When I hear the words “mentor” and “mentorship,” in the context of corporate America, I think back to my early career. Twenty-one years ago, fresh out of Howard University with an M.B.A., I didn’t quite understand the terms.
I remembered that my professors had extolled the importance of a mentor in one’s career development, but when I reached the real world, I could barely recognize the concept. You see, I was pulled out of a management trainee program at a large Wall Street firm, halfway through the program. Senior leadership saw potential and wanted to develop me further in an entry-level leadership role. I’d never led people in a corporate setting and I distinctly remember feeling terrified and full of doubt. What could I offer these 12 associates, all of whom were much older and far more tenured than I? I was struggling with my decision to accept—or not—when one day a highly respected senior vice president pulled me into his office. He acknowledged my emotions and said, “You must take this role. If you don’t, you’ll be passed over the next time an opportunity like this arises, because you’ll be remembered as the woman who couldn’t.” Ouch! “Couldn’t” as in ….couldn’t overcome her fear, or take a risk, or even see past the present…just plain couldn’t. He went on to assure me that I’d have his support, and that of several others, to ensure my success. So it began—my introduction to mentorship.
Fast forward to the present—my understanding and appreciation of mentorship is more defined. I’ve benefitted from mentoring others, as well as, being mentored myself. I’ve also evolved in my view of mentoring in that I no longer believe that one person can be an expert in all areas of corporate interactions and be able to help me process every challenge.
My mentors (emphasis on the plural), have a wide range of strengths. There are two at work—one strong in HR and navigating our organization, the other strong in finance; my spiritual mentor and my family/life coach. Each plays an important role in my quest to be the best mother, daughter, sister, friend, and leader that I’m meant to be. Their mix of expertise and guidance has helped me to understand that my role as a mentor is not to have all the answers, but to help my mentee discover ways to stretch, or flex themselves, in various situations.
After years of experience with mentoring relationships, I walked into the 2016 BE Women of Power Summit, not sure that I’d glean anything new or enlightening on the topic. I really wasn’t expecting any new nuggets of information until one of the speakers, Mary Pender Greene, shared her concept of a Virtual Personal Board of Directors. Aha! It had never occurred to me that we could broaden the concept of mentoring to create a board of directors equipped with mentors, sponsors, millennials, life coaches…an entire network and support system for career and life. It meant that I could leverage the millennials on my board for help with Twitter, Instagram, and blogging while also being reciprocal in guiding them through a complex corporate environment.
What I’ve learned over the years and what has been reinforced by the BE Women of Power Conference is this:
- The mentor/mentee relationship is an important one and can be transformational to both parties.
- It is as rewarding as it is fulfilling in the reciprocal nature of the process.
- It evolves over time.
Embrace the evolution.
The views expressed are my own and not those of ADP.