, and so I’m requested … Because I have 25 years’ experience, a lot of people call on me for all sorts of advice and I’m happy to give it.

CBD:   That’s brilliant. Fantastic. I mean, that’s exactly why I wanted to speak to you about the topic that we’re going to be talking about today, about mentoring. Because I feel like there are so many people that are going through their emergency management career, and they turn to people like you, people who may serve formally as mentors or they may serve more informally as mentors. But that mentoring role is so important, and I feel like you would have a lot of value to share with us on that topic of mentoring.

            What I would really like to know is how you would define a mentor. Because we know about formal programs, we know that you can get a mentor sometimes when you join a job. But how do you see mentoring? Is it that narrow, or is it broader than that?

AN:     Yeah. For me, mentoring … I’ve had a few opportunities where I’ve actually had somebody who was sort of shadowing me, working in the office with me and seeing what I do to learn on the job, kind of. But that’s not what I do most. I do some of that through internships with the university students, college students. But what I do most is informal mentoring.

            I mentor currently probably dozens of people because they know where I am, I’ve made myself available. And when they have a question, they have something, anything, they’re just calling me. And that’s fine. I give them advice, as much as I can, based on my experience and my expertise. And I have followed my students. I’ve been teaching now for about, I think it’s going on 16 years now, so I’ve been teaching … Well, through 16 years I’ve seen a lot of students. You get an average of maybe 40 to 50 students a year that go through every [quart 00:06:07]. Now, not all of them make it in emergency management. Not all of them pursue a career in emergency management, but a lot of them do.

            And I can say that I probably have been able to follow about 10% of all the students that I’ve had over the years. And I know where they are, I know where they work. And I communicate with them. I travel all across the country and wherever I go, I know that there’s some of my past students there, so when I go somewhere, I try to connect with them. Just see how they’re doing, how their job is coming along. And that’s the more informal kind of mentoring. They know I’m there, they know if they have ever an issue …

            And I get probably between five to 10 emails a week from people that want advice in one way or another. So I’m currently mentoring all of these people informally in that method. And it’s working because it doesn’t require a lot of my time. It does take a little bit. But I take the time to … I analyze every question very carefully and I make sure that I provide an answer. Sometimes I don’t have an answer, that’s the other thing, is that I don’t always have an answer for everything. But I know a lot of people. I’ve been able to create a very strong network. I probably have close to 2,000 LinkedIn network people. So if I don’t have the answer, I may know who does.

            And that’s the next thing in mentoring, is not necessarily having all the answers but knowing where to go to get the answers. And I can then transfer that person, that question, to whoever has an answer. I do a lot of introductions and connecting people together so that they can answer those questions. So that’s also part of mentoring.

            To me, it’s not having to sit down with somebody every day and going through. I try once in a while, particularly if they’re in the area, to go for a coffee and a chat to see how they’re doing, just … Or if I’m traveling, like I say, somewhere else and I know somebody’s there and I haven’t seen them in a while, I’ll call and say, “Hey. I’ll be in town this time. Is there a chance we can grab a coffee together or something?” And that’s all really it is. But it’s caring, it’s wanting these people to succeed. That’s really the main thing. There’s not a need for a lot of formal …

            I’ve had some formal, and I know that we have the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers has a mentoring program where people register, they get followed. There’s an evaluation afterwards and all that. And it’s for a short period, it’s probably three months. I forget exactly, but … And I’ve done that. I’ve joined, and I’ve followed a few people on that. But most of the mentoring I do is more of that informal kind of mentoring.

CBD:   Brilliant, brilliant. I think one thing that is really valuable that you’ve just done is you’ve shown us the broad range of mentoring opportunities that are actually out there. I think many people, when they think of having a mentor, it sounds like a formal relationship, it sounds like something that you maybe secure through university or college or through your workplace. And it does sound like that kind of regimented … You mentioned an evaluation process at the end. It sounds like that more formal process.

            And I think while there are some really strong benefits to being involved in that, there is also, sorry, this huge kind of range of opportunities for people to find more informal mentors. And whether that is emailing once every now and again or having a coffee when you’re in town, I think that opening up that definition of mentor so you’re not just looking at it as somebody that you are formally attached to. But you’re instead just identifying someone that has the knowledge and the skills that you are interested in gaining and has that insight that you can only get from having 25 years plus in emergency management. So I think that’s really valuable, just opening up that idea. This is not a restricted activity, this is something that we’ve all got access to. We’ve just got to go looking for it.

