CIO and board member Rebecca Maffei recalls the valuable part that a mentor played in her career development, and why paying it forward is worthwhile and rewarding.

I wholeheartedly believe that it is the responsibility of senior leaders to provide mentorship and promote fellowship in our communities. All too often, we focus solely on being great leaders at our companies and driving results, which is important, but being a mentor is just as critical.

The most impactful person in my early career was a mentor who took me under her wing. She took the time to listen, introduced me to a fantastic network of people, shared business wisdom (outside of technology), and involved me in both her personal and professional life to make me feel included and important. Her caring attitude and generosity of her time motivated me to succeed and to pay it forward.

One of my proudest memories for me is when I became a mentor to a woman early on in her career. She came to me one day crying. She learned she was pregnant she was concerned that having a child would limit her career potential. I spent time encouraging her and sharing my story as a working mother. I also advised her on how small changes such as moving to a more private office space and starting her work day a bit later (to overcome morning sickness) would help her feel more balanced. I am happy to report that this mentee of mine continued to succeed and grow her career.

There are many shared benefits of the mentor and mentee relationship. A mentee receives support, encouragement and a forum to talk about what is important in their lives. For the mentor, on the other hand, it provides time to listen to the changing needs of the community. As human-centric models and the desire to connect to a higher purpose become more important in people’s lives, we need to listen more and adapt to the evolving world.

What is the difference between a mentor and a leader?

A leader motivates a team to achieve a common goal. A mentor is a trusted advisor helping someone junior to them fulfill their purpose – someone who listens, provides experience-based advice, supports, guides and inspires.

What are the success factors to being a great mentor?

1. Allow a mentor / mentee relationship to evolve organically.
  • Mentor relationships are most effective when they are cultivated through common interests, a bond of mutual respect, and a foundation built on trust.

  • Many organizations offer a mentor program through a matching process. This is helpful to start the journey, but just be sure you connect on a personal and professional level to make the relationship most productive. It may take some time to connect with the right mentee that can evolve into this trusted relationship. If you aren’t connecting strongly with your mentee, be honest with them and recommend another trusted leader in your network who may be a better fit.

  • Your mentee doesn’t need to be in the same industry that you work in. As a senior leader you have many lessons to share from your life and career that apply across multiple industries. Since many of us are lifetime learners, it can we rewarding and educational to connect in an area in which we may be less knowledgeable.
2. Be empathetic and show your vulnerability.
  • Share your experiences through story telling of your successes and failures. Failures are often the best learning experiences to share your whole self. Life can be hard, and a mentee hearing your journey can instill confidence that they can be great leaders too.

  • Always ask “how are you doing?” This simple question creates a safe space to generate authentic dialog. Just by caring, you will strengthen the value of your relationship.

  • Don’t drive a formal agenda unless asked to do so by your mentee. Let your mentee share what is top of mind and most important to them.

  • Try to connect regularly through in person or virtual meet ups.

  • When possible, include your mentee in opportunities that may be learning experiences or networking to further their community involvement.
3. Don’t solve problems.
  • It can be our nature to want to solve problems, but stop yourself and refocus on listening. Your job as a mentor is to provide a sounding board to share ideas and experiences that can help your mentee identify solutions or next steps to solving a problem for herself.

  • Be curious, offer guidance, advice and experiences that will spark thought leadership in your mentee.


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4. Encourage and celebrate accomplishments.
  • All too often we move from one challenge to another without taking the time to celebrate the wins great or small. A mentor’s acknowledgement of a job well done continues to show you are there to support and encourage them.
  • Your kinds words may be a needed catalyst to grow your mentee’s confidence, combat imposter syndrome, spread positivity, and promote a pay-it-forward attitude.

If you are already a mentor, congratulations! You are making a bigger impact on someone than you may realize. If you aren’t a mentor today, now is the time to get started!

From my experience, there are many great options available to cultivate mentor-mentee relationships:

  • Your company’s partner resource groups
  • Your local chamber of commerce
  • Local universities and colleges sponsored programs
  • Meet up groups and organizations that are focused on building networks and giving back

People are craving relationships, encouragement and positive affirmations to make the world a better place. Making an impact on someone’s life is the greatest achievement you will always remember. Good luck on your journey!

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