Women to Watch

On Friday, the Puget Sound Business Journal sponsored a breakfast event called Women to Watch at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle.  Featured on the panel were 4 inspiring professional women; Phyllis Campbell, Jean Floten, Mimi Kirsch and Angie Lepley moderated by Patti Payne, an impressive woman in her own right.

A few days before, I had a conversation with Mimi Kirsch about mentors.  Mimi had asked a small group of very successful women we share in common if we had mentors and if so, who.  I was surprised to hear most of them say “No, not in the way one thinks of mentors.”  Gee, I thought it was just me!

I’ve never had a mentor in the sense of an agreed upon relationship.  That doesn’t mean no one has had influence in my life and career.  Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of working with some very talented and ethical professionals.  Each has been a teacher for me, often without even realizing the impact they were making.

Periodically, I will get asked to serve as a mentor – usually someone not currently in my immediate circle.  While flattered, I always decline.  I don’t believe it is possible to mentor someone – or be mentored by someone  you don’t have contact with on a regular and ongoing basis. 

You can be inspired by someone from a distance, a person whose story you read, saw on television or a speaker you’ve heard, but mentoring is a much more in-depth process.

If you think you want or need a mentor, how do you find one?  A number of people offer services as a “coach” – even I do paid business coaching.  That works for some people, but there is another, less expensive option.

Look around you.  Who do you work with on a daily basis?  Are you part of an industry association or trade group?  Who are your neighbors?  Your fellow church members?  Do you belong to business or civic groups?  A hiking club?  Any place you interact with others on an ongoing basis can be be harboring a “mentor”.

You can learn from anyone you have a chance to observe and talk to regularly.

The person doesn’t have to be the head of a company or a public figure.   I learned most of what I know about managing people from a couple of great bosses I worked for back when I was a secretary.  We never had a “mentor/men-tee” relationship – I simply had the chance to work closely with them and I learned from the experience.  Over the years, I had the chance to ask questions to gain insights and understanding of their decision process.

Oh, and for the record – all my influential bosses were men.  Each of the women on the panel Friday said their career mentors were also men.   Don’t let gender bias get in the way of your career growth.  Great mentors come in all types, from all backgrounds and do not always occupy positions above yours.  

Seek inspiration from high-profile, public figures or those such as the 4 women on the Puget Sound Business Journal panel last week but look in your current circle for the unofficial mentors who can help you chart your path to success.

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