Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors

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FountainBlue’s When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series, on the topic of Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors, featuring:
Facilitator Renee Remy, Dovetail Consulting
Panelist Barbara Clayton, Senior Manager, Product Lifecycle, eBay
Panelist Carol Evanoff, former Director, Lockheed Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific
Panelist Stefi Ganesan, Marketing Program Manager, CDO, Cisco
Panelist Sara Hepner, Sr. Direct Worldwide Support Sales at IIG, a Division of EMC
Panelist Maria Olson, SAP

Please join us in thanking our hosts at EMC for graciously hosting us at their facilities and for their ongoing support of our program and the series. Below are notes from the conversation.
Our panelists had extensive knowledge and experience in a range of companies, in a variety of roles, and represent decades of experience working with men and with women in the high tech workplace. They have seen changes inside and outside their organizations and have each leveraged mentorship to best grow and learn, both personally and professionally, while helping others within and outside the organizations to do the same.
They define mentorship as formal or informal opportunities to consciously or unconsciously support each other in our career and personal goals. One of the ways to feel the benefits of mentorship is to experience what it is like *without* a mentor, or also to have multiple mentors, and understand how each of them help you meet your personal and professional objectives. There may be many different kinds of mentors – both internal to or external from your organization, and each may serve multiple roles: from the sponsor mentor who can help you navigate the politics and coach you on your career path, opening positions for you, to the role mentor who can support you with you in navigating day-to-day personal and professional challenges, to the integral, work-life mentor, who will help you make a stand for *both* your personally and professional goals, to the ‘Eeyore’ mentor, who serves as devil’s advocate and helps you think through options at all levels, particularly spelling out the risks.
Another way to look at mentorship is to compare it to other similar roles.
• Unlike coaching, mentorship focuses on leveraging your own strengths to better produce results, while a coach might more likely help you develop weaknesses.
• Sponsor-mentors were mentioned above, but not all sponsors are mentors. There are sponsors within an organization who can advocate for you, and position you for the next position within your organization, or even create one on your behalf without being your mentor.
• Your boss may mentor you sometimes on some things, but they are not your mentor. They are also in a unique position to also be your boss and are in charge of official evaluations and make decisions on salary increases, bonuses, vacations, etc
• Your mentor is not your friend. They are usually very busy and accomplished people and you shouldn’t go to them to chit chat, like you might do with a good friend.
Below is some advice offered by our panelists on how to make the best of a mentor-mentee relationship:
• Be respectful of their time and know how you want to use your time together, based on specific goals and objectives.
• Know why you have each mentor and what value you hope the relationship will provide for both sides.
• Work with your mentor to be clear on objectives, expectations and boundaries, and direct in communicating this to others around so, so that others can help you make it happen.
• Have a somewhat formal mentorship relationship, where you meet regularly and know what your goals are. Make the meeting process clear and easy so that it’s *easy and fun* to make the time to help you. This means knowing when, where, why you meet and reliably being there to meet.
• Be direct in asking for support, and strategic on who you ask for mentorship support from and why.
• Select mentors who can help you expand your perspective, see things from a new light, especially if they see the other side of the story and can help you resolve a conflict.
• Remember that mentors also benefit from a mentee-mentor relationship, gaining insights about how others think, benefiting from the advice they are offering to you, being energized from your ideas and perspectives and challenges.
• In selecting a mentor, make sure that there is good chemistry and clear objectives so you know why you are making a mentor choice.
• When considering the gender of a mentor, our panelists commented that women more passionate, and men more connected and factor this in when making a mentor decision.
• Take the guidance and support you receive from mentors with a grain of salt. Listen to your gut. Ultimately *you* are in charge of your choices. And if you find that your mentor does not have your best interest in mind, graciously scale back or sever the ties.
Here are some key learnings our panelists got from *their* mentors:
• Never run from a problem, while always gravitating to an opportunity.
• Relationships are always about trust.
• Leverage mentors to help you document your career and your strengths and strategize on how best to leverage your strengths in achieving career objectives.
• Be direct in all communication, especially if it’s something difficult to say.
• Don’t be too eager to speak up in a room, but fold in the dynamics, perspectives and talents of others and engage all in solving a problem. Give others the credit without being overly modest.
Our panelists remarked on the qualities of the best mentors:
• They believe in your skills when you don’t, encourage you to take risks when you don’t want to, and in general, help you feel uncomfortable enough so that you’re motivated to grow.
• They help you know what you don’t know and make a plan on what to do about it.
• They help you know *who* you know, and *whom* you should know in order to meet your objectives, and make introductions accordingly.
• They help you diversify what you’re doing and help you to expand your skills and capabilities and perspective.
• They help you work smarter, leveraging your strengths, not work harder, longer hours.
• They help you think through and act on your priorities in life and in work, and make choices to reflect your own values and priorities.
• They will have your back, protecting and supporting you while encouraging you to think and act outside your comfort zone.
• They see the promise you in – your skills, your courage, your style – and can be ongoing advocates for you throughout your career.
• They help you see yourself as others see you, the whole you, the good with the bad, from the resume to demeanor and appearance to brand.

In the end, the panelists encouraged both mentors and mentees to take responsibility for ensuring that the relationship continues to add value, and move the needle toward a pre-defined objective, in a way that respects everyone’s time and energy. They commented that the best company’s know the benefits of mentorship and its impact on the retention and promotion of high-performing employees and support both staff and volunteers in building and growing mentorship programs within an organization.

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