Reposted from a LinkedIn Article posted on September 3, 2015
As an HR professional I have been a mentor and designed and managed mentoring programs and here is why... Life isn't easy; work isn't easy and succeeding in one or both, requires help. I am a mother and a professional who hates to ask for help, but have learned through the years that it is impossible to do anything alone. As I think back on my career, I realized I have rarely had a formal mentoring relationship, but I have had so many relationships which were about learning from another person.
My first mentor was my grandmother who didn't even know the definition of the word mentor. She was likely one of the greatest influences of my life. She was a stay at home Mom, who, due to life circumstances, became a single Mom at 40 to four kids and picked up the pieces, took classes and went to work to provide for her family. She was empathetic, and passionate. She provided the best example of a role model for a growing girl, a strong woman and mother. I can only hope to provide the same for my daughter.
Even at work, I have rarely had a formal mentor, but I had different people in my life who provided advice and feedback in different ways. I had the leader who told me to dress for the job I wanted, or in her words, kick it up a notch. I’ve had bosses that encouraged me to take risks and try something new. I can remember wanting a new role in an organization. I proactively “designed” what that role could look like and pitched the idea to my boss. She listened, and promptly rejected the idea. Deflated, I was unsure what to do next. One week later I was asked to take on a brand new role, one I had NO experience in. She later told me that while my idea had merit, it lacked the opportunity for me to be “uncomfortable”. It was the best and worst year of my life, and I learned more in that short period of time than at any other point in my career.
A few of my leaders have supported me through difficult personal times. I needed flexibility to manage my personal life, but also needed the distraction of work. I know that sounds strange, but sometimes when you are dealing with a personal issue, it can be all consuming unless you have something else you love to focus on. While I was grateful for the flexibility and support, I also learned that empathy did have a place in the workplace. I likely would have gone to the ends of the earth for those leaders who were there for me when I needed them.
Lastly, I have had less traditional mentors. I have peers who serve as a sounding board for career discussions. They listen to my challenges and logic, they help me identify areas of focus and encourage me to examine the big picture that is my career. I have also had employees that have been my mentors. I’m not sure they even realize they have been my mentor; some of them grew up with me and started out with me when I was a young leader. They had the courage to share perceptions about me, give me feedback, and test my values and ability to change. As I have watched many of them grow and go on to do other things, often bigger, better things, I think about what I learned and hope I have put it to good use and become a better leader.
Mentors challenge you, are honest with you, and teach you to think differently. My list of mentors is extensive and I hope you know that I have learned from you and I thank you.