The most significant influences on my life were my parents. They ingrained confidence, optimism, and family values into my core. Because of their influence, I value authenticity. I believe that you must define success for yourself; don’t let others define it. With authenticity, you can be grounded in personal values that align with professional success.
I began my career as an engineer, and moved through many different management positions including electric transmission planning, distribution operations, fleet operations, and customer operations. I was often the first woman or minority to be given these leadership responsibilities. My mentors for these positions were usually white male executives.
While these men were genuinely interested in my success, they often didn’t realize the personal and professional challenges that I faced. Nevertheless, one early mentor strongly influenced my approach to mentoring. He counseled me regarding the tremendous responsibility that I had self-imposed because of being “the first again.” He could not fully understand what I was experiencing; however, he shared a perspective that reinforced the importance of outstanding performance and authenticity.
Now, when I mentor others, I first emphasize the importance of defining your measures for success. Take responsibility for your reputation; remember, do not let others define you. To do this, you must be grounded in personal values and beliefs that align with your work. And, of course, your work must display outstanding performance and credibility.
I also explain why it is important to mentor, and receive mentoring, from individuals representing a broad range of diversity dimensions, not just from those in your comfort zone. This gives you perspectives you may not have considered, and allows you to benefit from different backgrounds and experiences.
Finally, I emphasize the importance of being very intentional in knowing where your career is going. Your current position should bridge to opportunities in other areas. You should be clear on what you need to accomplish in your current position, and have in mind thoughts for the “next” position and how your background, skills, and talents can help the company. This is not to be mistaken as manipulative self-interest; your professional growth and accomplishments serve the company and strengthen the team around you. Your own career development and the interests of the company are not mutually exclusive. Rather, in a healthy organization, an advance in one should help the other.