Being mentored by the right person is an important and viable bridge to success. The mentor guides his or her protege or partner in developing skills, methods and work habits which the guide developed painstakingly over her entire career. The guide also becomes, in effect, the gateway to the business experts and resources his partner will need.
Mentoring can be a shortcut to career success because it provides a safe, protected environment in which one can learn. One benefits from the mentor’s experience without having to go through the trial and error of learning those same lessons over the years; time is compressed, mistakes don’t have to be repeated. Valuable lessons, knowledge, attitudes, and recognition of opportunities are passed on.
The mentor guides his or her protege or partner in developing skills, methods and work habits which the guide developed painstakingly over her entire career. Such subtleties as writing an effective letter, maintaining useful files and proper documentation, to the intricacies of approaching, managing and completing a multi-million dollar deal are all taught and encouraged in a non-threatening environment.
An equally important aspect of mentoring is showing one’s less experienced partner how to network and who to network with. The mentor becomes, in effect, the gateway to the business experts and resources his partner will need. Frequently the guide provides the introduction, and by taking his partner under his tutelage and introducing her in this manner, his endorsement provides an entree and acceptance by other experienced business people that the younger person might take years to achieve on her own. In fact, she might never reach that acceptance on her own because business cliques can be quite closed and intolerant of newcomers, particularly women.
When major decisions or choices arise, the mentor can be a useful source of advice and encouragement, sizing up not only the business situation, but evaluating your skills , attributes and natural talents and bringing to bear seasoned judgement on where you would best fit and what are the right choices for you, not just as a business person, but as an individual.
Why do We Need a Mentor?
It seems entirely clear that, although it is not fatal to lack a mentor, it certainly helps one a great deal to have one, both in technical and conceptual knowledge, learning from a broad base of experience and rapidly gaining a wealth of contacts. Being mentored by the right person is an important and viable bridge to success. The barrier that women face, however, is that for a variety of reasons, most men will not mentor women. So how does a woman get a mentor? There are several routes:
Formal Mentoring Organizations
Women’s Network for Entrepreneurial Training a mentoring and support group, sponsored by the Women’s Business Office of the SBA, linking seasoned women business owners with the ladies ready to grow their Business.
Informal Mentoring Networks
No doubt about it, finding a mentor can be a challenge. Mentoring demands a broad base of experience, a high level of skills, and ability to teach and nourish. Generosity and openness are required of a mentor. A second obstacle is the fact that many women want and need to be mentored and few mentors to help them. Those in a position to mentioned have reached a place where they have great demands on their time.
Each of the following approaches can add a piece to the mentoring puzzle which you are trying to solve:
The Direct Approach. Search out the person you admire most in your field and one with whom you feel comfortable. Ask to speak to her at a convenient time. Then you can explain you know how busy she is, but you genuinely want to improve your skills and knowledge and ask her if she would be willing to spend a small amount of time…..even 30 minutes a month, reviewing your situation and mapping out a path for your progress. You can even ask her to give you homework in the form of books to read or presentations to attend. Most people, however busy and important, are flattered by this approach and probably will be willing to help you. Some may not have time to see you in person but will gladly mentor you by email.
The Electronic Support System. Although not as warm and personal as a real, live instructor, sites on the Net like Advancing Women, and its Journal, Advancing Women in Leadership, were designed as an electronic support system for women, to help them meet their many, multi-faceted challenges. If you read and follow the advice given, you will be reaping the benefit of successful women with broad experience who are, in effect, mentoring you electronically. If you want specific to advise, don’t be shy, ask for it. You can do this by writing to the editor and asking if the website will address a particular issue. Preferably you should frame your questions in a way that the answers will apply to more than just one person, but to an entire group facing a particular work situation. You can also put your questions on one of the bulletin boards and get lively. Hopefully, the informative discussion was going.
Mentor Yourself. At a recent meeting with some of the national leaders of the Women’s Department in the Department of Labor, a regional director said she had met the mentoring challenge this way: “Everything you really need to know is inside yourself.. You just have to focus on the areas you need to develop and then do whatever it takes to make yourself into the person you aspire to be.” Although this approach may not give you everything you need, it certainly will increase your self-reliance and take you a long way down the road to career success.