President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “We must open the doors of opportunity. But we must also equip our people to walk through those doors.” To me, this is the essence of mentoring—preparing people to take the next steps in their career. I’ve been fortunate to have received this support throughout my career, and I hope that I’ve imparted something similar to those I’ve mentored, as well.
I have had the benefit of two exceptional mentors throughout my career. I can honestly say that their advice and friendship made the difference in how I got to where I am today. Although I always relied on my intuition, it was the confidence and support of my mentors that buoyed me when I was finding myself doubting decisions or nervous about leaping into a new challenge.
When I began my career 30 years ago, I was firmly on a finance track. A mentor encouraged me to broaden my view by gaining exposure to the operations side of our business. This is where my road to success began to take turns as I was encouraged to take new positions that were sometimes a step or two back in a traditional career progression. However, they proved to be the right steps for achieving my goals.
Many people ask me whether it is important for women to have other women as mentors. While I certainly believe in women supporting one another’s careers, I would never advise anyone to turn down a mentor because of gender. In my career, the grocery supply chain business is traditionally a male-dominated field, so my opportunities for female mentors were few. As a result, my mentors have been men who connected with me and challenged me to look at my career growth and opportunities in a new light.
Remember, mentors come in all sizes, shapes, and both genders. It’s the relationship of support and trust that you build that counts more than anything.