I recently read an inspiring article in my local newspaper about Boston businesswomen who volunteer to mentor high school girls, helping them navigate the complicated route to college. What a great program.
But it reminded me of a persistent message to women: Find a mentor. Find that one special person who will advise you along the way—a parent, pastor, coach, and cheerleader, all in one. I heard this message before I left high school, and it got louder through college and business school, and louder still when I entered the corporate world. By the time I was made a boss, ten years into my career, the message was practically deafening.
"You have to find a mentor," the CEO of my company told me every chance she got. "You need to find somebody—a role model, a teacher—who can help you."
I never did, and it was only years later that I realized I didn't have one mentor because I had so many. Friends, colleagues, former bosses, a neighbor who was the CEO of her own company—I turned to them all, and countless others, for advice and counsel. I had mentors who lasted three months and others who lasted three years. A literary agent I met by accident in 1995 is my mentor still. So is the family friend, now 74, who ran the architecture firm. Each person has taught me something different.
Interestingly, I have long observed that men receive much less pressure to get a sole mentor, and in particular, I have never heard of a male boss being urged to do so. Perhaps it's thought that men don't need the extra help; the corporate world favors them to begin with. That might be true, just as it might be true that some women are fortunate enough to find that all-in-one individual who teaches them everything they need to know. Still, I would posit that too many women make the mistake of seeking a single magical mentor. They need to seek—and find—as many as they can.
We Hear You!