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Get a Mentor to Help You Learn the Ropes






Being mentored by the right person is an important and viable bridge to achieving your career goals. Mentors can serve as role models and gateways, introducing you to the right people. Having savvy mentors is one of the key levers that can lift you from obscurity and fruitless toil to success. Because top leadership posts are occupied primarily by men, women must build the skills to enlist men as allies and mentors. As Jack Welch, former CEO of GE, said “Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Therefore, the leaders you work with (or network with) should welcome the opportunity to mentor you, if you ask them directly and make it easy on them, not taking up too much of their time. When you network (an extension of mentoring), it’s a good idea to reach out to men’s established, powerful networks as well as the newer women’s networks.


  • Get a mentor.  For many daughters of prominent men, their father is their first mentor. From the age of about five, the author, along with her brother and sister, was in “entrepreneur training” with her father.  He would take us on business drives to oversee his properties, then point out a building and ask us what we thought it was worth.  The correct answer was, “Whatever you can get for it.” He also taught all of us to play poker, as a way of learning business and betting strategy.  But this isn’t just the author's story; Governor Kathleen Sebelious of Kansas, the first daughter of a Governor in U.S. history to be elected to the same office, learned her lessons at her father’s knee. And Cheryl Miller, the first female analyst to call a nationally televised NBA game on Turner Broadcasting Team, was mentored by her dad.
  • If your dad’s not the mentoring type, look to your mom or a teacher.  Mothers can be mentors, too. Sharon Avent, president and CEO of Smead Manufacturing Company (a privately held, women-owned company founded in 1906 that manufactures and distributes home and office filing systems, supplies, and software, with $315 million in annual sales and approximately 2500 employees) took over as president from her mother.  Another woman leader told a story about her sixth-grade civics teacher, who after a class debate told her, “You know, if you were my daughter, I’d send you to law school.” She took it to heart, determined not to be a tobacco farmer all her life, overcame her mother’s admonition that she should aspire to be a school teacher, and went on to law school and a successful career.
  • Get an incredibly successful woman to be your mentor.  Ask for 15 minutes a month, and be willing to do it by e-mail. Gayle Crowell, who was a six-figure executive at a software company (but also a former school teacher) says she’s always willing to mentor, as long as she can do it by e-mail, while she’s waiting in airports or on planes.
  • Turn to your supervisor.  Your supervisor might be willing to mentor you if you ask for just 15 minutes, once a month, to tell you the expectations for your position; how well you are meeting them; and a plan to move you along a career path that will take you to the next level (as long as it doesn’t threaten his job, even if it’s a lateral move to another track.)
  • Tap into powerful networks. Join the National Association of Women Business Owners, the National Association of Female Executives, your city’s Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and your Alumni Club. Janet Hanson, the founder & CEO of Milestone Capital Management, founded 85 Broads—a groundbreaking global mentoring network now with 4,200 members worldwide. It offers ‘Broad2Broad,’ a model for numerous other corporate/alumnae networks.
  • Hire a coach. When the author was on the board of directors of NAWBO, she was enlisted to ask a friend of hers, an enormously successful millionaire entrepreneur, to be the keynote speaker at our awards event.  Linda had never spoken in public or gone beyond high school. She asked me to connect her with an executive coach, another NAWBO member, who helped her give a successful speech to a rousing response.

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