Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women On Business writer
Everyone needs mentors to help them grow and excel – even after they reach upper management. Yet mentors often serve men better than women because many women regard their mentors as protective and supportive allies, while men use mentors more actively to gain visibility, promotions and choice assignments. We, as women, need to rethink our “passive” use of mentoring relationships and how we can derive more value from mentors in terms of our career advancement.
In order to maximize a mentoring relationship, you first need to think strategically about the areas in which a mentor can be most helpful to you. Each person’s situation is unique and we all have different priorities and needs.
- Do you want help in getting ahead?
- Do you stumble over the same business issues and need advice?
- Are you uncertain about your ability to deal with people?
- Are you having difficulty juggling your work and family?
- Do you need advice on how to enhance your skills?
- Are you interested in joining an outside Board?
- Do you need exposure to another area of business?
- Do you want to emulate a mentor’s style?
- Do you need someone to help you navigate the politics?
All of these issues can be addressed in a mentoring relationship and you may find that different stages of your career will bring different mentoring needs.
While there are core functions a mentor should provide at all organizational levels, the emphasis will probably be different as you move upward on the corporate ladder. Generally speaking, the attributes and experience you may need from a mentor at each stage of your career are:
Early in Your Career…
You will likely need exposure to key players in the organization, advice on your business strategy, functional skills required for the future, and feedback on your personal style and communication.
What to look for in a mentor: A senior person in the organization with successful job/career experience, excellent leadership skills and an effective communication style. He or she should be accessible and known for supporting younger professionals in the company.
At the Management Level…
You will profit from gaining opportunities for growth and exposure through projects, initiatives or consideration for open positions, increased understanding of the culture of the organization, and the political skills and key relationships required to advance.
What to look for in a mentor: A senior executive who is supportive of other key managers, well-respected in the company, gives others the opportunity to learn, and is known to be politically astute.
When you Become an Officer…
Information about what is really going on in the company is key, as well as visibility at the top of the organization, and help with style issues which may be interfering with your success.
What to look for in a mentor: A senior executive who champions people, has the ear of the top guns, will be direct and honest, and manages an important strategic business area.
When you reach Executive Level…
You will need high-level support, good peer relationships, on the same wavelength as the CEO, and aware of your successes and accomplishments.
What to look for in a mentor: A senior decision-maker close to the CEO and the mission of the organization who is approachable and has a history of supporting the careers of his or her key executives.
— From Breaking Into the Boys’ Club 2009
Understanding the issues you need help with and finding the right mentor – male or female – can give your career a huge boost. Have you had a great mentoring experience you’d like to share?