Many of the executives I have known who are deemed “accomplished” people in the workplace often attribute at least part of their success to their mentors. This holds true for those both inside and outside of corporate America.
There are several individuals to whom I attribute my success as a leader in business and in my community. My mother was my earliest mentor. When I was growing up, she instilled in her children the importance of always doing your best, and that we are no better or no less than anyone else. To this day, I value her counsel and input.
As I came up through the corporate ranks in the late ’60s, there were few, if any, women—particularly African-American women—to serve as role models or mentors. I believe the mentoring experience can and should benefit both the mentor and the mentee in many unique ways. A mentor brings the vision and broader business perspectives to the partnership, while the mentee brings current reality and “frontline” business perspectives to the partnership. It is where these two perspectives meet and are explored that learning for the individuals and the organization takes place.
Forming a mentoring relationship—whether as mentor or mentee—gives you a chance to see yourself and your career aspirations from another perspective. You can learn from others’ mistakes—without having to repeat them. You can also benefit from someone’s past successes—without re-inventing the wheel! Mentoring someone can give you a chance to revisit skills that you have mastered and pass on a littleof what you have learned from others. It may actually change the way you approach your own work.
These mentoring relationships best promote diversity of thought and skills when made across disciplines, operating units, race and gender lines, age, and experience levels. Sharing both professional and personal insights serves to enhance the process since the two areas are often intertwined.
Shadowing, networking, and learning are some of the key elements which contribute to a rewarding mentoring experience. One of my first corporate mentors helped me to believe in my abilities, helping me to realize I was sometimes my own biggest obstacle to success.
Constructive feedback between the mentor and mentee, though not always easy for some women to do, is very necessary. You want to be able to discuss strengths and weaknesses and shareinsights on those developmental areas that a peer or boss may be reluctant to discuss.
Too often the mentoring process breaks down due to lack of commitment or follow-through by one or both parties. Tohelp avoid this, create a “contract” outlining the goals and objectives of the relationship. Each party must have a willingness to devote the necessary time and energy to assist in the building of the mentor/mentee relationship. Trustworthiness and respect for confidentiality are essential to the experience. The characteristics and style the mentor brings to the process are important elements in enhancing the mentor/mentee partnership.
I believe it is critical, especially for women, to reach back and help others along, as well as to not be afraid to seek out those who can help us attain personal goals. Sometimes we don’t have because we don’t ask!