LinkedIn recently launched a new series entitled, “The Mentor Who Shaped Me,” where they asked some of the world’s most successful professionals to reflect on how they got their start and thank those people who helped them along the way. Skimming through their posts, one thing jumped out at me right away. These highly successful people didn’t write about mentors who gave them great advice, they wrote about mentors who gave them great support.
As she launched her business, celebrity trainer Jillian Michaels sought out financial expert Suze Orman as a mentor. Reflecting on their relationship, Ormon said: “A true powerhouse such as Jillian Michaels does not really need to be mentored — she just needed a sounding board for her already great ideas.”
Mary Barra, now CEO of General Motors, almost turned down the opportunity to become vice president of Global Human Resources, believing that she didn’t have the right credentials. Her mentors pumped her up, reminding her that she had all the skills the role required. Their support encouraged her to step out of her engineering comfort zone – a move that ultimately made it possible for her to become CEO.
Maria Gabriela Loja, associate director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of NYC, wrote about her fourth grade teacher. At a time when she was a vulnerable child in Ecuador, shortly after her mother immigrated to the U.S., Loja was smart, but too quiet at school. This teacher noticed her intelligence and worked to bring her out of her shell, gently encouraging her to take on more challenges. Through her kind words, she helped Loja to expand and grow.
These women aren’t raving about the brilliant advice, or the tough love, or the “wisdom” they received from their mentors. Instead, they are profoundly grateful that someone saw their greatness. Their mentor/mentee relationships were nurturing, not didactic. Nurturing, but not babying. Loja, Barra, and Michaels did not need their hands held. They needed to be encouraged, given advice, and then shoved out into world to make their mark.
As I have written in the past, this reinforces the fact that mentor/mentee relationships should be organic, not forced. Please forget about sending “Will you be my mentor?” emails. Look at people who are already in your life who believe in you and will give you honest feedback. Take that feedback, and go make your mark.