The Mentors In Our Lives


FountainBlue’s May 11 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Standing on the Shoulders of Mentors, featuring:

Facilitator Sasha Grinshpun, Executive coach, facilitator, and speaker, Talent Mosaic

Panelist Carol Evanoff, former Director, Lockheed Strategic Weapons Facility Pacific

Panelist Monica Kaldani-Nasif, Director of Talent Acquisition for the Americas, Hitachi Data Systems

Panelist Jocelyn King, Director of Corporate Marketing, Altera

Panelist Gayatri Patel, Director of Product Management, Analytics Platform, eBay

Panelist Joyce Reitman, Vice President and Banker, JP Morgan

Please join us in thanking our speakers for taking the time to share their advice and thoughts and to our gracious hosts at Altera, and our food sponsors at JP Morgan. Below are notes from the conversation.

Our panelists were women who represented different companies, roles and levels, supporting a range of product and service offerings, with training from technical to business, with experience mentoring dozens and even more than a thousand people. They are also women who had so much in common:

  • They personally benefited from a mentee-mentor relationship and were motivating to give back and empower others.
  • They are all women with extensive experience working in technology, and see firsthand the challenges women face within a corporate setting, and are passionate about making a difference for more women leaders through mentoring.
  • They are self-aware, focused on passionate about leadership and empowering others to succeed within a corporate context.
  • They have worked with both women and men as mentees and as mentors, and willingly share their advice on what works and what doesn’t work.

Mentoring is different than coaching in that it is generally less formal, can be more general, encompassing not just specific work goals, but also life integration into work. Coaching and mentorship and sponsorship are all about caring and making a difference, but coaching might be more likely charged, whereas mentoring generally is not, and neither is sponsorship. A sponsor might be more likely be a senior exec from your own company, helping you mitigate political issues for example, and helping you advance within your company, where mentors and coaches are more likely independently and outside the company. Coaching is more about going outside in, whereas mentoring is more about inside out and sponsorship is more outside up. All three might add a value in specific ways, as agreed between the two parties.

Our panel talked about ‘mentoring moments’ where they, or those that they worked with benefited from a conversation about a significant event and its implications for the current personal or professional challenges for the mentor. They talked about looking at things from the perspective of the mentor-mentee relationship, and communicating about issues and questions which could impact what mentees think about their past experiences and their present challenges and opportunities.

Our panelists describe the attributes of a good mentor:

  • Someone who believes in the mentee, in words and actions, and is very involved in their lives and their career.
  • Someone who give mentees the feedback they don’t want to hear, and helps them take action on it in a way that helps them move forward.
  • Someone who focuses on your growth and your passion.
  • Someone who helps mentees understand both their strengths and weaknesses and also to leverage their strengths to overcome their weaknesses.
  • Mentors are not managers, whose management roles might interfere with their ability to do either well.
  • Friends are not mentors, as their obligations as friends might interfere with their ability to help you stretch yourself.

They are clear about the benefits of mentoring done right:

  • Mentoring is generally informal and fluid, focused on ensuring that both mentors and mentees benefit from an ongoing relationship.
  • Mentorship is a dynamic process, and each party must continually access needs and actions to support the mentee and the relationship.
  • There are many different kinds of mentors, including technical mentors to guide your technical development, a professional mentors to help address both work and life challenges, and fault-finding mentors to help you in the continuous improvement process.
  • Mentees should bring value into the relationship: information, validation, feedback, perspective.
  • Mentors provide a roadmap for the career path, and helps mentees cross bridges and avoid landmines.

Below is their advice on securing an effective mentor-mentee relationship:

  • Know who you are and what you have to offer. Know how you want a mentor to help you get from where you are to where you’d like to go, then decide which mentor might be the best person to help you get there.
  • Know your core values and never deviate from them. Choose a mentor with similar values who can help you grow and succeed while maintaining those core values.
  • Grow deep within your skillset, but also grow laterally, applying your skills to other functions and sectors.
  • Show your mentor/mentee that you are enjoying the experience and tangibly benefiting from the experience.
  • Stretch beyond your comfort zone to find the right mentor. They are generally not your work friends, your manager, or others who have known you a long time and feel comfortable with. They are accomplished professionals whom you admire for specific reasons and can help you in a specific way you define.
  • Have the right reasons for seeking a mentor, and transparently communicate that reason to the potential mentor. Focus also on why they would like to mentor you as well.

In the end, if done right, mentorship benefits both the mentors and the mentees, the team and the organization, the individual and their network of relationships.

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