From conversations around advancement of women’s professional careers, we latched onto mentorship because it sounded like the golden ticket to get us through the glass ceiling and beyond. However, research on successful women has shown that the way we go around this concept may be wrong.
Are you my mother?
In Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, she equates asking people to be our mentors the equivalent of the baby bird that, when she finds herself in an empty nest walks around asking a kitten, a cow, a dog and then as the gets more desperate a boat, a plane and a car, ‘Are you my mother?’ When the bird’s mother finally returns, the bird announces triumphantly ‘I am a bird and you are my mother’. At this point, the similarities between the mother and baby bird make it obvious that they belong to the same tribe.
As with any other relationship, mentorship cannot be forced. You’ve probably heard the advice, “find someone you admire and reach out to them to mentor you”. But for real value to be garnered, it is more important to have a connection and a rapport.
Now, if you truly admire someone, there is something to be said for reaching out to them, say, for tips on how they got to where they are now. But the mentor relationship must be given time to marinate in order to grow and become mutually beneficial.
At some point, I realised I had mentors all along, I just hadn’t looked at them through that lens. The boss who pushed me to be more than I thought I could be, who cheered me on when I had less faith in myself. And then as I started widening my circles, I found people who believed in me, who were willing to spend time with me to re-examine my goals and introduce me to a different way of thinking.
The ‘are you my mentor’ conversation did not even come up, because we had a chemistry right from the word go and knew each other well enough to recognise we were a good fit.
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