When trying to carve out a successful career path, I feel it is vital to surround yourself, not only with people who act as your champions, but also those who are willing to challenge you.
Champions are mentors who are your advocates. They provide encouragement, and help open doors to new opportunities and promotions. Challengers shoot straight with you, coach you when you need it most, push you out of your comfort zone, and help you develop your weaknesses. Most of us gravitate toward champions. But I have found the people who ask the tough questions and force you to see different perspectives have the greatest impact. If you have challengers on your personal board of directors, you will broaden your horizons and accelerate your development.
I was first challenged entering my senior year at William & Mary. I was headed for an accounting career until one of my professors encouraged me to take a marketing class. I wound up changing my major and getting my graduate degree in international marketing. Combining my solid financial background with the understanding of the customer one gets from marketing was exactly what I needed, and has served me well throughout my career.
Given the important impact that mentors have had on my career development, I want to provide that same benefit to the associates I have the honor to mentor. I try to keep three things in mind:
Listen more and talk less. I learned early that I gain as much benefit, if not more, from every mentoring conversation with a mentee. I value the connections I have with mentees across our company, especially with field associates who are closest to our members. Sam Walton was right—it’s where some of the best ideas come from.
Make it productive for both of you. We are all busy, so making mentoring relationships productive for both of you matters. I often suggest that mentees bring a current project or problem to discuss, so we tackle a real challenge, while learning more about each other.
Be both a champion and a challenger. Know how important both perspectives have been in my development, so I strive to bring both kinds of support to any mentoring relationship.
We have many mentor relationships throughout our lives, but mentoring in the workplace is an opportunity for even greater success. A formal mentoring program, like Walmart has with Mentor Me and Mentoring Circles, propels one to carve out the time to really act on that intention.