To Be or Not To Be…A Mentor

Sheryl Sandberg dedicates a chapter to mentoring in Lean In and in typical Sandberg fashion, she provides a unique perspective.  Let’s start with the basics:

  • Mentoring is important for professional growth – check!  
  • All executives – male and female – should take the time to serve as a mentor – check, check!  
  • Once an individual is mentored, his or her career will take off – not so fast!

Mentoring doesn’t automatically put someone on the fast track to the C-suite.  Individuals also have to get what really matters – an executive sponsor – someone who will help advance that person’s career.  Sandberg suggests that to get a sponsor, you have to get noticed, either through good performance or, in the case of a quick interaction, by asking thoughtful questions that demonstrate you’ve done your homework.  When Sandberg gets asked questions at conferences, she says men ask business related questions and women ask about career management.  

I understand Sandberg’s disappointment when asked career questions but based on the setting, I believe these women saw a slim opportunity to seek career advice from someone who has ‘made it.’  Had these interactions been tied to a company business meeting where Sandberg’s exclusive purpose was to discuss Facebook, then I agree that the career questions would be inappropriate.

I also want to briefly touch upon the mentoring myth that Sandberg bursts wide open.  A traditional mentoring relationship is based on monthly meetings where the mentee pours out his or her career woes and expects the mentor to wave a magic wand creating immediate improvement.  This type of relationship typically offers little value to both parties.  After several experiences with traditional mentoring, I declined further requests. My mentoring interactions simply weren’t meaningful because we didn’t have common ground on which to begin a relationship or common goals toward which we were working.  I’ve adjusted my mentoring approach to be a triage service (1-800 ASKBETH –just kidding!).  Bring me a business problem or a career challenge and I will help you work through the issue.  Just don’t ask for a long term commitment because you won’t get one.  Am I being selfish?  I don’t think so.  The individual gets the support she needs and I am not forced into an unrewarding arrangement.

The bottom line is that mentoring and sponsorship are important.  You don’t have to be a senior executive to serve as a mentor and you don’t have to make a long term commitment.  Conversely, if you are seeking a mentor, think the matter through.  Who are you asking to be your mentor and why?  Do you plan on giving something to the relationship or is it all about you?  Does your performance warrant the time and attention of a mentor, or are you just shirking the responsibility for taking your career into your own hands?

I’d like to hear your thoughts on mentoring.  What does it take to be a success mentor?  A successful mentee?  Please share some of your mentoring experiences.

Speak loudly, step boldly!August 21st, 2013 7:01am Sheryl Sandberg lean in Beth Bierbower mentorship