Go get yourself a mentor!

mentors

Research shows that one of the most significant factors in getting ahead in the workplace is having a mentor, someone who is willing to spend time on you and your career. Bonus points if the mentor is a powerful and influential individual within your company or industry.

In my research interviewing many successful leaders in the financial services industry I heard the following, and repost these quotes from an earlier blog post because of their significance:

“Luckily I have a boss who is now really invested in my future and sees a lot going for me and I would say I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the ones who is going to be put in a good position in certain roles and will continue developing.”

“I would say that [my mentor] is the number one reason for helping me get ahead.”

But how do you get one of these mentors?

I had the pleasure, recently, of serving as a host at a roundtable discussion for young leaders looking to advance their careers. I had a wonderful time and met some incredibly intelligent and motivated young leaders. The question came up, as expected, “How do I find and attract a mentor?” I offered, as a starting point, the following:

The most effective mentorships happen organically; they are not assigned by HR

In my own life, I cannot tell you a single success story of a mentoring relationship that worked well when it was assigned by HR (or some other group). I am sure there are situations where it has worked for others, but my guess is that they are the exception rather than the rule.

I do, however, have story after story I could share where a successful mentorship developed because of a personal relationship I worked to develop. These mentors have helped me understand the bigger picture when the world felt very small and mean. They gave me feedback when I was uncertain of my next step. They have coached me and guided me, and I will never be able to express the gratitude I have felt for their willingness to invest in me.

I heard the same from the leaders I interviewed. When they actively sought out and cultivated their mentoring relationships, it reaped a significantly richer, deeper, and more satisfying result for them personally and professionally. In our discussion at the roundtable, the young leaders agreed that this was true.

What this means for those of you looking for a mentor is that you have to go out and find one yourself. Do not sit back and wait for HR to develop a mentorship program. Here are some thoughts on how to do this:

  1.  Recognize that the vast majority of leaders are open and happy to meet with you, you just have to ask for 10 minutes of their time;
  2. Pay attention in meetings, presentations, anywhere you have exposure to leadership in your company. Look for someone you wish to emulate, or has a quality you admire.
  3. Reach out to this person. Ask a question, request feedback, share an observation. Anything to start the conversation. Use email to show respect for the individual’s time.
  4. Follow-up*. This relationship is on you to cultivate. Provide an update, ask another question, make a new suggestion. Just keep the conversation going.

Some examples for #3, as this is certainly the hardest part:

“I heard you mention X the other day in a meeting. I am particularly interested in X. I wonder if you would have 10 minutes to discuss this further with me?”

“I was particularly taken with how you presented Y in yesterday’s meeting. I am giving a talk in the near future on a related topic, and I wonder if you would be willing to give me some feedback on my presentation?”

“I am currently working on building my team, and I noted that your team works very well together. I wonder if you would have 10 minutes to give me some tips and pointers on how best to build my team?”

These are just a few ideas. Hopefully they help you to get started. Now, go get yourself a mentor!

*Just a note that some leaders are just going to be too busy to meet with you or even respond to an email. Be cognizant of this and don’t become a pest. If you don’t hear back from one person, move on to someone else.

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Monday!

 

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Leadership Recommendation….MOOCs

Image result for woman scholar

This is an unpaid, unsolicited, yet passionate recommendation for a leadership tool I suggest for all leaders looking to improve their skills at work, in the community and at home. The tool is a MOOC, or a “massive open online course”. More details on these below.

There is one particular course I would like to draw to your attention. That is:

Women In Leadership: Inspiring Positive Change

from Professor Bilimoria of Case Western Reserve. This is a course all leaders, women and men should investigate. Today. Here is the link:

https://www.coursera.org/learn/women-in-leadership/home/welcome

In this course, Professor Bilimoria does an extraordinary job of traversing the many aspects of women in leadership. The course is divided into 5 weeks of work, each week covering a different topic in leadership. For each week, there are videos (lectures), readings (incredible – worth checking out just for this), and discussion prompts. Throughout the lessons, the professor also encourages reflection exercises and homework assignments designed to inspire you to look within and internalize the lesson. There is also a quiz for each week – this is not available unless you pay the fee for the certificate. I found that I lost nothing by skipping these quizzes.

 

The entire course is worthwhile to all leaders, regardless of gender, but I’d like to point out just a few topics that are important for men and women to consider.

In Week 2, Professor Bilimoria discusses the current state of women in leadership. She discusses the different barriers that women face in the workplace, including organizational, interpersonal, and individual barriers. All of this is thoroughly and thoughtfully researched, yet I would expect that some people would be surprised by what they hear! She discusses the difference between 1st generation bias (overt sexism, harassment, things you can clearly identify as bias) and 2nd generation bias (lack of access to networks, gendered work and career paths, and the ‘double bind’ women face). It is critical that we all become aware of these barriers in our workplaces as this awareness is the first critical step to rectifying it.

In Week 4, the topic is Leadership Tools for Women, and here the professor gives important information and advice on negotiation. While I believe in the statistic that shows that women do not negotiate at the same level as men, I also believe that there are plenty of men who could make use of this advice.

I want to encourage anyone and everyone to take a look at this course. Listen to a few of the lectures. If you are feeling motivated, answer some of the discussion prompts. If you are an over-achiever, answer some of the reflection questions she asks. All of this information is important for both men and women to hear, to think about, and to discuss with others. I hope you will take a look, and then share with others.

A bit about MOOCs:

If you have not come across these before, you need to go check them out. Right now. MOOCs offer college-level courses from major universities (Princeton, Stanford, etc.), covering an unimaginable number of topics. And the best part is they are free! Most of the websites offer paid options – you can earn a certificate for a small fee, sign up for a program of classes for a larger fee, or even earn an online degree for a much more substantial fee. In most cases, however, the classes can be audited for no charge.

I have found every course I have taken to be of extremely high quality, and in each case I got out of the class exactly what I put into it. If the subject matter was not of intense interest to me, I watched the videos until I got what I needed, and then moved on – no problem.

Here are links to the two sites I have used and highly endorse:

Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/

edX: https://www.edx.org/

Take a look – you may learn something new!

Keep it positive and smile! Happy Thursday!