I’ve been hearing a lot about the importance of mentors of late, especially for women. The implication is that you must have a single person to go to. I would actually disagree. You need multiple allies in your corner to help you navigate the minefields of modern-day business. And, hey, the occasional rah-rah encouragement certainly doesn’t hurt either (Sorry. I’m a millennial. Barely one! But, still. Check my driver’s license if you must).
On Finding Your Mentor
Often, the assumption is that you must go out and find this magical mentor, like a LinkedIn game of go-fish. Sheryl Sandberg referenced this oddity in Lean In, as she’s often asked by total strangers, “will you be my mentor?”
Yikes. That’s sure an awkward question. Mainly, because it should never have to be asked. It’s the grown-up equivalent of the elementary school question of, “Will you be my friend?”
But, see, if you don’t get caught up on needing an officially titled person, you can have multiple mentors. Fun fact: they might not even know they’re mentoring you at the time! But, that’s okay. You just follow the smart cookies and some of their crumbs will undoubtedly rub off on you.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with exceptional, brilliant mentors. Some of them I’m still close with and with others I’ve lost touch. Few were perfect. Some drove me crazy (at times). But, all made my life more interesting.
The Best Relationship Mentor I’d Ever Met
One of my mentors passed away this week, in her early 40’s from cancer—and it breaks my heart. It rips an inch each time another memory surfaces. Her name was Nicola Moore and she was the best relationship manager you could imagine.
I’m brand side now so I feel less guilty saying this, but we admiringly called her the snake charmer. She always knew what the clients wanted before the clients knew themselves. Watching her in action was breathtaking.
Nicola was brilliantly strategic and charismatic. She typed with purpose, arching her wrists to give her fingertips more power. She wrinkled her nose when she didn’t like something she’d written. She had an infectious laugh and positivity that made you wonder what actually wasn’t possible. She made sure you knew when the clients gave you compliments (and passed it along to your boss) and when they were displeased. She gave edits back 10 minutes before client calls and sent 6:00 AM emails (I believe the earliest was 4:18am). She sometimes scared me.
But, she also was encouraging and demanded your very best work. Without her, I wouldn’t be the strong strategist and creative I am today. And, I’m going to miss her.
The Best Lessons I’ve Learned from My Mentors
In honor of Nicola, I wanted to put together some of the best lessons and pieces of advice I’ve learned from my various mentors. Enjoy.
Presentation matters. You can have great ideas, but if it doesn’t look pretty, the content won’t matter. Big ideas are hard enough to convey. Don’t let the client (or your boss) get hung up on unimportant design details. So slap on that logo. It will take an extra minute, but will make your work look more official.
Manage expectations. Others’ perception of you is what makes you sink or swim. It’s what creates your personal brand. Everyone is buried in work, but deadlines are your performance metric. It’s always better to under promise and over deliver.
Know your worth. You won’t be fired for asking. And, if you don’t ask for it (be it a raise, title change, better projects), you’ll never know.
Speak up in meetings. Even if you don’t have a perfect idea yet. This often is women-specific advice, in that us ladies want to have everything buttoned up and flawless before sharing it with the world. I definitely prefer this approach. However, when we sit on our ideas – our colleagues think we don’t have anything to say. Au contraire!
When giving feedback, make sure it’s a difference that makes a difference. We all think our ideas are great. But sometimes it’s not worth sharing them (really). Instead, it just creates more busy work and takes your focus away from changes that brings in true ROI.
It’s PR. Not ER. Whatever your profession is (unless you are a real ER doctor!), there’s always going to be another day. Your sanity matters most. Period.
Have fun at work. One of my mentors once brought a full roasted chicken and a bottle of champagne to a team meeting. She wanted to see how the team would react. It was not an accident that everyone loved being around her, including clients. We only got one life to live, ya’ll.
Ask why. It’s hands-down the most important question you can ask. Plus, it helps you understand what the project is actually about (vs. what you are told it’s about) and cuts down on revisions.
Go all in on one big idea and see what happens. We all experience inertia at times in our career and it can be tough to know if it’s because of your boss, your company culture, you, or anything in between. If you want to see what kind of potential you have in your role, take a risk and go all in on something you believe in. How your company reacts will be telling.
Speak slowly so people will truly listen. The head of my New York PR firm had a very specific way of presenting. She would speak slowly and softly. It made you lean in (before leaning in was a thing) and actively pay attention. You could hear a pin drop when she was presenting. I’d never looked forward to monthly status meetings – but I always looked forward to hers. A better master story-teller, I have yet to find.
Make your bed. You’ll feel better.
Be a human. While we all put on our professional suits of armor before we step into the office, we’re still just small, scared humans on the inside. My apartment was broken into a few years back and one of my mentors called me to say how sorry he was. I got a few emails from others on my team, but that phone call really meant a lot to me. It was a personal connection from one human to another. People have equally (if not more so) important lives outside of work. Recognizing colleagues as unique people as opposed to worker-bots matters.
It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. When I interviewed with my current boss, this was one of the most exciting sound bites I remember. I was coming from a high-stress environment where mistakes indicated failure and this sounded like a dream. Thus far, it’s been close. And I’ve learned so much more in the process.
Believe in yourself. After all, your mentors do. And they’re pretty incredible.