Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors


FountainBlue’s May 10 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a wide range of perspectives on our panel, and that our panelists shared their insights, suggestions and advice with poignant humor and candor. They speak from a broad range of perspectives, learnings, trainings and experience.

Our panelists have all been mentors, had mentors, trained mentors and participated in formal and informal mentoring programs. Their mentors have helped them to navigate their professional and personal journeys and have been especially helpful during crossroads – between roles, between companies. Sometimes are mentors, both male and female, have been from the same or different companies, the same and different roles and companies or industries. What they had in common as mentors are that the were admired and respected by the mentee, and were adopted by the mentor as someone they respect in turn, and shows great promise and potential.

Our panelists point out that coaches differ from mentors in that coaches focus on asking the right questions rather than providing the answers, whereas a mentor might do both. Unlike mentors, sponsors are generally executives who are higher up in an organization, in a position to advocate internally for their charge, so they are best positioned to help their charges advance to a new level within an organization and/or move to an adjacent role or division within a company. Sponsors may initially be mentors, and then evolve into sponsors as the relationship develops and the mentee proves him/herself.

Below are pearls of wisdom shared by our esteemed panelists.

  • Successful mentor-mentee relationships always focus on the relationship between the two, and a win-win benefit from the relationship. The relationship may evolve over time and the way you work together professionally may change as well – your mentor may become your consultant, your colleague, your boss, for example.
  • The mentee needs to have a clear view of what she/he needs help with from a mentor and why, plus a good idea about who could help them get from here to there. Understanding where you’ve been, where you are now, and where you want to go can help you develop a strategy for getting there, working with your mentor.
  • The mentee is responsible for his/her results, engaging sponsors, mentors, partners, peers, coaches, to figure out what the opportunities are, what is holding you back, and how to make things happen.
  • The best mentors are approachable, credible, leads by example, is a great role model, and is generous. Strategize on how to best position yourself as a promising mentee for this person, what your short-term and long-term objectives are for the relationship, and how mentoring you would be helpful to them.
  • The best mentees are curious, open, clear on objects, results-oriented, and willing to work hard, leveraging their strengths. Work with the mentor to establish objectives, ground rules and boundaries, and keep conversations confidential.
  • The best mentors know how to leverage their connections and resources to support their mentees in achieving their goals without compromising that confidentiality agreement.
  • Sometimes mentors bring in their experience, connections and perspectives to help mentees think through a professional or personal transition between roles, companies, divisions, etc.
  • Make candid and authentic feedback an integral part of any mentor-mentee relationship.
  • If someone takes an interest in you as a prospective mentee, he or she is complimenting you and you should understand the potential he or she sees in you. If she/he is not mentoring and supporting you in the way which is best helpful to you, inquire about why he/she is taking an interest in you, how you can support her/him in return, and share what would be most helpful to you in your development path.
  • Regardless of the mentoring program, formal and informal, peer or reverse or skip-level, ensure that both parties benefit from the trust-based relationship and that both understand the long-term and short-term goals and what success looks like – what you want more of, less of and why.

In conclusion, our panelists would agree that successful leaders are self-aware, understanding their strengths and weaknesses, are strategic, focused on executing on the bigger picture objectives, and collaborative, engaging the wider network of resources, including mentors to achieve win-win results.



FountainBlue would like to thank and acknowledge our speakers for our May 10 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors:

Facilitator Ann Tardy, Founder and CEO, LifeMoxie Mentoring

Panelist Monica Bajaj, Senior Engineering Manager, NetApp

Panelist Gina Ferguson, Director, Finance IIG, EMC

Panelist Catherine Moore, Board Advisor, Teamitt and ConnectBright, former Head of HR for Nokia Research Centers

Panelist Leila Pourhashemi, Director, Technology Business Operations at PayPal, an eBay company

Please join us in thanking our gracious hosts at EMC.


%d bloggers like this: