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WOTC 2022: Four Tips On Finding And Being A Good Mentor
‘Whenever an opportunity arises, take it,’ Red Hat account executive Deborah Brown says at The Channel Company’s Women of The Channel Leadership Summit West conference. ‘It may not be the direction you want to go in, but it’s a stepping-stone to get you where you want to go.’
A good mentor is an ally, a friend, someone who gives feedback and holds you accountable, according to four women who all have experience being guided by a mentor or being one themselves.
The four women, who all work for Raleigh, North Carolina-based software company Red Hat, sat on a panel at CRN’s parent company The Channel Company’s Women of the Channel conference in Carlsbad, Calif. this week.
The panel consisted of Deborah Brown, account executive; Kellie Gaffney, senior technical project manager; Erika Nelson, director and senior commercial counsel; and Rachel Spencer, program manager for cloud services GTM. The mentorship panel was moderated by Allison Cohen, event director at The Channel Company.
“The most successful [mentor] relationships I‘ve had have been more informal,” said Nelson. “[It was] people in other departments that I had something in common with.”
Cohen said there are about 5,000 women and men in the Women of the Channel Leadership Network, so if people don’t know where to start looking for a mentor, they can start there.
“There is a mentoring module too,” Cohen said. “It’s kind of like a dating app. You see their
profiles, see their interests and you can choose people. From there you figure out what that relationship looks like whether you‘re meeting once a month, whether you’re actually going to physically meet them in person, so there‘s a way to go about it.”
When being mentored, Gaffney was encouraged to find two other people to mentor.
“[Everyone] has something to give,” Nelson said. “Whether it‘s technical advice, whether it’s how to be a parent in the workforce or how to progress in your career, whatever it could be, well all have something to give.”
Spencer said to not be afraid of failure. It’s ok to fail at something, she said.
“Keep an open mind and be flexible,” Brown said. “The information that you get or that you give can come from anywhere, anyone. Just listen, be an active listener. What do you want to get out of it? What do you want to give? Take the time to answer the questions and be there for that person.”
Here are four tips from the women of Red Hat on what makes a good mentor, how to find a good mentor and when to end that mentor/mentee relationship.
A Good Mentor Is An Open-Minded Ally
Gaffney said a good mentor holds her accountable and pushes her to be her best self, while Nelson believes a good mentor is an ally.
“They don‘t have to have all the answers,” Nelson said. “They don’t have to have the panacea of the perfect roadmap for your career. But it’s someone that you know who’s in your corner or if you have a question [or] a problem you want to work through they‘re there to just listen and provide feedback.”
A good mentor also should be empathetic to both your personal and professional life, Spencer said.
“It’s just having someone that listens and that you can go to to answer or ask any kind of question,” Brown said. “There’s no dumb question. It’s about just being there to guide you, getting you through whatever you‘re going through and putting you on a path where you want to go.”
Brown said being a good mentor is about having an open mind, seeing where the mentee is coming from and figuring out how to help them on that path to success.
When To Break Up With A Mentor
“Formal mentorship programs are wonderful, especially for people starting out because it provides some structure,” Nelson said. “But the downside is you could be matched with someone that you don‘t necessarily click with. That’s why the most successful relationships I have had have been with people that have actually just shown interest. We have more of a baseline.”
Gaffney had to end a mentor/mentee relationship after she realized that she wasn’t aligned with them.
“This person wanted to help me and kind of came across as commanding and controlling towards me, and I feel like they weren‘t an active listener,” she said. “They didn’t really understand my goals or where I wanted to go, so they kept positioning what they thought was a good decision for them.”
Gaffney said she didn’t have a conversation to end that relationship because she still wanted the opportunity to go to them with questions in the future, so she let the mentorship gradually end on its own.
Brown had a mentor who “really enjoyed” being the mentor “and kind of latched on.”
Her mentor kept pushing and trying to steer her in a direction she didn’t agree with, so she finally had to say she didn’t need their guidance anymore.
How To Know When You’re Ready To Be A Mentor
For Gaffney, she had to listen to the voice in her head that said she’s successful and experienced enough to help someone else reach their goals.
“And the answer to that is, we all are,” she said. “It doesn‘t matter where you are in your career, whether it’s someone that‘s in a vertical position to you, a lower position or maybe even higher, I think mentorship comes from all different levels.”
Gaffney had an individual come to her who she said was very successful but came to her to pick her brain. They then asked if they could get together on a regular occurrence.
“In our second meeting they said, ‘Thank you for mentoring me on this.’ And I was like, ‘What?’” she said. “I was blown away that they considered it a mentorship because I didn‘t think I had anything to offer this person that was so successful. That just goes to show you that there’s opportunities to mentor left and right, up and down.”
As a mentor, Nelson has always learned from the mentee.
“I’ve learned a lot and gained confidence from being a mentor after to listening to other people,” she said.
When To Ask For A Mentor
Brown, who has been in the industry for about 20 years, said there weren’t always mentors she could go to, so she networked. She talked to colleagues and managers and listened, observed and got out of her comfort zone.
“Whenever an opportunity arises, take it,” she said. “It may not be the direction you want to go in, but it‘s a stepping-stone to get you where you want to go.”
Gaffney said she’s naturally curious, so she reached out often to pick someone else’s brain.
“Oftentimes people are interested in to talk about something, especially if they‘re interested in that topic,” she said. “I use that as a segue to have a connection, an alignment, [or to see] if they are open to possibly setting up a cadence with me. And if so, then that’s maybe a start to some type of mentorship. If not, there‘s other opportunities out there.”
Nelson has done everything from writing to people to cold calling them. She’s both gotten rejected and found mentors and said it’s always important to go outside of your comfort zone.
“There’s really nothing to lose,” she said.