Fortune Favors the Prepared Mentee – Takeaways from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Takeaways from Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Confession: I did not read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In from cover to cover. I read it from the inside out. For some reason, the first few chapters didn’t draw me in, but when I opened to the center of the book, I found some meaty insights that I wasn’t expecting – particularly around the idea of mentors.

For many of us, mentor is a loaded word. It suggests someone older and more experienced than yourself, who can provide you with sage advice and professional recommendations as you build your career. Or, if you are in corporate America, it may be a person who was assigned to you in your company mentorship program, whom you might meet once or twice a year for coffee.

Sandberg ignores those connotations and suggests that the best mentor/mentee relationships are never forced and aren’t constrained by stereotypes. Yes, ladies, your mentor could be a male colleague. And maybe the newest person on your technology team could teach you a lot about the new industry you just joined. Sandberg stresses that the mentor/mentee relationship cannot be forced. It can, however, be deliberately initiated.

Sandberg also argues that many women expect their mentor to be a person who validates their feelings, offering help and granting “permission” to them as they move forward in their careers. She feels that men, on the other hand, tend to look at their mentor as a person who can provide the answers to difficult business questions. I don’t agree that this is necessarily a gender divide, though I’m sure in many cases it is true. Her point is that a mentor/mentee relationship is not a therapist/patient relationship, and the sooner we change the way we think about mentor/mentee relationships, the more value we will be able to capture from them.

When it comes to actual tactical tips for being in a mentor/mentee relationship, here are my six takeaways from Lean In:

  1. Ask a real question – A real question to a real business issue. Not just a “tell me about your life/career/biggest challenge/etc”. This is not an interview, it is a business discussion.
  2. Be “crisp, focused, gracious” – As a person who works with East Coasters, lives in the Midwest, and spent several years living in the South, this tip will vary depending on your local corporate culture. The overall goal is to not say in 10 words what could be said in five, stick to the point, and be appreciative (even if you don’t get exactly the answer or validation you were looking for).
  3. Be respectful of your mentor’s time – Multiple “Let’s catch up over coffee” meetings may not be realistic. That is ok. Refer to tips one and two and use the time that you have together efficiently.
  4. Always follow up to share the results of your discussion – This might be my favorite point that Sandberg made, mainly because I could see myself forgetting to do exactly this. If you discuss a specific business challenge with your mentor and then you apply their advice to address the issue, let them know how it went. It will further your relationship and it is just polite!
  5. Excel and you will get a mentor – I whole-heartedly agree with this. When I’m on a team and someone with less experience than me is really working hard and asking the right questions, I have an almost uncontrollable natural urge to help them continue to succeed. I hope that my mentors in the past have felt the same about me.
  6. Prepare, prepare, prepare – To quote Louis Pasteur, “Fortune favors the prepared mind.” You will gain much more from your relationship with your mentor if you walk into every meeting prepared.

When we stop thinking of mentors as hand holders and start thinking of them as connections to be organically cultivated, I think many more of us will benefit from the mentors and mentees already in our lives.

What were your takeaways from Lean In? Did you start in the middle as I did? Share your thoughts here or connect with me on Twitter @Rachel990306 or @Zer0to5ive

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