The office is a bee hive. We are the workers, gathering pollen for the most powerful bee – the Queen (although in reality we usually turn information into honey for the King bee, as 85% of company CEOs are men).
Like structures in the hive, we learn from each other through an institutionalised training system of reward, recognition and punishment. We are socialised quickly into our office norms, and are both encouraged and expected to perform well – and fast.
The trouble with internal learning, is the workplace is complicated. Everyone is busy, focused on their own roles – and has their own agenda. The result is that we learn how to do our jobs from others who are performing a similar role or from those higher up in the food chain. We don’t necessarily get a cross-functional perspective on our roles, or more broadly, on our careers.
Adding to office complexity, some environments are better than others, with great organisations filled with the best and brightest leaders bringing about exceptional results from the team. Conversely, the very worst environments can negatively impact the best people.
We spend 40 plus hours at work, no to mention countless hours thinking about work, how we can reach (and exceed our KPIs) and what our next career move will be. It’s no wonder there is so much emphasis on career. Through the office minefield, we need to ask ourselves: are we paying enough attention to who can help navigate the hierarchy effectively?
In the best organisation there will be many people to guide success. Peers, direct managers and friends who share the same experiences and can provide advice on our careers. But in a case where we are not pushed or don’t have someone who can sell our skills to the leadership group, who is it that can assist in realising our potential?
A mentor could be one such person. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of the must-read Lean In, suggests that mentors and sponsors are essential for career success. In fact, Sandberg states, “Men and women with sponsors are most likely to ask for stretch assignments than peers of the same gender, without sponsors.”2
A mentor is someone in a professional position that we admire, has professional qualities that we wish to cultivate and with whom we can form a bond. The mentor-mentee relationship should help in navigating difficult situations, provide guidance regarding career path, help identify strengths and weaknesses and work in a genuinely helpful (and hopefully inspiring) way.
So how do you go about finding a mentor? If you think a mentor could add value, then start with investigating formal and informal mentoring programs. A recent study of mentorships has discovered, “Women who had found mentors through formal programs had received more promotions by 2010 than women who had found mentors on their own (by a rate of almost three to two)”3.
Whether you choose formal or informal mentoring, the role of the mentor is to be a good listener and be someone trusted and feel good about meeting. A mentor acts as a sounding board for questions and concerns and provides a different perspective if required. A mentor shouldn’t make decisions but rather provide new ways of thinking to make your own.
Finding a mentor is like finding any great relationship, it takes time, the difference being that the mentor has volunteered their time to focus on helping you. They want to see you succeed and will likely believe in you more than you believe in yourself. A mentor is someone who, in addition to you, has your best interests in mind.
7 tips for a good mentoring relationship
1. Determine if your workplace offers a mentorship program and think about who in the organisation you would like to be your mentor.
2. If no formal mentoring is available internally, find other organisations, outside the organisation that offer mentoring programs. You might find a formal program (like the one offered by Women in Digital) easier than having to naturally cultivate a relationship, or asking someone if they want to be your mentor.
3. Be clear about what you want to get out of your mentorship. What are your goals? Why are you doing this? Be more specific than saying you want to “get promoted”.
4. Think about the type of person who you respond well to and who you think would be good to learn from? How can their skills complement yours? How can you learn from their behavioural style?
5. Go to each meeting prepared with something you want to discuss. Keep complaining about people or the organisation to a minimum and focus on issues that you can impact. Be positive.
6. Learn to trust your mentor. The more you put in to any relationship, the more you get out. Mentoring is no different.
7. Be open to feedback and different perspectives. Mentors will challenge your thinking as well as provide guidance and advice.
About Michelle Tucker
Michelle has been in Digital for eight years, starting in Publishing, moving onto FMCG and healthcare. Michelle drives digital transformation for large multi-national organisations. She brings comprehensive end-to-end digital expertise across technology implementation, strategy development, operational processes, team and capability building. Michelle is passionate about digital and building best in class programs, teams and ultimately, results.
Michelle has a degree in Journalism and an MBA.
1. Gender workplace statistics at a glance, 2015, https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Stats_at_a_Glance.pdf (January 2016)
2. Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead (First edition.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
3. Ibarra, Carter, Silva, 2010: Why men still get more promotions than women https://hbr.org/2010/09/why-men-still-get-more-promotions-than-women (January 2016