Posts Tagged ‘women’

How Women Can Find The Perfect Mentor To Guide Them To Success

Friday, March 6th, 2015

As a female FBI agent, there were very few other women in my office—or in the building, for that matter. The closest thing to a mentor I had was my male training agent, who viewed me as more of a burden than an opportunity.

Woman leader

But it had been to my advantage to be raised on a cattle ranch in the middle of Wyoming. It was a tough environment—fast food was hitting a deer at 60 miles an hour. My grandmother wrote down ammo for her Christmas list. And there is one thing you never say to a grandmother who is a crack shot with a rifle—“It’s not my fault.”

This was exactly the type of mental toughness I needed when I found myself as a new agent in an FBI squad with few allies. No obvious mentor stood by to take me under their wing. I could have blamed my fellow agents, but I knew that I would need to find my own way to move forward if I wanted to be successful.

On my first squad, my desk was next to a hardened older agent named Leo who looked at me with suspicion—could a woman be relied upon to have his back if we found ourselves in a shootout? He thought not, or at least had his doubts. I could tell by the way he treated me—with quiet disdain.

Not all mentoring relationships need to be a formal arrangement. Leo was an unwitting mentor who would be horrified to think that I considered him as one! But I watched how he worked his cases. He was a thorough investigator who pursued any and all leads. And when he didn’t have any, he still kept at it.

Mentors teach, coach, guide, and motivate. Leo did all of these things for me, although he didn’t know it. I used the information I learned from him, about how to read body language and listen for verbal cues, for the rest of my career! I never liked Leo, and we never so much as sat together over a cup of coffee, but he was one of the best mentors I ever had.

Why is it important for you to have a mentor to guide you toward success? Even more importantly, what characteristics make a good mentor for you?

The term mentor has been watered-down in the last few years. It can encompass anything from self-help books, to touchy-feely therapy sessions when times get tough, to a wise and trusted guide through business and life.

I want to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned about how women can find the perfect mentor to guide them toward success:

1. Be Wary—Very Wary, Of Praise

Like most overachievers, I look for praise in almost everything I do. 

As a first grade student, I was never satisfied with anything less than an A. My teacher, Mrs. Archie, was very stingy with praise, so you can imagine how much I disliked her. She let me know right away that I was not the smartest person in the room, so when I did get an A she responded with, “You’ve worked very hard to get this grade.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but she had created a growth mindset in the way that I looked at my obstacles. 

Researcher Carol Dweck discovered that our mindset affects our ability to fulfill our potential—to grow and learn, take risks, bounce back from adversity, and to build healthy relationships.   

If we have a “fixed mindset,” we believe our qualities, and that includes our intelligence, are something we were born with and cannot be changed.  If we have a “growth mindset,” we believe that we can cultivate and grow our basic qualities, including our intelligence.

Some of the brightest people avoid challenges, don’t work hard, and wilt in the face of difficulty. In other words, it’s not always the people who start out the smartest in the room who end up the smartest.

A perfect mentor will challenge you to create a growth mindset.

2. Create A Strong Mind

My grandmother was a larger-than-life force in my life. When things didn’t work out the way I expected, she taught me how to be mentally tough. She had no time for people who would not take responsibility for their situation.

I didn’t sweat it when I found no females to mentor me as an FBI agent. I knew that if I wanted to be treated as an equal, I needed to act as an equal. It wouldn’t help to whine, complain, and blame others. I needed to take responsibility. 

If women plan to use the excuse that they can’t make their way up the corporate ladder because there aren’t other women to mentor them, then they haven’t taken their careers very seriously. Take responsibility and find the best person to inspire you to be the best you can be.

Here are the questions I ask myself when I look for a mentor from among the people around me:

  • How can they help me be better at my job?
  • Are they respected by subordinates, peers, and superiors?
  • What skills do they have that I need to develop?
  • How much more do they know more about (this project) than I do?
  • In what ways are they willing to share that knowledge?
  • Will they give me the honest feedback I need?
  • Why do I admire them?
  • How will working with them make me a better person?

A perfect mentor will show you how to develop the mental toughness needed to get you through the roadblocks that are in the way of your success. 

3. Play Big

In the FBI, power meetings among male leaders were held during happy hour—the ones I was never invited to attend. In many larger corporations, power meetings are held in the men’s bathroom during bio-breaks. Either way, the opportunity for women to participate is limited.

When I was tempted to play the victim, I thought about Leo. He was awkward, ugly and had a quirky personality. He wasn’t invited to happy hour, either. And yet, the truth is this: Leo was a big player in the world of FBI counterintelligence investigations. As my unofficial mentor, he reminded me that people will do things to let you down, and even screw you over—that is life!

So get over it.

