Tag Archives: mentors

Negotiating, Finding a Mentor, and Burning the Midnight Oil: More Thoughts on Leaning In

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After many months in the holds queue at the library, I finally got the e-copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on my Kindle.

I’ve been hearing about this book for months, and it’s possible I’ve read more words about it than there are words in it. Some of the reaction amounts to high fives and attagirls; others criticize Sandberg’s supposedly limited and naive perspective, as if centuries of patriarchy will magically evaporate if enough of us raise our hands in meetings.

I don’t think that’s Sandberg’s thesis, and it’s disingenuous to criticize a book for not being some other book. Yes, there are systemic problems that make it hard for a woman to lean in. (She addresses those, by the way.) And yes, Lean In is very socioeconomically specific. But it’s still an empowering, worthwhile read.

The research about how men and woman are perceived differently in the workplace is jaw-dropping. Both sexes will downplay a person’s achievements if you attach a female name to them; the same résumé with a man’s name at the top will be judged more favorably. An assertive woman is seen as a bitch; an assertive man is just, well, a man. I was encouraged by the changes corporations and business schools have made to their cultures that have helped give women an even playing field to compete and thrive; those stories deserve to be heard widely. (One doctor changed his approach to rounds; instead of relying on people to raise their hands, he alternated calling on men and women, and of course found that women knew their stuff as well as or better than their male colleagues.)

Her section on negotiating for yourself was useful. Research suggests a simple two-pronged approach: be scrupulously nice in a way that builds community, and back up your negotiation with strong supporting info. (I’ve often said that my formula for being taken seriously as a woman in leadership is 1. being humorously self-deprecating, 2. giving people the benefit of the doubt, and 3. really, really knowing my stuff.) And I liked the story of the woman who was seeking a job and asked her, “What’s your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?” Sandberg had never heard that approach to a job interview.

Her chapter on mentoring was of particular interest since that’s a growing passion of mine. Sandberg writes, “We have sent the wrong message to young women. We need to stop telling them, ‘Get a mentor and you will excel.’ Instead, we need to tell them, ‘Excel and you will get a mentor.'” Love that. She also urges women to be specific when asking for help. Asking for a lunch date to “catch up” is a bad approach; people are too busy for that, and it communicates that you haven’t done your homework to know what this particular mentor might be able to provide to you (and you to her, because the best mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial). She tells a few stories of young women who received mentoring advice from more senior women but didn’t consider it mentoring because they didn’t meet for an hour a week. “That’s not a mentor; that’s a therapist,” Sandberg quips.

The discrepancy in how women approach mentors makes sense in light of Deborah Tannen’s classic work on how men and women communicate. Very broadly speaking, men tend to be action and task oriented; women are relationship oriented. So it makes sense that women are going to ask for an hour-a-week, catch-up-and-be-friends kind of relationship… and then be disappointed when busy executives (or senior pastors) can’t fulfill that role. If we can be more specific and task-oriented when engaging a mentor, we’re more likely to be successful.

I’ve met so many women who’ve lamented the lack of [female] mentors. The same story gets told again and again with different names and details: [Potential Mentor] let me down, she never called me back, she wasn’t helpful at all, she saw me as a threat, etc. etc. I now wonder if part of the problem comes down to how we ask women to mentor us, and to what end.

On the complexities of leaning in when you have kids: Sandberg tells a story about one of her teams that was deadlocked on some issue. One of the men on the team spent the weekend crunching some numbers that broke the logjam on Monday. Sandberg wonders why more women don’t go and do likewise. Well, if you have kids, it’s probably because you’re running soccer carpool, buying the birthday gift, getting a long-overdue haircut, etc. etc. (Fathers who are involved with their kids’ lives will face similar challenges.) Sandberg diagnoses women’s inability or unwillingness to be that “weekend warrior” as a lack of confidence, but if you’re a parent, more often it’s the simple chaos and unpredictability of home life. Yes, we can and should lean in. But the times we can drop everything on a moment’s notice are rare. Our lives don’t turn on a dime.

Did you read Lean In? What did you think?

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Image is from the Tumblr Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies, a collection of cringe-inducing stock photos that go with women-having-it-all articles. 

 

Needing a Mentor, Being a Mentor

Ah, Generic Stock Photos. Where would blogs be without them.

I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about mentors lately. I thought this article was awesome: Get Ahead with a Mentor Who Scares You:

“You’re the best!” the four American Idol contestants cried to their voice coach Patty after narrowly escaping elimination, “We couldn’t have done it without you!” As they celebrated, I couldn’t help but notice that their hero was the same irascible, no-holds-barred woman who had been shown yelling and screaming at the same contestants just minutes earlier, leaving her devastated charges in tears.

With the group’s success, Patty’s tough-love approach was validated (much more clearly, perhaps, than that of the show’s previous tough-love artist Simon Cowell). Though her tactics were questionable, they certainly brought out the best in her team; she truly helped them to become better singers and performers. I’m not saying that you should go out and be like Patty, but if you’re young, ambitious and motivated, you should take a page from that foursome.

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.

The comments rightly caution against a mentor who is abusive. I’m not interested in being yelled at. After all, my kids will be teens before I know it…

But I love the basic idea. Over my 12+ years in ministry, lay and ordained, I’ve had a number of nurturing and supportive mentors and guides—spiritual directors, coaches and professors.

Now I’m ready for someone to scare the bejesus out of me. Or scare the Jesus into me.

I’d like a mentor who assigns me challenging work to do. Who is constantly reinventing herself in ministry. Who understands that good pastoral leaders are as much futurists as they are caregivers and consensus-builders. Who is where I’d like to be on this writing/pastoring journey.

‘Trouble is… I’m not sure I know anyone who fits that bill. Or who would be open to that kind of relationship. Do you? If not, I wonder what it says about the church that that’s the case.

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On the other side of the equation, I will be mentoring a woman who is newly graduated from seminary. I’m not interested in scaring her. She’s looking for someone to guide and hold her accountable to her own goals and process. I’m excited, because she’s an awesome person and is going to be an incredible minister, and to the extent that I can help her along her way, it’s a great honor.

As I begin this process, though, I have a couple of questions for you, Gentle Readers of all persuasions:

Have you had a mentoring relationship that was helpful? Would you be willing to talk to me about that?

Have you ever wanted a mentor and not been able to find one? What stood in the way?

Have you ever been a mentor? If not, what has stood in your way?

If you’d like to talk off-blog, e-mail me at maryannmcdana (at) gmail (dot) com.