AN:     Exactly. And I am a people person, so I like to be with people. I like to mingle with them and I like to know about them. And I care for people. So those students I get, like I say, not everyone, but there are some that come to the top. And if they are truly interested and they want to work with me, I’ll work with them. And I’ll make sure that they succeed. To me, it’s not … I even know when some of those students are getting married or when they had their first child, so I follow that. It’s more than just work. It’s more than just career. It’s how are you doing? And how are you? And you need any help with anything?

            And it could be help outside of just work. It could be, sometimes, they’re going through some difficult times. And in job search. A lot of the advice that I give, because I’m requested, is about job search. How do I make it in this field? And emergency management, it’s a fairly restricted field. There’s not tons and tons of jobs. There are jobs opening regularly, but it’s not like nursing or some of those other career. You have to work for it. And I provide some advice. How do you actually get through? And some of the students are struggling, some are doing better.

            And I work mostly with students, with younger people. But occasionally I’ll get a request from somebody that’s more mature, or somebody that’s going through a second career. A fire chief that decided, “Well, I’m retiring now, but I want to keep doing it and emergency management sounds like my next choice. So, okay, how do you transition into this new career? How do you do that?”

            And so I have a variety, but the majority of the people that I mentor are students. And the fun thing is that they’re all across the country. They started maybe here in Toronto, in the Toronto area. But I have some in Vancouver, I have somebody in Cape Breton which is at the other end, in Nova Scotia, and then I have a lot all over the place all across the country. And that’s great. It’s a lot of fun to do that.

CBD:   Yeah, definitely. I can definitely see the big draw to being a mentor. And we can talk about what it means to be a mentor to someone a little bit later on. But for now, let’s just put ourselves in a position of someone that is thinking about trying to approach a mentor but they’re not quite sure about whether it’s worth it in the end to do it.

            We’ve talked about some of the benefits of finding and having a mentor already just from what you’ve said. You’ve mentioned the fact that mentees can get access to advice, there’s a networking element to it and there’s also that support outside of this strictly formal workplace. So do you see any other kind of benefits to mentoring? What’s the reason that somebody should go and find a mentor?

AN:     Well, definitely there’s best practice. And like I say, with 25 years under my belt, I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. And I want to be careful when I say that, because there’s people that’ll say, “Well, yeah. You’re traditional, you’re going to keep going, we’ve always done it this way so we should do it.” And I’m not. I’m very progressive, I’m open to new ideas, I’m always looking for new ways to do things. But there are certain things that we have tried and we know it won’t work. So I don’t want people to go in that direction and make the same mistakes that we’ve already made. Don’t repeat our mistakes.

            Yes, try some new things possibly, and I can give you some ideas and get some avenues where to go. But don’t repeat those errors. And so that’s one of the things also is knowing the best practice. What does work in this field and what doesn’t? And mind you, there’s a lot of research being done. It’s still a fairly new field. We haven’t really explored all of the possibilities, so there’s still room for growth. But I’ve been connected with a lot of people.

            Also, being at the university gives me the advantage that I’m connected with a lot of the academics and the people that are doing research. I read a lot. That’s one of the things. I read as much as I can. Not necessarily huge books, I am not going to read a 200 page book, but I do read a lot of articles, a lot of summaries of books. And then if I see that there’s something that really catches my attention then I’ll go and read the book, or at least some of the chapters in a book. But I read a lot in order to stay current.

            That’s one of the things I tell my mentees, you want to stay on top of things. It’s very nice you’ve got this degree, this nice little paper that says you’ve made it, but this is only the start. If you really want to make it in this business, the business is changing daily. And we talk about climate change, well, definitely climate change means emergency management change. We are constantly updating, upgrading, because we don’t know how to resolve half of these situations that we’re dealing with.

            In Canada in particular, there’s been a lot of work recently, a lot of emphasis in doing research with First Nations. First Nations are, I want to say this politically correct, but they’re coming out of their cocoon, in a way. They’ve been … And it’s not their fault, necessarily. But they’ve been hiding away. We weren’t really aware of their needs. We weren’t really helping. We always thought, well, the federal government’s going to take care of them and so we don’t need to worry about it. And over the last, I don’t know, five, 10 years, they’ve really started to come out and say, “Hey, we want to do things for ourselves. Just give us the tools. Help us, train us and then we’ll take care of it. We’ll take care of our own people.”

