Tag

Mentor

Leadership

Five tough lessons on being a mentor

Coaching and mentoring is increasingly popular, everyone wants one, everyone has one. This is somewhat a result of the explosion in the number of startups over the last ten years, but also because the word is out that getting a good mentor can really help you grow faster at any stage of your career. And women want to help women!

I have mentored on and off for the last 20 years but in the last 2 years since I stepped down as CEO I have focused almost entirely on women, especially new CEOs and entrepreneurs. And I have learned some hard lessons in this process – all of which are obvious, but all of which can be easily forgotten.

1. Not everyone who asks for your help is a good match

The chemistry has to work. The mentee has to truly want your advice, and you need to enjoy being with her. Trust your gut. If you find the interaction tough on the first meeting then it is unlikely to get better (a bit like dating). If you find the mentee talks more than they listen take a deep breath and assess whether you can be effective (unless that is the issue she is asking for help on). If you are irritated, or even bored, in the interaction ask yourself honestly can you be helpful.

2. Trust is essential

And the trust needs be to two-way. You must trust enough to be truly yourself and give the honest advice you believe in as constructive a way as you can, and vice versa. If you start to believe that either of you cannot, or is not, being open and honest then gently end the relationship.

3. Again, trust is essential

Growth is hard and takes introspection and vulnerability; it takes the mentee having the ability to admit when she has messed up, or to hear difficult feedback. Only by facing mistakes can you get to the bottom of why it happened and then talk through a change in knowledge or skills to be pursued. If you are mentoring someone who has answers for everything, or who cannot admit their challenges, then again, gently end the relationship. Likewise if you don’t feel emotionally safe in the relationship.

4. Be clear about motivation, especially yours

Because coaching becomes a labor of love it’s important to be clear about what is motivating you in the relationship. I get asked many times a week to be a mentor and I have learned, the hard way, to pay attention to what is driving me. It’s not about making money (because even if you charge for your time as a consultant or take stock options there are easier ways to make money). It might be about responding to a friend who has asked you to help someone they are vested in in some way. But in the end the most productive relationships develop because you care; you care that she grows and becomes successful. I recently started mentoring a future star who was willing to pay for basic workplace skills coaching in her first job but I feel so privileged that she is genuinely seeking my help that I signed up and said “no I won’t take your money”. Sometimes I do, if many hours are needed and the company will pay, sometimes I don’t.

5. Have integrity about your standards

I’m passionate about women achieving economic equality. So passionate I am leading a delegation of women into a tough part of the world next year to help female entrepreneurs. But I am realizing equality also means no short cuts for women. Women leaders need to be held to the same ethical and legal standards as men, no matter now much I may want to cut a female leader some slack when I see bad behavior. And I need to hold myself to the same standards. So sometimes the process hurts because I want so much for women to win, but not at the cost of my integrity.

All that said, mentoring and coaching can be incredibly rewarding, especially when I work with smart young women who are becoming amazing leaders and I get to participate helping them in some small way (ladies you know who you are!).

Photo: Snippet of Caravaggio’s Judith and Holofernes, Rome  © 2016 Penny Herscher

Equality

Why women need sponsors more than mentors

I was on a panel at GHC 2012 last week “Sponsors or Mentors – which will get you there?” Standing room only in a large room, it was clearly a topic of great interest to the female tech students and geeks at the conference. And the questions were priceless…

The panel, lead by Anne Losby of Thomson Reuters,  was prompted by a report Catalyst put out last year on Sponsoring Women to Success. In it the research clearly shows sponsorship is a powerful differentiator at the top and key to overcoming the barriers for women. And while we are making good progress as a gender, and women make up more than 50% of the workforce, they still only make up 3.8% of the CEOs of the Fortune 500. So plenty of room to improve the ratio.

First – do you know the difference? Mentoring has been talked about for
years but talking about sponsorship is a fairly new fashion. Mentoring is about advice and coaching, helping the younger employee figure out the system and skills. My advice to people seeking mentors is seek someone willing to tell you the truth about yourself. Seek someone who will hold the mirror up to you (and your behavior), even is the image is ugly. And a great mentor will put the time in to teach you.

A sponsor, however, is not a mentor. A sponsor has power and the ability to help you get ahead. They know you — strengths and weaknesses, talents and warts — and are ambitious for you. They help you prepare for opportunity by steering you into the right experiences and the right training. They will advocate for you and make the case when you are not in the room for why you should get the next promotion, the next cool project. They win when you win be because the company, and possibly their reputational capital in the company, are stronger when you do.

I experienced this myself in my first 12 years in Silicon Valley. I worked for 2 companies – one for 4 years, one for 8, but was never in the same job more than 21 months. I had two sponsors (although I could not have labeled them as such at the time) who were watching me, grooming me and putting me into opportunities to learn and stretch. Both were men, because back then there were no women in the organization above me. I would not have become a tech CEO at 36 without their sponsorship.

So why is this so important for women?

The tough reality is that women face a double bind. Catalyst research has shown that women who advocate for themselves can be penalized in the workplace. Women get labeled as “aggressive” when the same behavior in a man would be labeled as “assertive”. I’m not complaining, it’s just reality and so sponsors can help women get ahead by advocating for them and helping them avoid the double bind.

Sponsors are also important for women because men tend to know what they want and ask for it, women tend to wait to be asked. There is unconscious sterotyping going on with the men judging the women who do ask, but there is also stereotyping going on by the women who restrict their own behavior. Afraid to appear “pushy” or “too aggressive” they moderate their own behavior to meet the expectation of humility from women.

And this is where the questions lead on the panel. All the discussion, in the end, led to the double bind. How to get ahead and ask for the project, the job, the doctoral research without offending the men around you and being judged? Lots of advice ensued, but in the end I told the group to “Just go for it and course correct when you are in the job. Don’t tap down your natural energy and your drive, we need that in our companies!” Strong women (and men) – apply here.