Mentors have helped me get to where I am today in strategy consulting. Many have helped me without even knowing it. They’ve opened up opportunities at the right time, they have guided me through rough waters and given me the gentle (and not so gentle) nudges that have helped me push myself beyond my self-inflicted limits. I must say that I never blindly followed all of their advice. I have very strong opinions of my own. But my mentors challenged my opinion in a way that made my final decisions well thought through and built on a set of solid assumptions that were thoroughly vetted. If you’re looking for a mentor – and, if you want to join the ranks of women in leadership roles, you really should be – there are a number of factors you should be thinking about.
Firstly, mentors aren’t just the people you’re given as career counselors or assigned as a manager. If you are lucky then one of those people will be a mentor, but if we were all so lucky we’d all be in Las Vegas. What you will find is that they’re the intelligent, engaged and insightful people you find throughout your career when you aren’t necessarily looking for a mentor. So get out there, talk to people and make some connections. And once you’ve made them, take it upon yourself to maintain the relationship.
Second, I never came to my mentors with problems, laying them in front of them hoping that they would miraculously fix them or tell me how right I was in my opinion. I built these relationships with these very senior individuals simply by helping them and then they gave me the opportunities that I needed when I needed them. Because by being there and showing my commitment to their success, I was top of mind and they became committed to my success. Mentoring isn’t a magic solution whereby you have great discussions and suddenly you get these great opportunities. You have to demonstrate to these individuals that you’re worth their time. Anyone who has a great mentor has worked hard to get that mentor.
After working at Accenture for around 11 years, one of my external mentors said to me “oh you’re a career consultant now” closely followed by “you’re not even that interesting anymore”. Can you imagine what that felt like? But you know what? He was right. And it was this conversation that prompted me to look outside of consultancy for more experience; something that would demonstrate that I could do what I was telling others to do. He probably has no idea that this comment triggered me to make a change in my career, one that would, over time open up more doors and more opportunities.
The bottom line is that, if you want to your mentor relationships to work for you; you have to work hard at making sure they do. Broaden your horizons; look beyond where you are now and understand where you want to be.
Bear these things in mind and you’ll get the best from them.