Ellevate Network’s San Diego chapter partnered with Shavon Lindley of the Mentoring Method™, an award-winning career development and mentorship strategist for this two-part event. The first part was a discussion on making the most of mentorship, for both mentees and mentors. Mentoring Method has worked with many organizations to evaluate whether the organizational culture is inclusive and supportive of mentoring relationships, so it was interesting to learn more about how companies can promote mentorship within their ranks.
Part two of the mentoring series was about matching mentees with mentors from within the Ellevate San Diego network, similar to speed dating to find the best match. Because of the fast pace of the second event, I don’t have takeaways to share, so this post will be about part one. These events continue in a six-month mentorship program. I opted to use the Mentoring Method’s scalable leadership development and peer-mentoring technology solution for leading companies of all sizes that want to leverage diversity and inclusion to meet performance and business objectives. My official Ellevate mentor is Jessica Hornbeck, serial entrepreneur, chapter co-president, and founder of Big Picture Bookkeeping. Yay! I’m excited about our group’s first meeting this week!
Back to the part one event: Shavon told us she didn’t have a resource like Ellevate Network when she was dealing with the struggles that led her to start her first business, Women Evolution. Shavon was used to working in an all-male environment in the financial industry and during her college years as a math major. She says she has always been relationship-driven, which gave her a competitive advantage over many men and helped her become the number one producer at the company in just two years. This success led to her training, hiring, recruiting, and mentoring at 23 years old. She studied leadership but all the examples she found were aggressive men, lessons she tried to memorize and regurgitate. People were not responding to those lessons, so her confidence plummeted, she and her team were unhappy, employees were leaving, she was working 12-hour days, and getting sick every month.
So she made a pivot, hosting an ESPN financial talk radio show which had an executive interview series on business development one day a week. Because of this series, she had access to anyone she wanted, so she leveraged her platform to interview 150 female executives over 3 years to learn their leadership style. Shavon saw similarities in each of their stories, certain critical leadership skills needed to take you to the next level in your career. She identified 6 pillars of leadership and met with a mentoring program to refine and research these pillars. There were no resources for women transitioning from entry-level to mid-level (management) at that time.
Jessica Hornbeck, the moderator for this discussion, said at her previous corporate finance job she was the most senior junior-level person on her team, though she was very good at her job. She hit an invisible wall she couldn’t get past in the traditional male-dominated finance world, so she started her own business.
What should you look for, to know companies will be supportive of your career?
Shavon suggests asking people who work at that company. Find them on LinkedIn, invite them to coffee for 15 minutes, ask them if diverse perspectives are valued, ask the composition of the team, etc.
When discussing career pivots, she says so many women leave the traditional workforce to be entrepreneurs because we can’t be our authentic selves at many jobs, but it is really hard to run a business (agreed). We need to encourage better environments for growth with steady income, retirement benefits, etc. at all companies, so starting your own business isn’t the only option for frustrated women. You may feel like the grass is greener on the other (entrepreneurial) side, but it often isn’t! That’s why Mentoring Method focuses on trying to help organizations with B2B workplace technology. If you go to work and don’t feel valued, it’s not going to be worth it to move up the ladder, and you’re going to leave. Mentoring can help solve some of the frustrating problems and keep women in the traditional workforce.
Jessica says there have been promising developments at certain companies with diversity and inclusion, such as LPL Financial, companies that encourage bringing your whole self to work and prove that diverse teams perform better financially. Diversity programs of the past 15 years have not been working, they haven’t led to an increase in the number of women in leadership positions. Inclusion is the ticket to change, creating the inclusion culture is what we have to do first in order for the other initiatives to be successful. Engaging male allies is critical, this problem should not be up to solely women to solve, everyone needs to work together. Also, companies need to walk the walk, it can’t be a bunch of white guys talking about diversity and inclusion.
Shavon says companies haven’t put a lot of money behind diversity and inclusion yet. The place where we’ll have the biggest influence is with ourselves, the way we impact the workplace, and how we use mentorship to be happier at work.
Jessica says she’s now more transparent about what she is learning about business and she shares these lessons with her team, explaining how this knowledge benefits them. The team appreciates it and thinks she cares, they give back, and it turns into a collaborate effort where everyone has their back and goes beyond the money-per-hour mindset. For example, she found out the word “subcontractor” was a negative word, so doesn’t use it anymore to describe her team members. Jessica is a big fan of personal development, and as a result, she’s now more trusting and not micromanaging her team
How do you informally find mentors?
Shavon says to look for someone who has a skill you’d like to develop such as public speaking or closing a sale. It needs to begin on a casual basis because everyone is overwhelmed and busy … so don’t ask them to be your mentor immediately! Say, “Hey, you crushed it in that meeting, I would love to buy you a coffee and ask about how you learned to close a sale.” Put a finite amount of time on the meeting, mention a specific question you want to ask them, and be flattering. Build on these micro sessions and eventually, you could say, “You’ve been so helpful … would you be my mentor?” Set up a schedule for the mentors, such as buying them coffee and discussing business for six months on a bi-weekly basis.
Jessica says framing your ask with finite terms is important. When she is a mentee, she struggles with not being able to offer something in return to her mentors. As a mentor, she says it is challenging if numerous people are asking to pick your brain, how do you know who to agree to?
Shavon says the mentor needs to set that boundary. She says it is usually entrepreneurs who don’t have time, but people within organizations are able to make more time. She says people in corporate environments she speaks to are eager to mentor, so ask!
When choosing a mentor, Jessica says to think about what you don’t know and try to learn from people who are different from you. It’s counterintuitive to how your brain works. Push your brain to learn differently.
What if it is not a good fit between mentee and mentor?
Shavon says if the mentorship doesn’t feel guided or gets stale, it is the mentee’s responsibility to guide and drive the conversation. The mentee must come prepared with what to talk about because the mentor is the one giving their time. Don’t fatigue your mentor, or make it awkward for them.
Here are four questions types to ask your mentor:
- A story-based question: tell me about a time when … what do you do wish you had known before …
- Come with a specific situation to work on, how to navigate it, what would you do if/when…
- Self-awareness questions, in order to find your blind spot in how you are being perceived as a leader, identifying your biases based on perspective and experience. This type of question will take time before they can answer, they need to get to know you first. Ask questions like, “When you meet me, do I have executive presence?”
- Skill-building questions based on what you want to develop. Ask for advice or ask what resources they used to develop these skills.
How can you receive feedback from your mentor in the best way?
Don’t interrupt your mentor when they’re giving feedback. It is gut instinct to get defensive, but stop yourself from thinking that way. Be aware of facial expressions so you don’t make it awkward for the mentor. Welcome the feedback as a gift. Say, “Thank you, I appreciate the feedback, let me repeat it back to you to make sure I understand.” People are afraid to give feedback to women, afraid we’ll be too “sensitive,” which jeopardizes our potential to grow. To make others feel safe giving feedback, say you are looking to improve and would welcome feedback. Twenty minutes later, they will let you know!
Shavon says it took her 5 years to learn this because she learned from male leaders, who very direct with feedback (such as, “You did this wrong…”). Shavon found that directness made people sad and disappointed. She went with a friend to a 3-day women’s leadership conference where she learned a strategy of saying, “You know what I loved was … and what I would love to see more of was…” When giving feedback, look for what people do well first, without sugar coating. Be grateful for what they’ve done well, which also feels good for the person giving feedback, it appeals to empathy. So Shavon changed her delivery of feedback by adding empathy and never lost an employee again, after making just that simple change to her leadership style.
Audience question: How do you reach people with LinkedIn? How do you know its the ideal person to talk to about company culture?
Shavon says ask more than one person. Ask the first person to refer you to another person, preferably in the department where you want to work. Fear of asking is a personal confidence issue, a self-limiting belief that holds us back. Don’t be afraid to ask twice if they don’t respond, say, “I emailed last week but I know you’re super busy.” Another audience member says Linkedin messages get a greater response than emails.