By Andrea Newell (Grand Rapids, Michigan)
Behind every corporate logo is a culture filled with personalities, politics, and procedures. How do you navigate this new landscape, excel at your job, and advance your career? Find a mentor.
A report released by the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology found that “mentoring has been associated with higher job satisfaction, higher promotion rates, higher future income, increased work success, and higher retention rates.”
Dr. Lois Zachary, author of The Mentor’s Guide – Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships, The Mentee’s Guide: Making Mentoring Work for You, and Creating a Mentoring Culture: The Organization’s Guide, asserts that mentoring is a leadership competency. “Mentoring shouldn’t just be the result of a formal program, leaders should always be looking to grow. Learning is the purpose, process, and product of mentoring.”
Crucial for Women and Minorities
Audrey Murrell, Associate Professor of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh and Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, conducts research on the barriers for women and minorities in the corporate sector. Author of Mentoring Dilemmas: Developmental Relationships within Multicultural Organizations, Murrell believes that mentoring is a crucial value-add for women and minorities.
She advocates building a portfolio of mentors to meet different needs and grow various aspects of your career. She also supports the idea of formal mentoring programs in organizations. Murrell explains that many times women and minorities are locked out of informal networks. Her data shows that formal mentoring programs equalize access to people, resources, and information, and is an important aspect of an organization’s diversity program.
Mentors are especially important for women who work in fields dominated by men. Do mentors for women have to be women? Zachary advises finding the right person that fits your needs, regardless of gender. Michele Ashby began her career as a stockbroker and mining analyst. With the support of a male mentor, she became an expert and one of the first women to speak at gold mining conferences and is now CEO of MINE LLC.
Rosemary Bayer began her career in Information Technology in the automotive industry. She found a female executive at a large automotive supplier to be her first mentor. “When I am sitting on a panel, I always talk about finding mentors and role models, and about building your network. My first mentor experience, with Menttium, taught me the completely unexpected value of having connections, friends, and people outside your work space.” Bayer founded the Michigan Council of Women in Technology (and MCWT Foundation) and began ardentCause L3C.
Why Mentors are Vital for Senior Leaders Too
Many think that mentors are only for women on their way up. Do you need a mentor once you reach a senior level? Absolutely, Zachary says, in her article Help on the Way: Senior Leaders Can Benefit from Working with a Mentor. In an executive position, time is at a premium and most choose to mentor others instead of spending time on their own learning, but Zachary contends that mentoring is vital at all points in your career.
- Perspective and Experience. A mentor can give you the benefit of his or her perspective and experience. He or she can help you assimilate to a new position and give you an insider’s view on how to get things done.
Bayer agrees, “This was the value to me of working with my first real mentor. She knew all about navigating big, traditional companies and how the structure and promotional system works. She helped me build my ‘personal board of directors,’ people who provided support for me, and how to make a ‘dance card’ whenever I was going to a large corporate event of some type (to make sure I had people to try and talk with and know what I was going to talk about). This mentor gave me the help I needed to advance my career significantly, starting that year.”
- Think Outside the Box. A mentor can help you look at situations in new ways. He or she can ask hard questions and help you solve problems.
“This was another critical area for me – my mentors helped me to gain a level of self awareness that I wasn’t getting to on my own. My mentor helped me to learn and use emotional intelligence, even helped me craft exercises and offered practice and reviews, so that I could become proficient in understanding myself, my impact on others, and other people’s emotional being and state, and how to use that to work together better. This was a big ‘growth spurt’ for me, both at work and personally,” Bayer said.
Charlene Nora, Career Transition Coach, says, “Often in looking at a situation in a different perspective, we challenge deeply embedded limiting beliefs. When the mentee struggles to believe in themselves, in their ability to overcome a challenge, the mentor is able to ask those tough questions that trigger a necessary change in thinking.”
- Define and Reach Long-Term Goals. A mentor can help you define your career path and ensure that you don’t lose focus and continue down that road even when you become distracted by day-to-day pressures.
After Karol Mercurio was downsized for the third time at 51, her mentor encouraged her to leave corporate America and consider business ownership. She set out in a new direction and, with the support of her mentor, became a franchise consultant. She now feels like she has the most rewarding job of her career.
Zachary says, “Mentees need to own their career plan and learn to balance the day-to-day with the big picture. You always have to look at where you’re going and how you are trying to develop yourself. Set smart, realistic, future-oriented, stretch goals.”
