The Importance of Having a Mentor

Woman holding chalkboard with message: Mentor Wanted!

When I was in community college, I took a Psychology 101 course as part of a pre-requisite. The teacher was a bit of a character, which I guess is the best kind of psychology teacher. He used tons of trite comparisons, loved to read right from his Powerpoints, and before every test he would give us the question and the correct answer. All you had to do was show up in order to succeed.

Despite his eccentricities, I learned one of the most important facts in business from this teacher: “Women have a harder time succeeding in business because they lack mentors.” He went on to give an example about workplace culture.

You’re a young professional male who has just gone out for his first job. You have a nicely trimmed beard and you consider shaving, even though you don’t want to. You go to your mentor and seek advice. “Don’t shave,” he says,”When there’s a lull in conversation, let the hiring manager know your wife prefers the beard. They are family men here and they can appreciate this.” He went on to say women do not have this same support system. “There just aren’t as many women succeeding, so there isn’t as much mentorship going on.”

And that was that. You don’t have a chance, because there aren’t enough of you in business.

What this teacher’s flippancy taught me is that mentors are invaluable. Mentors in the same company help guide us around sticky workplace cultural quirks. Mentors in college help you navigate course schedules and decide which electives are valuable.  Mentors who are far and above your current success level help drive and motivate you to do better.

But how do we find mentors? Here are a few tips that can help you tap into the benefits a mentor can provide.

1. Mine Your Friendships

Often times, the best business mentors grow out of existing friendship. Identifying your current group of friends and associates for strengths you are lacking is a great start to building a mentorship. Release the fear of rejection, because friends are more likely to be flattered and happy to mentor you. We use our social networks for advice on all level of things- asking someone in your network to mentor you is just another layer.

2. Consider Community Leaders

Another great source of mentors are community leaders. Your previous college professors, ministers at your church, friends of your parents, people you meet at professional networking events, these are all great sources of mentors- and mentees, if you are looking to enrich a life in return. Asking someone you respect to mentor you can be as simple as asking them to coffee once a month. Use that tie to ask them about their challenges in business and successes. Discover their passions and see how they use those to grow professionally.

3. Seek Quality–Not Quantity

The point is not to stack the deck with dozens of mentors like a collection of sports cards. In this case, quality is far more important than quantity. Not every mentor is right for you right now, and a willingness to accept that is key. You may meet a friend that you respect for their drive or ambition, but you find yourself in an expansion period and prefer a grounding mentor to stay focused.

Mentors help us grow and stretch, and they are invaluable for success. And as women in business we should strive to be mentors as much as we seek mentorship. Men have long held the majority in the workplace, but we deserve a seat at the table. The best way to get there is to invite each other.  

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