Mentoring: You Really Do Get What You Give

women helping women mentoringWhen I was just moving up the ranks in my career I was very fortunate to win a fellowship for women leaders conducted in a partnership between Harvard University and a non-profit aimed at nurturing gender diversity in global business. A key component of the year-long curriculum was a mentoring program that paired the 12 fellows with amazing women based on our interests and objectives. My mentor was Cari Dominguez, then a top executive at the search firm Heidrick & Struggles and later head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during the Bush Administration.

In my first meeting with Cari, I was gushing with gratefulness and praise for her when she stopped me and said, “Quit thanking me, I will get as much as out of this as you do!” I assumed she was just being nice (and maybe a bit sick of my star-struck behavior). We went on to build a really effective plan to improve my leadership skills, my confidence and my perspective on the never-ending journey called life balance. In that process, we became friends.

That was 15 years ago, and now I am the one mentoring other young women — passing Cari’s gift forward. I finally understand what she meant about getting as much back as she gave to me, from being a mentor to a younger, less experienced woman. I’ve found there are five “gifts” that I get, which make my life better and richer, so that the time spent mentoring is more than worth it. Of course we all know how important it is to find a mentor to guide us in life, but it is just as powerful to be a mentor, as this role can help us continue to learn and grow. Consider these five “gifts” of mentorship:

  1. It’s nice to be looked up to. Let’s face it, we all like a little respect and admiration. So while I do always tell my mentees that the relationship is a good two-way street, the gratefulness and praise is appreciated.
  2. I get to remember my younger self. The process of sharing my own stories lets me see myself with a certain tenderness and appreciation. I can now laugh at what seemed so hard then, be more forgiving of the mistakes, more proud of my successes. I like her, that younger me.
  3. My older self is inspired. Invariably, by talking to young women about their goals and objectives, I think more clearly about my own. A few years ago, talking to an enthusiastic and hopeful mentee, I realized I needed more in my career. She rekindled the spark in me.
  4. I’m reminded to be better. There is always a story about the mentee’s boss or someone at work. When they say, “I don’t feel challenged,” or “No one seems to notice what I do,” I am reminded of my own impact on people who work with me. It opens my eyes.
  5. My network is made stronger. Only one mentee out of dozens was entirely self-interested — she just wanted help getting promoted. Yuck. Every other mentee has provided me with an important insight, a referral or other benefit. We have used our “girl power” for good.

So ladies, make sure you fit mentoring into your busy schedule. It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

Gail Graham is Chief Marketing Officer at United Capital, a national partnership of private wealth counseling offices. She is responsible for all aspects of marketing, branding and lead generation as well as business strategy and planning.

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