September 30, 2008 by Deborah Huso
Take your career to the next level!
One of the most commonly cited keys to success is having a great mentor. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or are working your way up the corporate ladder, the experience of someone who’s “been there, done that” can be invaluable. But finding a mentor isn’t always easy. And without the “good ol’ boy” network to draw from, making a mentor connection can be particularly difficult for women. “Women may need help leveling the playing field and gaining access to senior leaders,” says Lynn Sontag, CEO of Menttium. Her company connects high-achieving women with mentors in other companies.
Insight and Support
A successful mentoring relationship begins with clear goals. “One person is not going to be the be-all and end-all mentor,” Sontag says. She even suggests having several people who can offer you advice in different capacities.
Ladies Who Launch offers a variety of professional services and support to female entrepreneurs and advocates network mentoring. “It’s tough to launch a business on your own,” says Stella Grizont, vice president of marketing for Ladies Who Launch. “Women are usually juggling so much already, and they need a cheerleading squad.”
For author and organization-development consultant Merydith Willoughby, having mentors is the key to reaching new levels of success. “From my perspective, it’s the same as an Olympic athlete,” Willoughby says. “Because of this additional support, I continue to achieve my strategic goals.” She also notes tapping into someone else’s wisdom gives her the option to make decisions based on her mentor’s experience. “Mentors can share their information, but it is always up to the recipient to choose what they want or need to do,” she says.
Finding the Right Mentor
But where can you find a mentor or a professional support network? While Menttium and Ladies Who Launch both offer those services for a fee, you don’t necessarily need to shell out money to find a mentor who can help you get ahead. Grizont suggests asking friends or colleagues for referrals, searching for someone through a local or regional professional association related to your industry, or contacting a local SCORE office.
“Think big,” Grizont says. “You want a relationship with someone you truly admire.”
Your mentor should also have a grasp of your business. A corporate executive, for example, probably isn’t the best mentor for a small-business owner. When Brittany Glenn decided to become a full-time freelance writer, she tapped a fellow writer for input. “I found a more experienced freelance writer whom I had always thought highly of when I was an editor,” Glenn says. “It’s great to talk with her to see how she handles things, learn best practices and discuss our mutual experiences. I am grateful for her guidance.”
Looking to your boss as a mentor—even if she has a lot of the traits you’re looking for—typically isn’t the best option. “A ‘mentee’ can be vulnerable with a boss,” Sontag says. “You need someone who doesn’t have a stake in your performance.” She also suggests finding a mentor who is different from you in personality, outlook and professional style. “It’s not about chemistry,” Sontag adds. “Find someone who challenges you.”
Make the Most of the Relationship
Chances are your mentor is a highly successful person with a busy schedule, so you want your time with them to be meaningful for both of you. “It’s a professional relationship and should be treated as one,” Willoughby says. “Like a VIP meeting, have an agenda, plan for it and then assess whether it is valuable for you.” Sontag says the best mentoring relationships involve meeting personally about once a month for at least a year for long-term strategizing. But if you’re just looking for someone to help you with a short-term hurdle, like hiring your company’s first employee, a shorter relationship may work equally as well. SFW