MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you find a mentor? is written by Mary Lou Burke Afonso, COO of North American Center Operations at Bright Horizons Family Solutions. (fortune.com)
As I moved along in my career, taking on new opportunities that eventually led to leadership roles at my company, I — like many women — struggled with how to succeed at my job while still being involved in my children’s lives. To help me navigate this, I have been fortunate to always have a mentor by my side — in my case, a female who I respected and admired for what she was able to accomplish both at work and in her personal life.
Early on in my career, there was no such thing as workplace flexibility. Employees were expected to be in the office every day, from early in the morning until well into the evening. While I was thrilled to have a seat at the table and make important strategic decisions for my company, I felt extreme guilt as my motherly instincts tugged at me to be present for my children. Through countless conversations with my mentor, she helped me overcome this guilt — she supported me and showed me it was possible to be successful in both my professional and personal lives, and that it was okay that sometimes one had to (and should) take precedence over the other.
I think women, in particular, don’t often put themselves out there to want a mentor. We want to believe we can do it all, and are afraid for people to see what is behind the curtain. But being able to achieve success in both your professional and personal lives sometimes means not doing it all. It means adjusting day-to-day or week-to-week depending on what is happening in your life. And sometimes it means asking for help from the team you have built around you — your spouse, extended family, or employees.
Now that I am in the role of being a mentor for employees with varying goals and personal demands, I have been able to assess the value I can bring to their lives. With that said, for young professionals today looking to align with a mentor in his or her company, I offer the following advice:
Know what you are looking for in a mentor
Be honest with yourself in what you are trying to accomplish through this mentor/mentee relationship. What are you hoping to achieve — both in the immediate future and long-term — and who do you believe can help get you there? Identify someone who is authentic, who will give you direct and honest feedback, and who will support you as you continue to grow. True mentors often times become lifelong friends, and sharing an openness and transparency allows that to happen.
Be open to having more than one mentor
Rather than zeroing in on one individual to be your mentor, think about identifying several mentors. Exposure to multiple leaders in your company will allow you to see things through different lenses. You will be able to witness a myriad of approaches to management, growth,and work-life balance, and identify which strategies work best for you.
Be realistic about what you can give back to a mentor
Mentorship is a two-way street. While mentors are there to guide and support you, it is you that will need to execute on a plan of action to be able to reap any benefit. Before you decide to seek out a mentor, think about what other life demands might compete with getting the most of your mentoring experience. If now isn’t the time, know that the right time will come.
Determine how you are going to measure success
It is unrealistic to expect that by working with a mentor, you will be able to turn your career on its head in six months or a year. So before aligning yourself with a mentor, take a step back to think about what success will look like to you a year or 18 months down the road. Develop a short list of goals and schedule regular check-in meetings with your mentor to ensure you are collectively working toward them.