October 2017

Mentor in the Mirror

By Janet Morein Wood

While watching television recently, a commercial caught my attention that had me reflecting on my banking career. You may have seen this one (if not, click here to take a look) – Secret deodorant ad showing a young female professional practicing a conversation (in the mirror of an empty work bathroom) that she wants to have with her boss about pay inequality. She painfully attempts to find the right words and the right demeanor to approach her boss when she hears a toilet flush. She’s mortified! Out walks a more senior female who approaches the lavatory and, once finished, turns looking female #1 directly in the eye and says, “DO it!” And, BAM!! Confidence given, our protagonist appears to garner the strength to just do it.

I really love this commercial (kudos Procter & Gamble!). In my 32-year banking career, I often relied on mentors to help me in dealing with difficult or challenging situations. Mentoring was part of the culture in my early career. In some cases, young bankers were assigned mentors or encouraged to seek out someone who had a career trajectory that mirrored one they wanted. My mentors included a variety of people – more seasoned females, male bosses, peers or leaders who had qualities I admired – and each of them helped me either as a sounding board or to guide me in the direction best for me. Actually, as I reflect back, I was much like the girl in the bathroom mirror. In many instances I knew I wanted a different outcome from a situation I was in, however, my fear of acting on it would have overcome me if I hadn’t had the sage advice of mentors who listened to me and nudged me forward. 

The mentor culture has changed a lot in the last few decades. This role has become much less formal and often it’s the boss who bears the responsibility for having any developmental discussions. Performance tends to dominate the boss/subordinate conversation and, lots of times, data is the driver. Soft skills development and open conversation regarding advancement, direction and impediment concerns are given little attention. Without these discussions, aspiring professionals feel disengaged and often consider that their value is best served outside the organization. Difficult conversations regarding things like pay inequality are rarely had – particularly by female professionals.

In the last 5 years of my banking career, I’ve had the great fortune to be trained as a performance coach and was given the responsibility of working with retail executives on the performance and development of their teams. One recurrent conversation centered on ensuring developing leaders were always asked to find a mentor and when they could not, assigned one. Those developing leaders who embraced the discussions with their mentors almost always flourished and their personal engagement and that of their teams were the highest.

If you find yourself struggling with a particular situation, or the lack of your professional progress or haven’t had a conversation regarding where you’d like to be in the next 2-5 years, I’d highly encourage you to find a mentor. You’ll be surprised that rarely when asked does a potential mentor say no. And, the benefit garnered will surprise you. DO it!

BIO info:
Janet Morein Wood’s banking career has spanned 32 years with community, regional and national banking organizations. She’s served in both the commercial and retail sectors and was a market president for over 17 years, the first female bank president in her community. She currently serves as an independent personal and professional performance coach.