Amazing People Do Not Just Happen: Power Your Career with Mentoring
by Nannette McCleary, MA, LPC
“What I need is someone who will make me do what I can.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The mentors in my life inspired me to fulfill my highest potential.” — Lailah Gifty Akita
“Surround yourself with only people who are going to lift you higher.” — Oprah Winfrey
“Brands must empower their community to be change agents in their own right. To that end, they need to take on a mentoring role. This means the brand provides the tools, techniques and strategies for their customers to become more effective marketers in achieving their own goals.” — Simon Mainwaring
“How you coach them is how they’re going to play.” — Stefan Fatsis, A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL
Mentoring has a mystique. Google the term and you will get over six million hits. Among those results, there are several websites dedicated to defining and discussing all aspects of this complex activity. That is because when asked, nearly everyone recognizes the importance of having a mentor. Yet it seems only the most successful people acknowledge the role mentoring played in their achievements. This only demonstrates there is a definite gap in recognizing and utilizing mentors in career development.
As part of its two-year strategic plan, the Commission on the Status of Women (COSW) has identified the goal of expanding mentoring on WSU’s campus as one of its initiatives. This past September, the COSW Career Development Committee (CDC) sponsored “Build Your Championship Career Team” to explore the team concept in mentoring as a “kickoff” to this initiative. More than 40 staff, faculty, administrators, and students participated in an interactive discussion facilitated by COSW Commissioner and CDC Chair, Diane Fears, J.D., who serves as Director of Career Services for the WSU Law School. The program was so well received that, in December, Diane renewed this program as a webinar for alumni, sponsored by the Alumni Association.
Diane started the program with statistics from a LinkedIn survey that suggested one out five women in the U.S. never had a mentor. Small group interaction then offered participants the opportunity to discuss and share strategies for overcoming barriers to finding mentors. Attendees also enjoyed sports analogies in relation to what it takes to build a winning team that works together. The program was a great success, with 89% of attendees providing feedback that indicated the desire for more time and attention to this subject.
Like other participants, I was dismayed with the LinkedIn results. In a survey of 1,000 women at the 2011 Pennsylvania Conference for Women, the largest one-day women’s conference promoting personal and professional development, 82% agreed that mentoring was important, yet, 67% of women reported never being asked, and 52% stated that they hadn’t “encountered anyone appropriate.”1
Why? Are women truly mentoring disadvantaged?
A recent article by Forbes suggests fear of rejection, competition, perceived time commitment, and lack of subject matter expertise are the most common reasons women do not engage in mentoring.2 Additional research by Neal, Boatman, and Miller, however, challenges that women are more often eager to mentor one another if given the opportunity. Unfortunately, only 56% of organizations offer formal mentoring programs, many of which lack effective training.3 While research supports a strong argument for organizations to invest in organized, formal programs, the reality is that, for many, there is no assurance that such opportunities will be forthcoming.4
The good news is this barrier is not impossible to defy. In fact, it is rather easy to circumvent. Simply find your own mentors. Acknowledging that mentoring is important to everyone’s career, then obtaining mentors is essential to personal career development. February is International Expect Success Month, Plant the Seeds of Greatness Month, and the month during which we celebrate love. In honor of these observances, I challenge each and every person to use this opportunity to show your career some love; take charge of your career and sow the seeds of success by seeking out mentors and advisors who can help you achieve maximum career growth.
I think there is often a mythical misperception that we have to wait to be “discovered” by that “magical” entity that will “make” our careers. That somehow it isn’t mentoring if the “right” expert doesn’t formally “take us under his or her wing.” That was what was great about the “Build Your Championship Career Team” program. Building a championship team of mentors means recognizing that mentoring happens all around us. It is not just one person that helps us grow and develop, but several key individuals, both formally and informally and throughout our lives, that impact our success.5 Taking charge, then, requires creating and capitalizing on the opportunities that are presented to us. While there are many opinions on how to define entrepreneur, I will share the one I believe represents not only this attitude, but the mindset needed to be successful in today’s economy. Entrepreneurism is the process through which people pursue opportunity, use resources, and initiate change to create value.
As the CEO of your career, the first thing you will need to do is to reflect on your professional status and personal satisfaction. Where are you and where do you want to be? Are you enjoying your career? Along with that personal assessment, you will also explore your feasible options as they relate to the world of work. Between these two spheres, your decisions will then have to be implemented with SMART goals. Your action plan will likely include a variety of educational and experiential strategies as well as the resources you will use to achieve your goals. Of course the most powerful resource is people. This is where identifying mentors fits into your career plan. There is a wealth of information and advice online, but here are some considerations to remember as you recruit your team:
Great teams work together toward a common goal.
