Get Ahead With a Mentor Who Scares You

Posted April 24, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Networking Buzz

Years ago, I faced the assignment in a professional development class of asking a professional woman to be my mentor. I wrote about my experience in this 2011 post, “Mentoring for Success.” My experience shocked me. I chose an incredibly high level woman and was shocked to find out she rarely was asked to mentor and was delighted to help me in any way she could. Our mentoring relationship built my connection with her, with her company, and ultimately in the industry she worked in as well. I recalled this experience recently when I read Jodi Glickman’s article on Harvard Business Review Blog called, “Get Ahead With a Mentor Who Scares You.” In it, Jodi says, “Go out and find the most qualified or talented mentor, coach, or manager you can, and subject yourself to everything they can throw at you.

Her sentiments are 100% correct. Too often, we find mentors who support us freely, get excited about what we’re doing, but are afraid to truly challenge us. And conversely, we are afraid to ask to be truly challenged. When you think through who might become a mentor for you, think about the woman who would truly challenge you, and might just scare you into doing what needs to be done.

A few traits to find in your own “scary” mentor:

  • Find the opposite. If you have a personality that’s larger than life, it may be that the scariest mentor for you is someone who leads with quiet grace. And vice versa. If you are the classic introvert, seek out a mentor who might be able to help you break out of your shell. It’s easy to be attracted to individuals who are better versions of ourselves as mentors. But look for opposites, too, as they might teach you something you never thought you’d learn
  • C’mon, get higher. If you’re a middle manager, it’s tempting to find a mentor who is just a step or two above you in the corporate food chain. Don’t. Shoot higher when you’re choosing your mentor. Don’t be afraid to approach a woman at the top of your field and ask her for a mentoring relationship. You never know what you’ll hear. Chances are, she’ll say yes. And if she can’t, she may point you to an even better option for you.
  • Be honest about what you need. Mentoring relationships can quickly turn into “it’s ok, don’t worry” kinds of conversations where you complain and your mentor advises you on your complaints. Set up from the beginning with her that you want to be challenged, pushed, and questioned. If you enter every conversation with the idea that you’ll need to work during that session, not just sit back and whine, it will change the shape of your experience phenomenally.
  • Read US Weekly. There’s a section in US Weekly near the front of the magazine that highlights celebrities who are “just like us” – they push grocery carts, they go to Starbucks, they have bad hair days, etc. Apply this concept to all women in business. You might look at that Senior Vice President and become paralyzed with pure intimidation. But remember, she’s just like you. She takes a shower every morning and then stares in her closet thinking about how she has nothing to wear. She has trouble balancing work and life, just like you. She has guilt and shame and challenges in her life. And chances are she, like you, wishes she had a mentor!

Jodi Glickman is right. Find a mentor who scares you, who makes you a little bit nervous. Your relationship with that person will benefit from it. It will force you to be more prepared for meetings, and give you more, quickly, out of your mentoring relationship.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."