How to find the right mentor

Women climbing the corporate ladder are often told to find a mentor to help them get ahead in the workplace. But how exactly does one do this?

For some insight, I spoke to Lois Zachary, author of The Mentor’s Guide. The book first came out 10 years ago, and her publisher, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, has just rereleased an updated edition. She told me:

“Because of our multitasking, time-crunched lives, we often reduce mentoring to transactions, but mentoring is really about a relationship. The mentee has to be an active participant in the process.”

Zachary said there are number of concrete steps to take in your search for a mentor.

“The purpose of mentoring is to learn, so women first need to ask themselves: what do I want to learn? Having a mentor is not about getting a promotion, it’s about becoming more promotable.”

Then, set goals. “Women get so locked into the ‘do’ that we forget about the ‘think’. I spend a lot of time with female entrepreneurs. They’re so busy working in the business that they forget to work ‘on’ the business,” she says, adding that men aren’t as susceptible to this behaviour. “Women are caretakers; it’s harder for us to let go.”

Based on your goals, create criteria for your ideal mentor. These can be points such as a sales track record of X, or the ability to meet with you face-to-face, or perhaps you are only looking for another woman as your mentor. Then, use your network to find possible candidates.

Beware of the allure of “good chemistry”, she says. “Chemistry is overrated. It’s seductive. If you click with someone, you might think, ‘They would be a great mentor,’ but they might not teach you what you need to learn.”

Zachary says the notion that powerful women are less willing to mentor young women is false. (Some female bosses have the reputation of being “queen bees” who distance themselves from other women at the office, and rather than promote junior counterparts, refuse to help them rise through the ranks. The incorrect presumption is that they think: “If I did it without any help, why can’t other women?”) Zachary adds:

“That’s probably a generational difference. I work with women’s groups all the time. I find that they are very supportive of one another. The women who are leaving the workforce now understand that it took blood, sweat, and tears for them to get there, and they want to leave the workforce a better place.”

 

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About our bloggers

Liz Bolshaw

Liz Bolshaw is a business journalist and editor. She has been a successful book publisher, online editor, magazine editor and publisher.

She was launch editor of the Europe-wide online community Entrepreneur Country, has published magazines for PwC, 3i, dunhill and Bafta, and launched The Sharp Edge, a magazine for and about entrepreneurs, with Duncan Bannatyne. She is a regular contributor to Thomson Reuters’ Venture Capital Journal.

Her last project for the Financial Times was as editor of the paper’s Business Education magazine.

Rebecca Knight

Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She writes regularly for the FT on business education, entrepreneurship, and management.

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill is an associate editor and the management editor of the FT. He was City editor of the FT and editor of the daily Lombard column on British business and finance from September 2006 to December 2010.

He was the FT’s financial editor from June 2005 to September 2006, with overall responsibility for coverage of companies and markets. Before becoming financial editor, he was the FT’s comment & analysis editor, in charge of the paper’s opinion and features pages.

From 1999 to 2003, he was the FT’s New York bureau chief. He joined the FT in 1988 and has also worked as foreign news editor, UK companies reporter and correspondent in Brussels and Milan.

Pino Bethencourt

Pino Bethencourt is a professor and leadership expert at IE Business School in Madrid. She is also an author and executive coach.

Lynda Gratton

Lynda Gratton is professor of management practice at London Business School.

Linda Tarr-Whelan

Linda Tarr-Whelan, former ambassador to the UN commission on the status of women, is a Demos distinguished senior fellow.