Recently I shared with one of my daughters a critical realization about my career.
I had learned the bulk of my skills and knowledge from a woman I worked for many years ago. She was an extraordinary boss and more importantly, a talented mentor. I had accepted a position that I had a minimal amount of experience. I was confident that I could master the necessary skills I was lacking, but I had no idea how that would happen. Many of you may be thinking that I had “imposter syndrome” but honestly I was a newbie with very little exposure to a field I knew I belonged.
Has this ever happened to you in your career? Have you ever found yourself accepting a position that you were basically qualified for but unsure how you would be able to learn the skills in a quick enough way? If you answered “yes”, then you are like most leaders who are willing to take a chance and step outside of your comfort zone. Our success however, may depend on the people we meet in our “leap into the unknown”.
Five ways mentors are the key to our leadership success:
1. MENTORS SEE BEYOND OUR IMPERFECTIONS
You made it through the interview, received your acceptance letter and now are ready for your new job. You made it to the finish line but how exactly are you going to hide the fact that you have a tremendous amount to learn? A great way to begin is to find yourself a mentor who is willing to recognize that although you may not have all of the background for the job, you are able to transfer your past experiences and lessons into your new position. Find that person who you feel comfortable speaking with and is also willing to share their insights and suggestions. My new boss in that early job was that mentor for me. She believed in my capabilities and encouraged me to meet with all the managers to learn about their challenges. It was a powerful way to begin to get an understanding of the organization.
2. MENTORS HAVE OUR BEST INTERESTS IN MIND
A good mentor is never in competition with us but helps us grow in the best direction. They spend time getting to know our interests and strengths and empower us to follow our choices. It’s not about them. It’s about helping the mentee find their North Star and soar.
3. MENTORS OFFER SAGE ADVICE
The best mentors in our lives are willing to share helpful and actionable information with us.
- They speak in language that is clear and direct
- They lay out their suggestions in a respectful way
- They ask us for our input and thoughts
- They share their mistakes and missteps through powerful storytelling
4. MENTORS CHALLENGE US
My early mentor set me free and encouraged me to design my own programs without her help. She had confidence in me to draw on my past experiences but always said she was available for any type of question or concern. Rather than modeling all my work after her successes, she pushed me to be innovative and take risks. To be effective, mentors need to push their mentees out of the nest to fly.
5. MENTEES PAY IT FORWARD
Once we have been mentored, it is a leader’s responsibility to pay it forward by volunteering to mentor others. Most probably, the strongest mentors in our careers had been mentored themselves. So find a mentee who is looking to grow from your rich experiences and lessons. Make time to mentor. Continue to find new mentors as you move along each step of the way.
I never did reconnect with my mentor. I tried looking for her but never seemed to find her. But she really helped me find my gifts and my voice. She empowered me to dream and propel my career into motion. I will always be grateful to her.
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