NEWSLETTTER | WOMEN IN MOTION
Mentoring: Key to Successful Youth Leadership
Although early studies of mentoring focused on the career development of young men in relation to more seasoned male colleagues, a number of questions were raised about how women’s experiences of mentoring may differ from or mirror those of men.
More recent research has expanded the field by exploring dimensions, characteristics and outcomes of mentoring relationships for women. Results from the current literature on women’s mentoring experiences suggest that mentoring continues to hold an important role in the lives of working women. These results found that mentoring is significantly connected to career-related success and a lack of access to mentoring is one of the most widely reported barriers to career advancement.Tina Thomson, the 2009 Chairperson of the Most Influential Women judging panel and Founder of Epiphany Leadership
by Ronel Nel
Development and Coaching, is an active mentor. We have approached her to assist a few young businesswomen with problems they are experiencing at work.
Charlene: How would you advise me to approach my new management position if I do not have a mentor? What can I do to feel less intimidated by the added responsibility?
Tina: You simply have to have a mentor – even more than one. Have someone successful who has a similar role to your new role, even if it is in a different organisation, and who has held that role for at least two years. The issues and scenarios are common across industries and organisations. The experienced manager will be able to relate to you and will guide and assist you. Use this mentor as a sounding board for ideas and challenges. Choose a second mentor who is much older than you and knows you well – and not necessarily in the workplace – for example, an uncle, a neighbour or a grandmother – someone close enough to you to boost you and celebrate with you when you have done well, and yet honest and open enough to tell you when you are being petty or neurotic. You need a safe and comforting outlet valve and this mentor fulfills that role.
Remember that you are guaranteed of stress in the workplace. How you deal with it is what makes or breaks you. You must not feel intimidated at all. You must be well prepared every day and deliver your best every day, and that way you rise to the occasion and are accountable for your role. Always go the extra mile when producing work. You need to be confident in the knowledge that you have done everything possible and that you will succeed. Furthermore, know what you know well – recognise and acknowledge what you don’t know and never make out that you do know everything. Great managers are not afraid to say they don’t know certain things, but they do say that they will follow up and get the necessary information.
Hema: There seems to be a stigma that women who are ambitious/successful in their careers do not care about family and are more money/material focused. How does one deal with this? Why are most people afraid to believe that you can ‘have it all’?
Tina: You need to prove that you can have it all! There are many women who have done it all and are perfect role models. Their families are happy, well-adjusted individuals. Their children have great work ethics and values, because they have watched their mothers juggle both the responsibility of work as well as the precious time with the family. The stigma is there, but it is up to you to make that mind shift for yourself first – and then you will be convincing to others. However, does it really matter what others think? At the end of the day they aren’t there for you when you need them most…
Thembi: It is commonly believed that men and women have very different leadership styles. Do you think that as a woman you need to ‘toughen up’ to make it to the top? Surely being sensitive/emotional/softer than the opposite sex is not always necessarily a disadvantage? What’s the best way to find a balance between this?
Tina: All leaders have different styles. Great leaders have to lead in a natural and authentic way. If you adopt a style that is not ‘you’, you cannot sustain it and you will be found to be an imposter! If you are not true to your character, you will not succeed. So, to answer your question: No, do not toughen up as you move up to the top. The emotional intelligence of men and women differs and hence their leadership styles differ, but it’s heartening to learn that emotional intelligence cuts across the gender gap.
Over and over again, we find that men and women have remarkably similar scores on the EQ-I, an instrument developed by Dr Bar-On in 1985. EQ-I stands for Emotional Quotient Inventory. Women across various countries and cultures had higher scores on social responsibility and empathy, whilst men universally scored higher on stress tolerance. Women came out slightly ahead on the interpersonal relationships scale, whilst men scored higher in self-regard. Suffice to say that for every area of emotional intelligence in which women appear to enjoy a natural advantage, men have a counterbalancing strength elsewhere.
Nisha: My biggest challenge is women themselves. There is a niche of women in the organisation who believe in flexi-hours, working from home, a balanced lifestyle for all. Then there are the rest who look at you funny when you walk into the office at 9:00 and make you feel like it’s a sin. The problem is not that I let them get to me, but it’s that women don’t know how to stand together with these sort of issues.
Tina: This is an age-old problem with no easy answer. If human beings could stand together on any issue, the world would be a wonderful place. This is not a gender specific dilemma, but one that is prevalent in all groups of people across the earth. Become an advocate of these flexible working arrangements and make a difference!
Melissa: What is working ‘too hard’ – where do you draw the line?
Tina: You need to work smart – if you are working smartly, you should not have to put in more than 12 hours a day, six days a week. If you are only working eight hours a day you will always be mediocre – if you want to progress rapidly through the ranks and get to the top, it takes extra effort and energy. You are working too hard if you are working smartly and exceeding 72 hours a week – 72 hours of work not including extended coffee and lunch breaks – it is 72 hours of focused work.
Videsha: Office politics gets me down – how can I handle it better or have it not affect me?
Tina: Send all politics, rumours and gossip to the graveyard! If you allow these negative forces to live, they will derail you. Perhaps one of the most difficult things to master in life is keeping quiet when you want to blurt out. Protect yourself by keeping your nose clean at all times. Share your distress with your mentor, but do not discuss it with anyone else. Focus on your work or go for a walk. The only time you speak up is if there is unethical or corrupt business going on. For everything else: keep quiet.