            Which makes total sense to me, because I’m a male Caucasian and I know absolutely, I have no background in First Nations in my blood. I don’t know anything about their culture, about their values. So who am I to go and tell them how to do things? Or to tell them, “Follow my rule.” So I think we need a lot of research there. And that’s where the students can get a mix. Those that are really interested work with the First Nations, learn their values, their culture, which the little bit that I know is just fabulous, it’s just amazing. But find out … And then see how can we bring in emergency management gently into this so that they can become more autonomous and take care of disasters and that? So that’s …

            And I now have a few of my mentees that are actually looking into this and I think that there’s a lot of work in the future for that. So it’s encouraging them into going into areas where we know there is a need. There’s a niche there that somebody has to look into. Like I say, we still haven’t scratched the surface on that area. And Canada is such a wide … Half of our country is under snow 10 months of the year. And basically those people, the people who live in those areas, are totally removed from the major urban centers, and we don’t know how they work and how they live. So who are we to tell them how to do things?

CBD:   Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think there’s two really important benefits that I think I can draw out of that. One of them is the fact that having a mentor gives you access to best practice that can only be gathered over the years. Now, whether that is five years and you’re mentoring someone or whether it’s 30 years and you’re mentoring someone, there is so much value in experience. And that’s something that we can’t get in the classroom. And I’ve mentioned on other videos in the past that some of the best … On podcasts, sorry. Some of the best lessons that I’ve learnt in my field have come from having conversations with people outside of any formal conference or education setting. And one of the reasons that I’m building this Crisis Academy is so that we can connect people in new ways.

AN:     [inaudible 00:19:09]. Funny that you say that, because my students … I’m going to brag here. But my students said in crisis communication, they all tell me that this is the best course that they’ve ever. Why? Because I’m a practitioner, I’m not an academic. I do have an academic inkling and I do know how I academics work. But that’s not my priority. My priority is practicing. And I want these people to understand what the field is.

            So when I go in my class, I don’t just give them the theory. I also give them practical examples. I tell them stories of either myself directly or friends of mine that I know that participated in various events. And these are real life stories. And that’s what makes the beauty of this course. And the students really appreciate that because it goes beyond just what they learn in the books. If it was just learning the books, well, just take a book and read it and that’s it. But it’s most beyond. What I offer in my classroom is really the lived-in experience. What have we done? What is the reality out there? And what are some of the lessons that we learn through doing things? And so you’re right, the experience is invaluable and I try to bring some of that, at least, to my course rather than just the academic components.

CBD:   Absolutely, absolutely. The practice element is … I mean, it’s almost like the academic side and the practice side. They have to exist. They have to co-exist. Because one can’t really function well without the other.

            And that actually brings me nicely to the second big benefit that I was hearing you speak about, and that’s just the ability to be updated a lot quicker than you can through the traditional Academy. Because we all know that through journal publications and books, it takes two, three, five years sometimes to get at research that was done. You know, 2010, it’s out in 2015. And that really is not, in our field, where lives are depending on us making the best decisions, that’s too long. And so for people like you who are working in the Academy to then bring it into the kind of practice element and vice versa, I think that’s a really unique combination of experience that you can offer to people.

AN:     Yeah. I know I’m privileged to be able to be there, because I mingle with the academics and I mingle with the practitioners. And I get a little bit of both, so I know what’s being researched. I see those reports when they come out. And I talk to people who have actually done the research. And I get a lot of it. I attend a lot of conferences and seminars, workshops, just to stay in touch with these people and to find out what they’re working on and attending their sessions. So that after that, I can transmit some of that. I can pass this on to other users. I translate that. In a way, I am a translator. I take what the academics do and I translate it to a practitioner.

            Because as much as I like academics, they often are too strict on the academic side and not enough understanding of, how can we actually apply that? Research is great, but if you can’t apply it, then it’s useless. So I become a translator in that I take that research and those results of research and I say, “Okay. Now, how can we make that useful?” And then I transmit that and pass it on to students. That why I write blogs as well with various associations. And on those, I try to do some of that. Just, here’s what we’re learning and here’s how we can apply it.

CBD:   Yeah. That’s an excellent way of putting it, that translation kind of aspects. And you’ve made me think, actually, I think of myself in a similar way in terms of … My background is in law and I’m a lawyer. But the existing solely within that legal space is great for some things, if you’re just strictly being academic about it. But the law is a very powerful tool, and if you can use it to do something practical, then that’s great. So I fully understand that.

            One thing I want to come back to, you mentioned that you tell your students stories in the classroom. I’m wondering, do you have any kind of stories about, and you don’t have to mention names or anything or personal details, but do you have any stories about the impact that mentorship can have on, say, a young professional or a new professional to emergency management?

AN:     I got quite a few stories, like I say, I’ve been following. I’d say I go back to one of my first opportunities for mentoring. A young man from Ontario who was actually doing his Doctorate in emergency management from Coventry University in the UK. And because at the time we had no education programs in Ontario. But he wanted to have a local mentor, so he needed to have somebody to follow him while he was doing his PhD, he was doing his thesis research. So he had to have a, I forget what you call it, but somebody to follow him. So I did.

            He contacted me through the Association, he knew about this, and so he said, “I’m looking for somebody.” And I was President of the Association at the time, so I said, “Okay, I’ll look into it and I’ll take you on.” And I did. And it was interesting because he was pretty green and starting off. And at the time, he had just started to have a relationship with a girlfriend and was very young, 20-some. But I started following him. And through the years, I saw him grow and we constantly went together to conferences and seminars. He was regularly counting on me. We did work together occasionally, we went on contracts here and there, we did some consulting at the time. And he helped me. He came with me to various contracts. Did some work. So some of that.

            And then he got married. And he now has two children. But over the years, I’ve seen him move up the ranks. He’s changed companies. And now, he’s a Director of Emergency Management in a large urban region. And so to me, it just makes me so proud to see somebody go to that level. And then to follow him, like I say, both in his professional world, seeing him go up the ranks, gradually move up to an assistant, a specialist, then a manager and eventually to a director was just amazing to see that.

            But at the same time, to see his life change, getting from a girlfriend to getting married to having children. His children are now, I’d say they’re getting close to high school. That’s the value. And we create a friendship. It’s more than just mentorship. There’s a friendship. We’re friends now. But he still sometimes sends me an email, says, “What do you think about this? What do you think about that?” And yeah, sure. So I give him my insight, what I think. So that’s an example of a great story that …

            He was one of the first. But since then, there’s been so many through the years. There’s this one young lady who is actually now in Vancouver, and she started … Wasn’t really sure where she wanted to go. And then applied for this position as just a specialist in Vancouver. And over the years have been mentoring, has been counting on me, and I’ve been giving her advice. And now she’s coming back and she’s a guest speaker on conferences because she’s done such fabulous work out West that people are looking to her to get insight because she’s just grown so much that now, I go and listen to her talks. It’s funny. But seeing those people grow and expand is just amazing. It’s so gratifying to see that.

            But also, as I said, our field is new. It’s fairly new. I mean, yes, I’ve been at it for 25 years but it’s changed so much in the 25 years. And really, the bulk of the work is new. And we need to have people that are going to grow and so as I’m helping these students, I’m also helping grow the field, if you want. The industry, the profession of emergency manager is growing because these people are getting stronger, they’re getting more knowledgeable. They’re gaining from the experience. So I’m not just giving to individual. I think I’m giving back to the whole profession by doing that.

            I want the next generation of emergency managers to be confident, to be strong and to know that what they’re doing is important, and to feel confident in face of disasters and large-scale emergencies so that they can respond. We often have, when I do exercises, I often invite some of my mentees to come in and “Hey, we’re having an exercise, you want to come and observe?” And they come in and they learn just from the exercise itself. I do training. I’m not picky on who’s going to attend training. If I’ve got room in the classroom and you want to come in and sit in on my training session, yeah. Come on in. You’re welcome to do so.

            And that’s the thing, is that you may have that diploma, that degree, whatever, that paper that says you’ve made it in this field. But you can’t stop learning. You got to keep learning. Any opportunities that you get for training. So when a student or somebody calls me and says, “I’d like to learn more about this and that.” I say, “Oh, well, there’s a course coming up here, and there.”

            And that’s another thing that you can do, is you can signal that. Because I’m connected with so many different associations and groups, I get all these invitations to conferences, seminars, workshop. I can’t attend all of them, but I attend a few. But when I know of something and somebody call me and says, “Do you know where I could look into this?” Then I send them. I send them to IAEM or I send them to even [ASIS 00:29:50]. The ASIS is more security side, but they do have a strong section that deals with emergency management as well. So if IAEM doesn’t have it or other associations don’t have it, well, look into ASIS. Maybe ASIS has something.

            So being connected with all these agencies is also something I can refer them to, help them grow their own network through sharing some of the networks that I’m connected with.

CBD:   One thing that is really striking me at the minute is how invested you sound in each one of the mentees that you are working with. And whether that’s a student you have for just one course or it’s someone like one of the first mentees that you mentioned, that you see them develop and you see them with their girlfriend and then their wife and then their kids. That strikes me as a really important quality to have. If you are someone that wants to go into mentoring, that sounds like a really important quality. Could you speak to that a little bit? What qualities does one need to have to serve effectively as a mentor?

AN:     Definitely you need to be a caring person. You need to care for this. It’s not just giving advice. I can give advice, I can write things and I can give advice to anybody, that’s not a problem. But when I work with a person that … Like I say, I don’t take mentees, I don’t take everybody as a mentee. I want to make sure that they want to be there. If they want to do something, they’re going to work for it, I’ll work with them. But then it’s because I care. I want them to succeed.

            And I think that’s the key, is that if you’re going to be a mentor, it’s because you’re aiming to have that person that you’re going to follow succeed in their profession. But succeed overall. And success isn’t measured by just how much work you do and how often you attend events or whatever. It’s also in your regular life. Are you having that typical life-work balance that we’re talking about often? How are things at home? Or are you putting a little too much emphasis on work and maybe you need to take time?

            I have three children. They’re all grown up now, they’re on their own. But even though I’ve been very busy, I always made sure that I had time for my family. And my wife is retired now, she’s at home. But I make sure that I don’t neglect while I’m doing all these things. I actually often bring her with me on trips and when we go somewhere, I go to conference, I bring her with me. We do things. So that she’s around and I’m with her. The life balance is important. So when I work with a mentee, yes, I’ll give them a lot of advice profession-wise, work-wise. But I also try to get to know them a little bit and then see, “How is your life in general?” And I’ve been able …

            With everything we hear about PTSD today, it’s so important. And yeah, we’re not police officers, we’re not fire fighters, so maybe we don’t see the traumatic kinds of things that these people … And I feel for them, what people go through, and the first responders go through can be horrific. And PTSD is a real problem and we need to put more resources to that, definitely. But we’re not immune from it. We see things or we hear things. I’m in my emergency operation center and all I get is I get reports. I get reports of casualties, I get reports of damage, I get … Sometimes I get a TV feed, I get a video here and there, so we do see that. But we hear those stories repeated over and over and over again. So … Let me just turn this off, sorry.

CBD:   Not a problem, don’t worry.

AN:     All right. So we do hear them. And after a while, it can get to you. Or if you’ve been working too … So for example, in Ottawa, this is the third year in a row where they have major emergency. They had floods in 2017 that were pretty devastating. And they were really not ready for it. They had huge issues. But they coped. And then in 2018, they had a tornado go through and they had to cope with that. And tornado caused a lot of devastation and damage. And this year again, they get floods. This time they were better prepared because they learned from 2017, which is good.

            But they’ve been at this for months now. For at least two months they’ve been handling this flood response and that’s right after having finished working with the tornado, on the tornado. Barely finished recovery from the tornado. So these people are burned out. And they’ve struggled, so I’m worried for them. I’m worried that they are going to go through some PTSD. And I know a few people, some of my colleagues are there. And so once in while, if I do go to Ottawa, and I do once in a while. I have family in Ottawa, actually. When I go there, I’ll see if can go and grab a coffee with one of them and chat and see how they’re doing.

            But it’s really more than just the work. It’s the people aspect. These are people that are going through … Emergency management’s not necessarily an easy field. If you don’t have an emergency for years and years, then good for you. You just do training and exercise and you keep doing it, that’s great. But once you get hit, in some places you get hit one after the other, that’s when it can get rough. So I follow them not just in the off times, but I also follow them if they need help, they know that I can be there for them to help professionally but also sometime just reassuring them.

            Or stopping them, tapping them on a shoulder and say, “Are you taking enough time for yourself? Yeah, you’re going through this emergency, you’re working there, but …” And you know what? I’m the worst for this, because I have to have others tap me on the shoulder to get my out of the EOC when it’s my turn. But I know that, I don’t want to give up my place when into it. I just sit there.

            In 2013, we had a major ice storm in the area here. And we were at it for … And I had to have people tell me, “You need to go home now. We’ll be okay. We’ll take over from there, yeah.” And so I’m the worst culprit for that. But I try to think of others and I would try to remind them that, hey, you need to take time for yourself. So it’s more than just professional work. You need to care, you need to want these people to succeed, and you need them to succeed not just in the workplace but in life in general.

CBD:   Yeah. I would agree with you there on the importance of having that broader oversight of what’s going on as well. Because it’s not just necessarily, “Is this a good move for me in my career?” You can’t really answer that question, actually, unless you know a bit about their family life or you know a little bit about their personal life or whatever else. I think having that, I want to say top down in a way, you’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture when you are serving as a mentor. If you really want to be effective with somebody, you’ve got to be able to see the bigger picture. And you’ve got to be able to take into account all of these conflicting inputs into that person’s life so that you can make that kind of calculated expert decision or opinion to actually give them. I think that’s really valuable, thank you.

AN:     You know, one of the things that a lot of students come to tell me, to ask me, is that, “Should I do a Masters degree? Should I go on and study?” And I say, well, here’s my take on it, is that if you don’t have a mortgage, you don’t have a family, you don’t have wife, you don’t have kids, now’s the time to do it. Because I’ve seen people come back and do it later, but it’s extremely difficult. So if you have no obligations that are tying you down right now, I say yes, do it. Because even though it’s not a requirement to have a Master’s degree in order to be in emergency management, it’s going to become more and more important over the years. And if you want to move up the ranks, if you want to get the better positions eventually, then you’re going to need it.

            Because you’re in competition with all these people that have it, and if you don’t, well then you’re going to miss out. If you have the opportunity and you don’t have any obligations right now, go for it. Same thing if there’s an opportunity that opens up outside of the area where you study. You know, a lot of student, they want to get a job right here in Toronto, in the Toronto area, because that’s where they are. That’s where they live right now. That’s where mom and dad are and that’s where they’re studying. But I say, at this point if you don’t have an obligation, if you’re not married, you don’t have kids, then look outside of Toronto now.

            And if you go and you get settled in somewhere else in another province, and I’ve had a lot of students that have taken that advice, moved out of the province to go into other areas. And they’re finding that they’re getting better chances of moving up the ranks there because everybody who studies in Toronto wants to stay in Toronto and the market becomes saturated. So when they’re going outside of there, they’re having better opportunities. So that’s the kind of advice as well.

            It’s not just knowing what to do in emergency management. It’s not just formally emergency management advice. It’s what do you do for your career? Where do you go, where are the good places, what are the things to think about? And when should you be doing it? In 10 years from now, that same student will have a lot of obligation. Be married, have kids, have a mortgage. You can’t just pack up and move. It becomes very difficult. So if you haven’t selected your place ahead of time, if you haven’t done that move ahead of time, you’re not going to be able to do it. Or it’s going to be extremely difficult to do it later. Again, that’s the idea. It’s more than just practice advice on emergency management. It’s caring for the person and wanting them to succeed in life.

CBD:   Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Okay. We’ve talked a lot about what the investment is, I guess, in the whole process of being a mentor. It’s not just that you are invested in somebody but it’s you have that experience, you are willing to take the time. The fact that you get five to 10 emails every week, that’s a lot. The fact that you are willing to open up your professional networks, because in a way it’s like you have to trust that that person that you are referring will actually then reflect well on you professionally. So there’s a lot that mentors take on. And in some cases they may actually get paid for that through a work stipend, to do that through a workplace. But can you talk a little bit more about some of the kind of rewards that you get as a mentor that aren’t financially linked, just the maybe personal rewards or professional?

AN:     Yeah. I’ve never done mentoring for payment. I do it because I care for the people, I want them to really … So the reward is gratification. When I see that one of my mentors becomes the Director of Emergency Management for Toronto Hydro, for example, and is well respected. And it’s funny because I remember that this guy, at one point he was trying to convince his CEO and senior management about the need for more business continuity. And he says, “I’m struggling. They’re not listening to me. I’m the preacher that’s preaching to his own inside and the prophet in his own country and nobody listens to me.” He says, “Could you come and you talk to them?” And I said, “Sure.”

            So I went to one of the senior management meetings that he invited me to, and I gave them a little speech, a little presentation on what’s the value of doing emergency management and business continuity in their industry. And gave them examples of places where it hadn’t worked, where they’re hadn’t done anything. And so, helping him succeed beyond just giving him advice. Also going out there and speaking on his behalf to people. That’s another example.

            And I forgot the question now. Not sure if that’s the area … With the gratification of seeing them succeed is really … This young lady in Vancouver that I follow more or less on and off, she became the second Chief Resilience Officer for Canada. I don’t know if you know, you’re familiar with the Rockefeller 100 Resilient Cities Program?

CBD:   Mm-hmm (affirmative).

AN:     And so in Canada we have three cities that were successful, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. Montreal got it one year before the other two and they hired a Chief Resilience Officer, so they were first off the mark. But then Vancouver was second and Toronto was third. And Vancouver hired this young lady who was already working in the Emergency Management Office for Vancouver, but they hired her, they moved her up as Chief Resilience Officer. And she is one of my students. She was one of my mentees.

            To see that, to see that hey, this is the second person ever to do this job in Canada, and she’s doing it. She’s a young person that’s really come through the rank, studies and education, and gained from the mentorship. Just that in itself is reward enough. Seeing them succeed when you’ve given them a little bit of help here and there is just fabulous. It’s just amazing.

CBD:   Absolutely. Yeah, I think you’re right, there. I mean, I think people that are kind of obsessed with money and they go into work for money, they don’t come into fields like humanitarian work or emergency management or whatever. There’s always something else to it. And whether it’s a desire just generally to help people or whether it’s a concern about the environment and what we’re doing to it and how we can combat some of that in terms of resiliency, there’s always some other reason that people go into it. And I think that’s probably why we have such strong and such successful mentors in this business, because there are people that fundamentally care about something bigger than a paycheck.

AN:     That’s right, yeah.

CBD:   Yeah. That’s really great. Okay, last question.

AN:     And I tell my students that if you want to be a millionaire, don’t be an emergency manager. You’re in the wrong field. Because we don’t make a lot of money. I’m comfortable, I make a good salary, I pay for my bills and I take care of my family, but I don’t have a mansion. I only got one car, and it’s not a BMW or whatever. But I’m happy with that because that’s not what I’m looking for. I’m not looking to make tons of money. I got enough to care for myself and travel a bit and take a bit of vacation once in a while, but then the rewards are not financial. They’re totally different. And you’re right, I wouldn’t be in a humanitarian field if I was looking for money, yeah.

CBD:   Definitely. Definitely. And I say the same thing all the time. People always … Well, not always. But often will joke with me and say, “Oh, you’re a lawyer. You’re fine,” whatever. And I’m like, not quite the same levels of pay that you get in corporate Manhattan. It’s a very different world.

            Okay. Last question that I want to ask you. I think we collectively have done a very good job of selling the value of mentoring to people. How would you advise someone to get into mentoring either as a mentor or as a mentee?

AN:     Well, you can either go through various associations or colleges, university, the formal way. They’re always looking for people to take on. And there is a form, you register, you sign some forms, you sign some agreements. And so that’s the formal way to do it. And you can do that. There are a lot. Check out your own association locally or a college, university that offers an emergency management program. And they probably will have something for you. That’s the formal way.

            The informal way is just to attend events and mingle with people and chat with them and get to know them. And particularly, you’re coming there, if you have that experience and you’re really ready to offer some of that to anybody, well, then go in and start to look for the young people or the people that are looking for that. Who are just starting out and seem to be brand new in the field, somebody very green. And just get to know them. Chat with them. And give them your business card, tell them where you work, give them a few little stories just to get them interested. And tell them, “Once you leave, well, you can contact me any time. You’ve got a question, you got something, contact me. Give me a call.”

            And one of the things, and like I said, I don’t mentor everybody. I have to see that they’re really interested. But usually, the people that are interested, that’s the people you’ll find at the workshops, at the seminars. They’ll pay the money to attend the seminar workshop because they want to get something out of it, not just … Particularly if it’s not their company that pays to go to that workshop. If they’re going on their own then they’re interested, and that’s the people that will listen to you and they’ll take your advice and they’ll go and do something with it. Go to those network events, go to the workshops, seminars, and during the breaks, mingle with them. Get to know them. And give your business cards and say, “Hey, give me a call if you got a question. I’ll be happy to answer it.” That’s the informal mentoring.

            Now of course, I have the advantage that because I teach, I get these students in class. I connect with them, we build a relationship throughout a whole semester. And then they contact me afterwards and say, “Can I stay in touch with you?” And sure, if you’re interested and I see that you’re serious about this, then yes. So there’s different ways of doing it. Certainly if you are teaching already, I think teachers are in the best possible, have the easiest to become mentors. But you don’t have to be a teacher. Like I say, either the formal way through an institution, an organization, or the informal by attending and giving business cards.

CBD:   Yeah. I think making that first move in a way is important for a lot of people, because if I’m sat here and I’m like, “Okay, I would really like to be a mentor,” I can’t just expect people to be lining up to speak to me. It’s a two-way street, it’s not a one-way street. And I think we all find people that we really enjoy talking to at conferences and people that you click with better than other people. And so in a way, it’s going to be organic, but there has to be that first step made somewhere.

            And just being conscious as well. As someone who wants to mentor, perhaps you’re a bit more senior in your field and you’re thinking … You’ve got to be aware of the fact that people who are maybe younger or junior to you in terms of their career, they may be kind of intimidated in a certain way to approach you and to ask to do that. I think just being open and saying, “If you’re interested, here’s my card. I’d love to hear from you.” That kind of thing can really make a difference to people and can really open up that relationship in a friendly and accessible way.

AN:     And another thing is I get invited as a speaker, guest speaker, to conferences all the time. And I’m happy to do it. When I prepare for a presentation, I always think of, “Who’s my audience? And who’s going to be there, what are they looking for?” I don’t prepare just, “Oh, I got something I want to share,” and then I give it. It’s not for me, it’s for them. So what are they going to be looking out at?

            And then what I find is that when I do that and people connect with what I think they were looking for and they get it, then they come after. After my speech is done, when my presentation is done, they come up and they come and talk to me. And say, “Oh, I really liked that. I want to know more about it. Can you send me your presentation?” and all that. And that’s usually a time to start connecting with them. If they like what you said, they agree with what you’re saying, they’re interested, they want to know more, that right there you’re going to create some mentees just doing that.

            I’ve had a lot of people that have come up to me after conferences, seminars, speeches and said, “I want to know more about this. And then can you send me …” So I either send them some more information, I connect them with somebody else, I give them some reading material that they should consider. That’s also mentoring. And so that’s another opportunity. If you’re invited as a guest speaker, think of it as an opportunity to create some connections with mentees.

CBD:   Fantastic. That’s really, really fantastic advice and listen, let’s wrap this up. Thank you very, very much again for spending the time with us. I think this is going to be really valuable for people at both ends of the mentoring spectrum, those who are looking for mentors and who are looking to serve as it. So thank you so much for sharing your expertise and your experiences.

AN:     I’m happy to do it. If people want to connect through LinkedIn, just search me and I’m there and I’ll be happy to reply.

CBD:   Fantastic. I’ll make sure that all of your links to your LinkedIn are registered with this video. So, thank you very much.

AN:     Perfect. All right, thank you.

Want to see the full video interview for free?

All interviews featured on DISPATCH are available in video form at the Crisis Academy Insights Library. To access the video, simply visit the Crisis Academy website and sign up. It is 100% free and only takes a few seconds.

Interested in learning more about EM mentoring and careers?

We regularly post news and analysis that relates to EM mentoring and careers. Check out our Careers category for more interviews and articles like this.

Please note all interviews are transcribed by humans, and we humans make mistakes. If you have noticed one, please accept our apologies.

Camilla Barker-DeStefano

Camilla Barker-DeStefano

Dr. Camilla Barker-DeStefano (Oxon) is a disaster lawyer, author, and founder of the Crisis Academy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *