Are You My Mentor?
So starts a chapter in Sheryl Sandberg’s best seller Lean In, a brilliant book about “women, work and the will to lead”. If it isn’t already obvious, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO, is my new hero. But she is not my mentor. She covers the subject of mentorship and describes the differences between women and men when it comes to finding or, better still, feeling the need to have a mentor. In her view when someone finds the right mentor it is obvious, but that running after or forcing the connection hardly ever works.
My own opinions of mentorship are formed from personal experiences as a PR professional. When I started out many years ago I had a mentor and once I was established in my career, I also had the opportunity to be one. In both cases I was never asked to assume the role, nor did I need the affirmation that I needed one. Yet today in the field of public relations, largely a female-dominated industry, there are formalized programs to link mentors and mentees. But, does this make sense and add value to either party?
After reading Sheryl’s book I would argue she makes a strong point against “mentor matchmaking” and goes on to say that we may be conditioning young women to become too dependent on others. She paints the picture of Sleeping Beauty where little girls are told that if they just wait for Prince Charming’s kiss they will live happily ever after. According to this viewpoint, once the right mentor comes along, he (or she) will make everything happen.
My first boss was a crusty TV network newsman who started out as a CP cub reporter and was lured to head communications for a large community service organization. I was a PR newbie who was ready to work hard, stay late and listen. I credit him with teaching me how to write, work with the media and most of all, how to deal with people firmly, fairly and with integrity. He challenged me every day and to this day I consider him my one and only mentor. But it is worth noting that it was something that was never asked OR answered. It is, and always will be, about something that happens naturally.