Leo refused to think small. He’d never start a sentence with, “I’m not an expert but…“ and then apologize. He taught me that leaders, both men and women, need to play big and take control of how they react to a situation. When the going gets tough, roll up your sleeves and get even tougher. 

He taught me how to recognize self-doubt and not let it dictate my actions. If you look for discrimination in business, you will find it. Leo’s advice to me? Just don’t. Don’t look for it or it will pull you down with it. Instead, assume the best of everyone around you. Remember—trust, but verify. Only a fool takes what she hears at face value. 

A perfect mentor helps you to develop confidence in yourself and your abilities.

 

© 2014 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

 

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What Really Holds Women Leaders Back

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

As a retired female FBI agent, I take umbrage at the assumption that professional women don’t have what it takes to move their career to the next level. The implications are that women need special assistance or standards of the position need to be lowered so they can be hired.

Stressed businesswoman screaming into phone inside small cubicle

I served on a search committee recently where one of the members of the organization said to me, “We need a woman to fill this position. Whomever you pick, make sure it’s a female.” My jaw dropped. She implied that special consideration should be given to the women who applied.

I responded to that individual with such unfiltered intensity that she started to back away from me. “Do you truly believe that there will be no qualified female candidates?” I demanded. “We’re not doing women any favors if we hire someone just because she’s a woman!”

As it turns out, the best candidate was a woman, and she was hired!

The fact is, men still make up 95.2% of Fortune 500 CEO’s positions. Men comprise the majority of corporate boards. And Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel stands out like a lightbulb as a female head of state.

While blatant bias no longer blocks women leaders from soaring into top positions, there may still be residual discrimination. But research is showing that societal factors are the biggest culprit in nudging women away from top level careers.

Here is what really holds women leaders back:

1. Math Is A Four Letter Word

Researchers have repeatedly found that girls and boys do not differ in average mathematical abilities. 

For math-centric fields, in which women are very scarce, it appears that a difference in interests is the primary factor to explain the disparity. Girls are told from an early age that they do not have an aptitude for Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math (STEM). They opt for other professions.

According to neuroscientist Lise Eliot, there are small inherent differences in aptitude between males and females at birth. Boys seem to have a small edge in spatial cognition. Society takes these differences and makes them much bigger. They support boys in math and science and discourage girls to pursue careers in these areas.

2. Stereotypes Are Alive And Thriving

When we expect an individual to perform at a level below the standard, studies are finding that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! 

A group of females were tested in certain fields dominated by men. They scored much better if they were asked to fill out their gender after they had taken the test. Surveys like this worry me because it points to the fact that stereotypes don’t always come from others. Sometimes we live up to the stereotype of ourselves that we’ve heard others talk about. It’s how we come to view ourselves.

The seeds for this pattern of behavior are planted as early as high school. Self-limiting beliefs and lower expectations of their future have already been embedded into their thinking.

3. The Road Well Traveled

Many women leaders prefer to opt out of the competitive world of business and academia. They believe leadership positions are compatible with having families.

These women refuse to play by the rules of the game. Working 24/7 for the first 20 years of their career is the only route to leadership. There aren’t enough pathways to the top today for people (men or women) who are not willing to play the game as it’s played today.

A 2010 Survey of Doctorate recipients indicates that women are more than twice as likely as men to leave the labor force. Most of those who were not retiring cite family considerations.

4. Confidence Is An Inside Job

The best and brightest young women can become great leaders. It’s easy to say, but do we need to convince women that they really should be going for the big jobs? Do women wither in the face of competitive leadership and business tracks?

Part of the answer lies in whether women feel confident they can fill the pin-stripe suit who occupied the desk before them. 

The individual I mentioned earlier wanted my search committee to give the job to a woman. The person’s attitude exuded a lack of confidence that a woman could get the job on her own merits. To me, that indicates a dangerous lack of confidence in the capabilities of the women out there on the fast track to leadership.

5. Home Sweet Hell 

According to a study of Harvard Business School alumni, women leaders want high-achieving careers even after they start families. 

The study also found that men generally expect that their careers will take precedence over their spouses’ careers. They assume their spouses will handle more of the child care. 

Women, on the other hand, expect that their careers will be as important as their spouses. They expect they will share child care equally—but, in general, neither happens. This pattern appears to be nearly as strong among Harvard graduates still in their 20s as it is for earlier generations.

Among women in the 32—67 age group, only 25 percent expected their husbands’ careers to take precedence. In reality, their husband’s career took precedence 40 percent of the time. Half of the women expected to handle a majority of child care. In reality, nearly three-quarters ended up doing so.

Strong women leaders can take their careers to the next level—or to the top. But first, they need to address the real issues that are holding them back.

 

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

You can follow me on Twitter, Facebook, AND LinkedIn

Get my FREE 45-Question Mental Toughness Assessment

Sign Up for my How To Build Confidence on-line training course

Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.” 

 

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