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To Mentor or Not to Mentor?

During a recent “drive-time” chat with my executive daughter, a fast-rising star in Corporate America, the discussion once again gravitated to women in leadership.

Today, I shared with her, at a high level, about a coaching conversation I had with a strong female executive in the pharmaceutical industry. The woman had confessed to me she felt she was going to be asked to leave her organization. She had no physical basis for this reaction or emotion. In fact, she had just won an award for her sales volume. The coachee went on to share how a few of her major accounts were being “handed” over to a much younger female colleague. A woman less than half her age and with half her experience. My client had complained to me in the past that she had too many accounts and was stretched too thin, I reminded her of this. She felt resentful, angry and she was in obvious emotional pain. She also told me she could not relate to this younger female coworkerr and they had nothing in common. I replied “yes you do, sales.” In asking her why she seemed so threatened, she became more agitated, defensive, and angry. I had struck a nerve! . I asked myself and then her, “Why aren’t you taking this younger woman on sales calls with you and introducing her to clients and showing her the ropes”. “Why aren’t you mentoring her?” “Why are you so resentful of her instead of building relationships and supporting her to build her business. I get that it is about sales and volume, but can’t you be a teacher and a mentor instead of resentful? As a successful veteran sales executive, you have so much to teach this younger woman, giving her feedback, and sharing important measurements for success.”? But Instead, my client chose to feel like an organizational outcaste, unwanted and unappreciated for all her years of experience and valuable knowledge. She completely shut down and felt angry. She even posted her resume online. The last thing she saw herself as, was a mentor. Why did this happen? How did this happen?

Sharing this saga with my millennial daughter, she replied, completely unprompted, “what happened to women mentoring women?” Why does the “shoulder-pad” mentality always lead corporate female mentality?.” “Shoulder pad” mentality? A new phrase she had coined. I asked her to explain further. She said “you know mom, when you were up and coming in business, women wore those suits with the big shoulder pads, thinking they had to do it all….raise kids, run a house, work a fulltime job and climb the ladder”. She had my attention. She went on to share how when she comes across a confident, experienced female executive at her own workplace, she is often taken under their wing and feels protected and learns important survival skills, she looks up to these women and wants to be like them. But there are also seasoned female executives who shun the newbies!

My eyes were open, and my ears were listening. My daughter went on to compare those leaders to some female leaders who only find following the rules important, and act threatened by her. Instead they seem to sabotage her at every turn, waiting for her to misstep so they can pounce and make themselves look good. She was describing my client.

Embracing the skills of the younger worker is critical to organizational survival. Creating supportive work cultures that give all women, regardless of age and ethnicity, the support needed to grow, learn, make mistakes, and move on supported. It is critical to organizational growth and survival, not to mention incredibly rewarding for all concerned. Why not build a work culture that rewards mentoring and support to others? Why should any woman have to look over her shoulder, shoulder pad or not, and wonder who has her back?. There are so many countless women over the years who have asked me “what is the path to success? How do I get a hand up the ladder? Please show me the way”.

Why should they have to ask for help? If the corporate culture supports mentoring and not only allows time for it, but rewards for mentoring, employee engagement would skyrocket and trust would too. Not to mention where would any of us be without our mentors. I know I am grateful for my own.

Truth is too many new females in the workplace are waiting for someone to take their hand and show them the path to success. Sometimes, in an unsupportive culture, the older female or male worker gets resentful when the younger male or female worker is hired. They become resentful, negative, stressed, angry and combative. She loses sleep, gets angry even at home with her family and becomes defensive.

If you look at the age gap of today’s workers, you see a startling chasm between Baby Boomers and Millennials. This is a fact greatly due to the Vietnam War Era, the 60’s and the invention of Birth control Pill*. If we do not teach our millennials, Gen X and beyond, the

ropes, and be willing to learn the newer ropes ourselves from them, how will we build longevity and the next tier of leaders?

Back to the colleague in distress, what if she surrendered to the process of change? Showcase her value and embraces the other workers by sharing her insights, knowledge and skills. Become a mentor? And got rewarded for it!! Rethinking it all and seeing her as an ally, build the relationship and offer advice and direction.?

Why is that some seasoned female executives embrace the younger worker, don’t feel threatened and immediately take them under their wing and groom them. Why do others avoid them like the plague and take every opportunity to throw them under the bus? The confident, smart, female leader is not threatened and embraces her savviness and tenacity. While others follow the rules to the tee and watch her every move, waiting for her to misstep?

One is much healthier for the organization and for the health of the individuals involved. One method is destructive and negative, the other is developmental and energizing.

Let’s hope we can be supportive and move together for the good of our future leaders and the organization.

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