When I was 7 or 8 years old, I told my parents that I wanted to own a bank! Fast-forward through my education and my last 20 years of banking, and here I am, president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank—Western Michigan and regional president for an additional three Fifth Third affiliates.
I have held a variety of banking positions to get where I am today. My mentors, as well as the mentoring role I actively play, continue to contribute to my success.
By definition, a mentor is “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.” Throughout my career, I have sought out people in positions above me that could guide me—people willing to provide constructive feedback and direction. If you’re seeking a mentor, find one who is willing to identify your weaknesses and help you strengthen your leadership, strategic and tactical skills.
Informal mentors are easy to find. You have many around you. Spouses, siblings and friends can fill this role, as well as associates and contacts made through professional associations. What’s most important is that your mentor has an opportunity to observe you and to give you sound feedback and advice.
Formal mentors are sometimes harder to find because they must be comfortable that you will perform in a manner that reflects well on them. The best way to develop this kind of relationship is to be visible to these individuals.
If you think of mentoring as a process, you will find it easier to see how a variety of people can play different mentoring roles on different subjects and at different times in your career. Look for mentors who have a successful track record, the knowledge or skills that you desire and the willingness to talk and listen. A woman does not need to seek out a female mentor. Mentors of either gender can teach you.
Having said that, I do believe that it is very important for all of us in management roles to become mentors for other employees, both men and women. I love my job as bank president and the opportunity it gives me to help others achieve their dreams.
I have one additional piece of advice for anyone climbing the career ladder: Be patient and be persistent. Your development and career opportunities are not going to happen overnight. My progression has taken almost 20 years.