- Accountability. When you know you are meeting with your mentor, you ensure that all the tasks you discussed in your last meeting are completed.
Lisa Quast, founder of Career Woman, Inc., says, “A mentor brings accountability and this breeds responsibility. I’ve found that within a very short period of time, my mentees fall into the habit of holding themselves accountable for completing their action items. They learn from me, as their mentor, and then the excitement of completing tasks and seeing the results motivates them even more to hold themselves accountable and strive for achievements they previously thought were impossible.”
- Trusted Colleague to Discuss Issues. A mentor can be a great sounding board for all issues – whether you are having difficulty with your immediate supervisor, an ethical dilemma, or need advice on how to tackle a new project or ask for a raise.
When Kathy Ullrich, Associate Director, Alumni Career Services, UCLA Anderson School of Management, was a product manager at a San Francisco Bay Area technology company, when the VP of Customer Service became her mentor. “I would walk into her corner office with a query, ‘How would you hypothetically handle this situation?’ and then proceed to give her all the details. They were questions of how to gain support of the executive team, how to influence people to the direction I was suggesting, or how to handle a political quagmire. I really appreciated someone who understood the company dynamics who could give me perspective on how to navigate a situation.”
“Don’t be afraid to put confidentiality safeguards in place. Mentors share their stories and experiences and expect to keep it within the boundaries of the relationship. Be sure you maintain confidences,” Zachary says.
- Champion and ally. A mentor who knows you well can be a strong champion of your positive attributes and an ally during any bumpy spots in your career.
Bradi Nathan, founder of My Work Butterfly, left a miserable job and found her first mentor at Elizabeth Arden. “My boss, Maureen Starr, Global Media Director, was a great mentor for me and today we remain friends, supporting and sharing experiences with one another. Maureen was the first woman to believe in me, and my abilities to be a great saleswoman. She actually invited me into her office so that I could practice my presentation for an upcoming interview on her. I think she knew deep down that I had more to offer than being her assistant at the time. Fifteen years later, I am still asking her for advice. She is a true GEM and a constant reminder of how important it is to have a mentor.”
“As a mentee, it is important to build trust and prove yourself worthy. Mentors should encourage mentees to share their story and share themselves. It’s hard to champion someone if you don’t know who they are. You bring who you are to what you do,” Zachary says.
- Expand your contacts and network. A mentor can help expand your network of contacts and business acquaintances.
Mireille Guiliano, former CEO of Veuve Clicquot and author of French Women Don’t Get Fat, says, “I recently mentored Maria, a tall, attractive young woman gifted in both sciences and languages. She had been stuck in a dead-end, poorly paid job for five years and was poised for the next stage in her life but could not see her way out. Her situation moved me, and I told her I would try to help her. I got to know her better and through many discussions of her likes, dislikes, passions, fears, talents, skills and dreams, we narrowed it down to realistic possibilities. We polished her resume and highlighted her transferable skills. Over the next several weeks, I introduced her to a few people and sent her resume to a half dozen others. Ultimately, she was interviewed by two of these companies, I coached her through the interview process, and she landed the second job. Maria was a highly qualified woman but had just needed some perspective, coaching and a few contacts. As a mentor, I was happily able to help her with all of these needs.”
- Open Doors. A mentor can open doors within your company, in other companies, or onto a board.
Patricia Palleschi, Ph.D, Founding Partner of The Executive Agency and former VP at Disney, says, “I have invited my mentees to join me on not-for-profit boards to give them experience in leadership in a volunteer environment. This also helps me instill philanthropic values. Values transfer is an important role for a mentor.”
- Inspire. A mentor whose work you admire can be a strong inspiration
Palleschi says, “Your mentor must be a respected member of the community and the business world. You will be associated with the reputation of this person. Don’t pick purely on the basis of power.”
- Work better. With the help of a good mentor, you can work more efficiently with a clearer view of the future you are trying to achieve. This helps you feel more confident in your job, which leads to better job performance and more success along your chosen road.
“Long term success! The mentor is the most important factor in a person’s career,” Palleschi says.
The Anita Borg Institute report supports her statement. “In an analysis of 830 companies over 30 years, researchers found that of several popular diversity practices, mentoring had the strongest effect on the advancement of women and minorities, along with executive diversity task forces.”
Where Can You Find a Mentor?
You can check your own company for a formal or informal mentoring program, look into finding a professional mentor outside your company, or evaluate your own network and find a mentor amongst your contacts.
No matter where you are in your career, you can benefit from having one or more mentors.