Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Importance of Mentors

I’ve just recently learned that one of my first mentors is embarking on a new adventure and leaving the position that somewhat defines her in my mind.  Of course I’m extremely happy for her.  Having the ability and the courage to leave the comfort of the status quo to follow other dreams is admirable.  At the same time, I’m saddened by the fact that she and our relationship will be forever changed.  It’s kind of like seeing your parents as people instead of infallible beings. 

At the same time, it helps me realize that I’m growing up too.  When I first met my mentor, I was straight out of law school.  My family is full of teachers and the “worker class”.  While all lovely people, they did little to prepare me for what I would meet in the business world.  I had to learn everything from office etiquette to how to actually be a lawyer.  I was terrified.  The first time the CEO of the company walked into my office and asked me a question I freaked out a little bit.  He was really going to listen to what I had to say?  Didn’t he realize how little I actually know?  Isn’t he going to double check with someone that actually knows what they’re doing?   Thankfully, I actually knew the answer to the question and didn’t look like a complete fool.   It was a memorable experience, one that I’m sure every new grad in any industry can relate to.

Now I regularly meet with the c-levels and have good personal relationships with them.  I’m confident in my answers and know when to say, ‘You need to hear me on this’, and when to say, ‘I don’t know, let’s get someone with the requisite expertise to weigh in.’  A lot of that growth has been due to the invaluable guidance I’ve been given by mentors. 

A true mentor tells the hard truths – you’re not good at this or that.  She helps build your confidence by helping you to be self-aware and reach your potential.  She introduces you to the people and experiences you need.  She expects a lot out of you and doesn’t hold punches when you don’t produce.  She doesn’t just judge your work, she guides you in being better at it – both the technical, how to properly write a brief type and the how you interact in the board room type.  Sometimes you get this from multiple mentors, but the value is the same.  A mentor is someone who has been there and wants to teach you how to get past it too.  A mentor is someone who knows that you have potential to be more, and helps you to see that too.

In today’s world of casual acquaintances and self-absorption, I can count on my hand the number of people who have truly impacted my life and left me a better person for it.  I know that much of my success professionally and personally can be attributed to that impact and for that I am truly grateful.  I know I haven’t done a great job of being a mentor yet.  That’s something I’m working on. In the meantime, I encourage all with the ability to actively mentor someone.  Don’t just take them to lunch now and then.  Become engaged.  Become their resource.  You’ll become a better person for it, and with any luck, so will they.


  1. Your mentor was lucky to have you on her staff. If every young lawyer were as positive, hard-working, and responsive to constructive feedback as you, the in-house practice of law would rise to a new level.

    Good post. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the future.

    1. Thanks CJ, that really does mean a lot coming from you.