Mentor and/or Be Mentored

In honor of Women’s History Month, I quote Madeline Albright. “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” (Keynote speech at Celebrating Inspiration luncheon with the WNBA’s All-Decade Team, 2006)

I am in the unique position of being mentored by a senior leader in the Committee of 200 (C200) organization, while I share my learnings by mentoring other smaller business owners. I recently participated in PNC Bank’s Women Connect livestreaming for Women’s History Month. Several other seasoned business owners and I shared our learnings with women who are looking to understand the value of mentoring. Here is some of our discussion:

  1. Describe an important Mentor/Protégé experience that you have had? Why was it important? What was the outcome?

I wanted to understand how a business similar to mine was able to grow. I asked for help from my mentor and she reached out to someone she knew who had a larger consulting firm and scheduled time for my business partner and I to speak with the CEO. It was a great connection as it gave us needed insights. That doesn’t mean I need to do the exact thing; however, there were nuggets that I picked up that made me think about my strategy.   That is an example of how a mentor was able to make a connection for me with one of her resources that now became available to me.

  1. At what time in your career did you most need a mentor when none was available? What would it have meant?

I needed a mentor early in my corporate career. I took an entry level job as a secretary because the salary was better than the job that I previously held and it gave me a chance to get into the corporation that I wanted. If I had a mentor at the time, I would never have taken that job or negotiated a different title. Because of that title of “secretary,” it did not put me on the management track. I had to start from the bottom up. Worse, it was difficult to change people’s perception of my capabilities because I was known as a support person. It was irrelevant that I was running the projects. I had an advocate who helped me to get that job and not a mentor but I didn’t know the difference. The person who got me the job wanted to see me do better, aka make more money, but the long term career advice was missing and actually did me more harm than good. That career path serves me well now, but I could have fast tracked my career by skipping a lot of those steps by entering on the management level.

  1. Did you ever receive mentor advice that you did not apply, but wish you had? What was it?

When I finished my MBA, my education mentor told me to continue for a doctorate. He calculated that a doctorate would be paid for by the corporation because it’s a business degree and would enable me to go much further, not just in the corporate world, but as an overall career strategy. Also, it would serve me well in my future life as it would give me a career choice of teaching or consulting. He also predicted that there will be a time when an MBA will be a dime a dozen and I would be ahead of the crowd with a doctorate. I did not take his advice at the time because I was tired of school at that point and wanted to leverage my newly found degree to make money and get promoted so I made that choice. Now, more than twenty years later, I intend to go back to school for a doctorate!!

  1. What should one look for when seeking a mentor?

Be very specific with your ask. What is it that you need from that mentor? If you are a solo entrepreneur, is it someone off whom to bounce your ideas? Is it accountability? Is it to make connections for your business? Is it a skill? Does that person need to be at a certain level? Has that person been successful at what you need?

There are mentors for different reasons and you can have several mentors. Women should take the time to give back and share the learnings that they’ve received from a mentor by mentoring someone who has the need for that information.