Look around your business at the women who get ahead quickly in business. Do you notice anything that makes them different from other women? They rarely make their ascent by themselves. If you look at their strategy (and they certainly have one to get ahead) you will often see that there is a mentor who has guided them on the best and fastest trajectory to get ahead. You may not have thought to look for a mentor at work. But if you want to move your career ahead faster, I suggest you do.
My first mentor in business was my manager. I was lucky. Not all managers are great strategic thinkers. This man had 25 successful years with many leadership roles with the company (a major oil company). He knew the company and he knew business. His customers adored him, he was well respected within the company and I had enormous respect for him—and I liked him, too. I knew I had a great mentor when he said, “One of my goals is to get you promoted.”
I trusted his advice and I took it. He prepared me for being promoted by presenting new challenges for me. Knowing that he thought I could take them on to be ready for the promotion was a big factor in my believing in myself.
But what if you’re not lucky enough to have a great manager? You can find useful mentors elsewhere.
Start looking around your company. Who do you admire? Who is respected by others? That person could be someone who could provide you with excellent career advice. Expect that you will have to drive the relationship by asking specific career and business questions. I had to do less of that since my manager shared my goal.
So how do you approach a possible mentor? Don’t just blurt out to your prospective mentor, “I want you to be my mentor.” Most people won’t know how to respond to that. Instead, invite the person to lunch and prepare the questions to ask before you meet. Lunch is informal and outside the office you’ll have less business distractions. Make sure you include comments like, “I trust your judgment and would really appreciate your input on an issue I’m considering.” Your mentor will be flattered and more likely to meet with you again.
Just so you know, I think it’s less important to have a female mentor than it is to have someone with good strategic vision and business savvy. In fact, sometimes it’s better to get a male point of view instead of a female one. You’ll learn what everyone else is really thinking.
Mentoring is a great way to move your career ahead at a faster pace. I can tell you that it worked for me. I was Mobil Oil’s first female lubrication engineer in the United States and I wasn’t the first female they hired. My mentor was my champion and I attribute his coaching and input as the reason for my quicker success. So pick your mentor and get in the fast lane, too.