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Mentorship: Key to career success

Many talented people have anxiety about advancing in their career.  They have the expectation that they are supposed to know it all, that they have to know how to perform in the next position up very well.  This is simply not the case. Career advancement is a journey, where you grow over time.  There are not clear-cut starts and endings on the way up.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Asking for help is a strong suit of leadership, not a weakness.  Those who do go out and seek advice and mentorship will realize there are many folks out there who want to help. This applies to both men and women, on the asking and the giving side.

Sometimes folks will seek out one individual, but it may not be all you need to accomplish your goals.  In my career, I found it made sense to seek out a portfolio of mentors, people who are able to share the hard truths in areas that are comfortable to them. You need the advice of different people in different situations.

What The Leadership Investment did for me was provide the avenue to seek the advice of key individuals with different domains of expertise, from different industries – both women and men.  Depending on what was going on in my career, I could pick and choose what I needed at that point in time.   

Mentorship is important for career success, yet a LinkedIn survey found that 1 in 5 women had NEVER had a mentor.  As we work to promote shared leadership, we stress the importance of mentorship in helping to close the gender gap in executive leadership.  A University of Denver Women’s College study benchmarks what many of us know too well.  While women held more than 51.4 percent of all professional, managerial and related positions nationally in 2011, they occupied only 14.1 percent of all executive positions and approximately 15 percent in Fortune 500 companies.

The companies I was in were always going through transformation.  This could take the form of an acquisition, a divestiture, or a downsizing or reduction-in-force.  Those were always difficult times for the individuals affected, but also stressful for the executives involved in making the decisions and then driving the changes.  It was helpful for me to get perspective from people who were not in the midst of the change, but perhaps had experienced this in another company, or at another time.

I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing for my team, for the company, for the shareholders.  And for myself.  I found it was important for me to take time for myself, to avoid burnout, to be effective and to be able to have the energy to drive the change all the way through.    These transformations can be long and arduous.

Giving a hand back has also been among the most important things I’ve learned.  I take pride in being a go-to, accessible, visible and authentic leader.  Men and women both want time on my calendar.  Both want balance.  The workplace is eating men alive too.  They care about an ethical environment, and also seek guidance on how to make the workplace more reflective of society, where everyone has the opportunity to advance.

.My portfolio of mentors was important to receive a diversity of thought, opinion and experiences to make me a better leader and a better mentor.   I want younger generations to also seek the advice of both women and men.

Creating a network of trust was crucial in my advancement.  People in my network became my allies, my ambassadors and advocates when I was going through the leadership ranks.  I still have close relationships with many of these mentors.      

I always get more from mentoring others than I give.  My male mentees often refer to me as a coach.  I don’t care what you call it, as long as you’re doing it.

On June 5, The Leadership Investment will host the 9th Annual Mentor’s Walk.  The event brings together some of Denver's top business executives and career coaches to walk, talk and create powerful connections with career-minded individuals. Register today!

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Robin Heller

Robin Heller is President & CEO of The Leadership Investment, a Denver-based non-profit organization that believes shared leadership of businesses between women and men is the key to sustaining and improving economic prosperity. Robin's distinguished 25-plus-year career includes leading global operations, technology, and large-scale integration, business process, customer experience and transformational teams for American Express, First Data, and Western Union. She can be reached at rheller@theleadershipinvestment.org

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