Remember, you are the person in charge of your board of directors. You have a unique brand that is certainly promotable. You alone are responsible for selecting mentors that have your best interests in mind. You need commitment, clear communication, and constructive coaching to help push you where you want to go. To do this, your goals and personal motivation to achieve those objectives must balance with the time and expertise of your selected mentors.6
Great mentors are available, prepared, empathetic, compatible, flexible, encouraging, intimate, introspective, vulnerable, credible, current, altruistic, analytical and curious, just to name a few characteristics. 7 The point is that you want to develop mutual, cohesive relationships where your mentors share similar values, interests and philosophy. Take the time to carefully consider the qualities you need in your mentors. At a minimum, you should ask the following questions:
- Does the person have the time and energy to devote to the mentoring relationship?
- What current and relevant knowledge, expertise, and/or skills does the person offer?
- Is the person a good listener, open-minded, and willing to share failures as well as successes?
Identify the roles your team will play.
Multiple mentors offer the opportunity to engage in several supportive relationships. While subject matter experts and influencers are important for their knowledge and sponsorship, recognize that pragmatists and accountability partners can help you weigh your options. Your role models and cheerleaders can provide inspiration and positive support. What about identifying a “Mr. Miyagi” who challenges you or a “Mary Poppins” who can facilitate your creativity? 5 Keep in mind, not all mentors are long-term relationships. Depending on the level of connection or impact, mentoring experiences can be one-time informational conversations, six-month skill development sessions, or year-long advocacy consultations.8 The more you work with your mentors to set specific goals and parameters, the more successful your relationships are likely to be.
If nothing else, remember that statistically, the majority of women are just waiting for you to step-up. You can start by asking about programs. There are several opportunities at Wayne State University. For example, students might want to check out advising within their academic programs, Student Organizations with faculty advisors, the Learning Communities, which include peer mentoring, or Career Services for more career planning resources. Employees, on the other hand, can check with their departments, unions, Human Resources, Employee Assistance services, Office of the Provost, or other academic programs and committees. Whether formal or informal, there is a considerable effort on campus to support everyone’s success. There are opportunities outside the university as well. Independently, you could also consider using social media to develop online/virtual relationships or invest in consultation, especially as it relates to professional development or certification/licensure.
Mentoring is a critical component to career success. Women especially need to take advantage of mentoring opportunities to advance themselves personally and professionally. Why not start now? Celebrate mentoring by acknowledging those important people who have contributed to your success thus far. Then create a “pitch” that you can use to ask someone to mentor you. And as always, remember to set clear goals, learn best practices, and use your resources to develop these valuable relationships.
1Williams, N. (2011, October 25). Infographic: Women and mentoring in the U.S. Retrieved from http://blog.linkedin.com/2011/10/25/mentoring-women/
2Drexler, P. (2014, March 4). Can women succeed without a mentor? Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/peggydrexler/2014/03/04/can-women-succeed-without-a-mentor/
3Neal, S., Boatman, J., & Miller L. (n.d.). Women as mentors: Does she or doesn’t she? A global study of businesswomen and mentoring. Retrieved from http://www.ddiworld.com/DDIWorld/media/trend-research/womenasmentors_rr_ddi.pdf?ext=.pdf
4Egan, T. M. & Rosser, M. (2004). Do formal mentoring programs matter?: A longitudinal randomized experimental study of women healthcare workers. Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED492153.pdf
5Dyer, D. (2014, June 13). Build a championship team for your career. Retrieved from http://www.govloop.com/community/blog/build-a-championship-team-for-your-career/
6Johnson, W. (2011, October 25). Get the mentoring equation right. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2011/10/get-the-mentoring-equation-rig/
7Abbajay, M. (n.d.). The working life: The importance of workplace mentors. Retrieved from http://www.careerstonegroup.com/z-media/wp-mentoring.pdf
8Sofio, F. (2013, June 18). Achieve more through mentoring. Retrieved from http://careergirlnetwork.com/ferne-sofio-june-21/
Nannette McCleary is a Licensed Professional Counselor with 18 years experience in career planning and development. A university counselor in the Career Services office at WSU, she coordinates career planning and development programs. Nannette is secretary for the WSU President’s Commission on the Status of Women and is an active member of its Career Development Committee. She can be contacted at email@example.com.