How Did We Get Here?: An Interactive Panel Discussion on Leadership Values, Mentoring and Choice.

How Did We Get Here?: An Interactive Panel Discussion on Leadership Values, Mentoring and Choice.

By Marcie Cheney, SVP, Business Development Strategy

On Saturday, April 22, I spoke on a panel at the Women’s Center Leadership Conference in McLean, Va.  In its 31st year, this conference is one of the most influential gatherings of leaders and emerging leaders in the Washington, DC region.  I co-lead the session, How Did We Get Here?: An Interactive Panel Discussion on Leadership Values, Mentoring and Choice.”  Joining me was Michelle Coletti from LMC.

The session was very interactive, with many questions and stories shared among the panelists and the audience.  It started with a conversation about the lessons learned during our respective professional journeys and was followed by a longer discussion about mentors and mentoring.  I was struck by the similarities of our experiences and challenges, even though we (panelists and audience members) came from many different industries.

One of the big topics we discussed was, “What makes a mentor good? What qualities do we most respect?”  Then we flipped it around and talked about learning to be a mentor ourselves.  In response to the first question, we agreed that a mentor is a trusted advisor, someone honest and who leads by example.  This person certainly does not have to be a co-worker.  I was not alone when I talked about my mother being my first mentor.

When I was preparing my remarks for this session, I spent a lot of time thinking about how one becomes a good mentor.  A quote from President Ronald Reagan kept coming to mind, “The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.” I think this notion of empowerment is so important when it comes to mentoring. I myself have struggled with delegating.  And I’ll admit it: Women can be hard on one other. We can be critical and judgmental. We sometimes, in this back-biting competitive world, live up to the negative stereotypes.

However, women can also be incredibly supportive of each other.  It is hard with time demands, but a good mentor must make herself available and make it easy for her mentee to reach out to her.  In my case, every morning and every night I make sure to address any employee questions/concerns.  I read their emails first if I only have a few minutes of time.  This approach works: I just had the opportunity to promote one of my employees whom I have mentored during the last year.  It was so exciting for her and our team!

I heard many positive stories last weekend about mentoring, and I thank everyone who shared.  There is a wealth of good articles and sources of help available online for people who would like to improve their mentorship skills.  I have listed below some of these I found particularly helpful as I prepared for this event.  Feel free to share any others you find inspiring!

Finally, I would like to thank my company, Criterion Systems, for being a Patron Sponsor of the conference.

Some resources on mentoring: