Why You are More Likely to Succeed With a Mentor – These CEOs Prove It


Even the best couldn’t always do it alone.


From Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg being mentored by Steve Jobs to General Motors’ CEO Mary Barra being advised by her network, mentorship has played a crucial role in the success of many influential leaders.


According to an executive coaching survey:


“80 percent of CEOs said they received some form of mentorship.”


Mentors care about your achievements and strive to provide valuable guidance to help you progress in your career. Consider your mentor as a “professional partner” – someone who will counsel you through challenging times and share their experience and wisdom so that you can benefit from it.


Countless professionals were able to grow by developing mentoring relationships. Today, we gathered key tips and advice inspired by the experiences of great CEOs.


Mary Barra - CEO of General Motors


As a successful leader and minority female C-Suite executive in a male-dominated industry, Mary Barra thanks her many mentors for their coaching – without them, she thinks she might have missed a big professional opportunity.   


Key Tip – Build your network of mentors


Barra stresses that the best choices can be usually made by weighting the opinions and perspectives of a multitude of mentors.


“Some executives credit one or two key people for coaching them to success, but I believe effective mentoring takes a network.” – M.B


Throughout your career, different mentors will get to know different aspects of you. Some may act as positive cheerleaders to celebrate milestones with you, while others may offer direct truth in a moment when you need it most. Therefore, collecting multiple points of view can be key to keeping an open mind, looking at the big picture, and it’s especially important when making tough decisions. 


By the way, if you are currently a mentor looking to swap best practices with a global community of mentors, we’ve got you covered. Check out our community of certified mentors on Mentorship Moment.


Ken Chenault – former CEO of American Express


As an inspiring American business executive and former CEO of American Express, Chenault credits his mentors for his success.


Key Tip – Look for a willingness to problem solve with you


Chenault suggests to mainly look for mentors willing to express their opinions and not just dole out technical advice. Your biggest allies will be the people who know your story, take your success personally, and give you their honest opinion.


“I think when you look for a mentor, sometimes you’re looking for someone who can give you technical advice. That’s not a mentor to me. That’s an expert and that’s very important to seek out that expert advice. From a leadership standpoint, [finding judgment] is really the toughest challenge. Examine who seems to know what they’re doing, who shows good judgment.” – K.C.


Key Tip - Choose mentors you appreciate and want to mirror


Choosing a mentor is an important decision that has the potential to transform your career. So, who should you pick?


Especially when you have a clear goal or path in mind, Chenault recommends looking for someone you look up to and would like to mirror. This will ensure their advice is more relevant, regardless if your past experiences align. In addition, when forming a mentoring relationship, Chenault emphasizes the need to showcase and leverage your performance rather than solely focussing on a strong personal relationship. Bring specific work challenges to your mentor, pitch bold new ideas, and ask for their specific feedback. This will in fact help your potential mentor understand your real value and become more invested in your success.


Key Tip – Don’t underestimate mentors with less seniority 


A distinctive aspect about Chenault is that he engaged in reverse mentoring as he had mentors at lower levels of the organization. In fact, he recognized their value in having a unique vantage point on different situations, issues, and people. He was a master at creating allies, champions and advocates at varying levels of the organization, thereby bringing more confidence to his decision making in what was best for company stakeholders and gaining momentum for the execution of key strategic initiatives. 


Mark Zuckerberg – CEO of Facebook


As a leading figure involved in the birth of social media and advancement of the internet, Mark Zuckerberg pays tribute to his mentor, Steve Jobs. 


Key Tip – Consider your mentor’s ideas, even if unconventional


In its early days, Facebook was struggling and Zuckerberg started contemplating selling the company, so Jobs’ suggestion to visit India did probably not seem helpful at first.


“[He told me] I should go visit this temple in India that he had gone to early in the evolution of Apple, when he was thinking about what he wanted his vision of the future to be.” – M.Z.


Unexpectedly, that trip turned out to be a great source of inspiration for Zuckerberg – what ultimately helped him push through the challenges, find purpose again, and grow Facebook into the world’s most popular social media platform. So, if you are hitting a roadblock and your trusted mentor proposes an idea or opportunity that might seem unconventional, trust it and take the leap before immediately discounting it. 


If you’re looking for new topics or ways to spark deeper conversations with your mentor, suggest this coaching tool (here’s a free discussion guide to begin with). 


Michael Sonnenfeldt - CEO of Tiger 21


As CEO of a peer-to-peer learning community for high-net-worth investors, Sonnenfeldt drew on his experience and research to write a book on the greatest lessons he learned from entrepreneurs. It’s not by chance that many are related to mentorship.


Key Tip – Don’t be afraid to ask


Most people found their mentors the old-school way: by reaching out.


“Mentors are available for the price of asking” – M.S.


Throughout their journeys, many have benefitted from the help of official and/or unofficial mentors, which often makes them eager to pay it forward by becoming mentors themselves. As a result, after determining who within your network will be your ideal match, the only thing you need to do is let them know why. Reach out and pitch yourself as their ideal mentee! Many will be willing to set aside some time in their schedules for you if they clearly understand your aspirations and, if not, they will appreciate your interest in them (and perhaps refer you to a more suitable mentor).


Key Tip – Understand what you want out of mentoring


According to Sonnenfeldt, mentors can assume a variety of roles depending on your needs:


As a result, determining the level of guidance and support you are looking for is key to helping you seek the type of mentor from which you can ultimately benefit the most.


Tania Desa – CEO of Desa Global Leadership 


As CEO of a global training firm and founder of Mentorship Moment, Tania’s mentor gave her the confidence to make bold moves in her career.


Key Tip - Co-create mentorship goals


Tania recalls that after a big presentation to C-Suite executives in her marketing role, she noticed a VP took interest in her project work. She bravely called him up afterward to ask if he would mentor her with advice and put her forth for new global cross-functional projects. She, in turn, asked him how she could add value to him/ his projects. They had a very candid discussion and found a few ways they could support each other over the next year. Then, they aligned on regular touchpoints to stay updated. Looking back, Tania realized it was a very intentional way to set up a mentoring relationship - with clarity in goals and timelines. It helped them gauge progress and stay accountable to each other.


Key Tip - Paying it forward gets you to C-Suite


The commonality in all of Tania’s mentors was their willingness to grow young leaders and invest time and energy in advising them. The best executives know that mentoring is not a nice to have, it is a need to have in today’s world of work. When you advance to a certain level of leadership, creating a culture of mentorship is not only a responsibility but its a way to create a lasting legacy and it becomes a differentiator between you and your peers. So, it's never too early or late to invest in becoming a mentor if you know it will help create the next generation of leaders and also support your own career path. In fact, we have found that mentors who become certified create a distinct career advantage and learn more easily how to pay it forward in less time. 


Learn more about the Mentorship Certification here.


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