7 Things No One Tells You About Mentorship

Women working together at a laptop

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A lot of emphasis has been put on finding a mentor — that one perfect person who holds all the answers to your career questions. The truth is, mentors come in many forms, and you can get gems of advice anywhere, from anyone. At the Girls’ Lounge at NBCUniversal, female leaders sat down to talk about what they wished they’d known about mentorship as they rose the ranks. Here are their top lessons learned.
Practice mentorship in the moment. Take the opportunity to offer guidance in the workplace whenever it arises. By doing so, you’ll help inspire others to do the same. It doesn’t have to be an ongoing relationship, but something informal that happens in the moment. “Mentorship to me is about sharing experiences that can change your lens,” says Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising & Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal.
It doesn’t have to be formal. While it’s a good idea to try to schedule time on your mentor’s calendar, once in a while it’s okay to do a quick, spontaneous check-in. “There’s a real beauty in poking your head in to someone’s office, because then you’ll be very much in the moment and able to get your mentor’s gut response,” says Linda.
Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising & Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal, in the Girls' Lounge.

Linda Yaccarino, Chairman, Advertising & Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal, sharing advice in the Girls’ Lounge.

Just ask her. Mentorship is cumulative. “I always say, when you want to know something: ask her,” says Shelley Zalis, CEO of The Female Quotient.  “The best advice comes from a lot of different people with real-life experiences. You can’t read it in a textbook. But you can ask for advice from many people who have been there, done that. No one person has all of the answers, but you can take the pieces of advice that work best for you.”
Make sure your mentor sees you in action. Want the most constructive feedback? Give your mentor an authentic look at how you work. “If you go to your mentor and say you’re having a problem, they’re likely to give you their version of what they think the problem is,” says Kristin Lemkau, Chief Marketing Officer at JPMorgan Chase. “They may just fill you up or tell you to keep going, instead of actually seeing what you’re doing wrong and being honest about that.”
Listen to advice—even when it’s not what you want to hear. What do you do when multiple mentors are all giving you the same advice—and you don’t agree with it? “Listen to them,” says Linda. She recounts a story of taking a job despite receiving feedback from multiple mentors that the new gig wouldn’t set her up for success. She ended up quitting after just 15 months because everything the mentors warned her about came true. “You always have to make your own decision based on your moral compass and your individual path. Yet if all of your mentors are saying don’t do something, I’m going to say trust in them.”
Appreciate critical feedback. Try asking what you could be doing better. It’s not easy to get negative feedback, but that’s how we grow. Whether you agree or disagree with your mentor’s opinion, there is usually at least a grain of truth in what they’re saying. “You should thank mentors who tell you something you don’t want to hear, because they care enough about you to put themselves in a conflict situation,” says Kristin.
Pay it forward. “The best thanks you can give to all of your mentors is to pay it forward,” says Zalis. “Give back with generosity and help other women on their way up.”
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