Mentorships and Sponsorships

Last Friday, I spoke on a panel at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women on the topic of Mentorships and Sponsorships. The topic garnered quite a bit of interest from the audience and so I thought it was worthwhile to share a summary of the discussion as well as some insights offered by the panelists, who were executives from across various industries.

What is the difference between mentorship and sponsorship?

Mentors are individuals who will provide you with advice and guidance in an effort to facilitate your career advancement. The idea is that mentors, through their own experiences have the insight needed to help you navigate career challenges that you may be facing.  

Sponsors are individuals who advocate on your behalf. They are usually senior people within your organization that are willing to put their own professional capital on the line for you. They are willing do so because you have done a good job for them and they feel as sense of reciprocity. When talent is discussed at the management table they will be represent you and showcase your capabilities to ensure you are considered for arising opportunities.

Should you have both a mentor and a sponsor?

Yes, if you can get both. I have had multiple mentors at the same time in my career and there is really no limit to how many mentors you could or should have. Sponsors are more difficult to obtain because they put their own reputation on the line to speak on your behalf and not everyone is willing to do that. If you can get a sponsor the difference is can make to your career is material. Sponsors are usually people of influence that will recommend you for a job and tout your accomplishments. Sponsorships depend upon the culture of your organization and they usually form organically - although I have asked people if they would be my sponsor in certain situations.

How do you find a mentor?

You never know where you will find a mentor. Just like all human relationships, the most effective mentor-mentee relationships are ones that are form organically because of some common interest. I personally have never found organized mentor programs to work to any degree of effectiveness. Those relationships feel contrived and ultimately they become a corporate check the box exercise. 

You never know where you will meet a mentor. One of the panelists told a story about how one day while commuting into the city, her bus broke down and she spent several hours speaking with the gentlemen who sat next to her. He became her mentor and continues to mentor her to this day. What I found interesting was that she never spoke to this gentleman before that day because anyone who commutes from suburbia knows that the morning commute is quiet time.

I too have found mentors on my commute when I lived in New Jersey and took the ferry into the city. I have always found that the additional bond of living in the same community tends to incentivize people to help. The bonds tend to be longer lasting and stronger particularly because you continuous see each. The more you have in common the stronger the bond will be. You can have as many mentors as you like or need. I’ve had different mentors for different purposes throughout my career.

Audience question: If a mentee doesn’t follow your advice do you feel like they’re wasting your time?

I would say the answer depends on the ego and you should be mindful of this.

One of the panelists said yes. That she is so busy that if you come to her unprepared and not having followed her advice she would feel like you are wasting her time.

I have a different perspective and said no. Ultimately it is your career and you have to follow the advice that you think is best for you and that you are most comfortable with following. Sometimes a complex or high-stakes problem may require the council of several mentors and the advice you receive may be different from each one. I would then follow the advice that feels most sensible to me. If however a mentee comes to me with the same issue over and over again, not having followed my advice, then I may begin to feel like my time is being wasted.

Have you ever seen any negative effects of a mentorship?

It is important to recognize that not all advice is good advice and not everyone is good at giving advice. Learn to discern good advice from bad advice by exercising pragmatism.  

Not all mentors have your best interest at heart. Many industries are competitive and there are many people you may not want you to succeed; they may intentionally steer you wrong. Be careful of that.

Also be weary, if you are young woman and there is a senior male mentor who is taking an unusual interest in your career, you should question their intentions. You should also be mindful of the optics - spending an inordinate amount of time with your senior mentor may ignite rumors around the office. Keep in mind that most people in corporate America aren’t in their roles for altruistic purposes and nobody goes so far on a limb to help anyone’s career. And if they do, you should be weary of their intentions – apologies for my cynicism.

 

Social Media Dangers

Over the last decade or so social media has given us the gift of global connectivity at our finger tips; and world has relished in it. Facebook has united us with long lost friends and family while LinkedIn has provided a platform to maintain and expand professional networks. Other sites have offered their own value propositions and each one continues to further expand their utility. But for all their good, there is danger to heed.

In certain industries, serious professionals have expressed their trepidation with social media as these sites offer a bit too much insight into one’s personal life. There is a genuine concern that certain behaviors taken out of context may come across as careless. This could potentially reflect poorly upon a person’s perceived professional demeanor. Think about it, no one really wants to see the surgeon that is removing their gallbladder in a few days, tagged at a tailgate party amongst a group of drunken, shirtless face painters. And I mean no disrespect to face painters.

Companies have long been using social media sites as credibility checks of potential candidates whom they want to hire; especially at the entry and more junior levels. In conducting such a search companies are hoping to discern an individual’s sense of judgement and maturity. I have even seen situations where human resources have used social media sites as evidence in a case against problematic employees. Keep this in mind and remember to post responsibly.

Last year, as I perused Facebook, I noticed pictures of a friend’s college-age daughter who was dressed up and ready to go out with her friends. Her outfit was extremely risqué - more so than any of the other girls in the photo. It gave me pause for an eye brow raise. I don’t consider myself to be a prude but I’m not sure posting such a picture was a good idea. Looking at it from the perspective of a hiring manager, I put her character into question. Wearing such an outfit is one thing, but posting pictures of it on social media for the world to see, is quite another.

In my book “Lose the Gum” I discuss the importance that brand has on your career. We form our brands through our actions and behaviors and our brand helps shape the way people perceive us. In business your brand is your reputation and it establishes your credibility. Ultimately, your brand is your currency.

Part of your brand includes your persona and demeanor on social media. This is especially true if your personal social media sites are linked to your professional sites because the two will inevitably conflate. Your persona on your personal site should somewhat align with your professional identity. If they don’t, the disconnect will make you seem inauthentic.

Another aspect to keep in mind when it comes to your social media brand are your political opinions. As of late, our political climate is highly charged and your views and affiliations may come in direct conflict with those of an employer or customer. Because convictions are so strong these days, you may find yourself shut out of opportunities or losing customers based on opposing ideologies. We have long been taught that the three topics you should never discuss in the office or at your place of business are politics, religion or sex. In that respect the rules of engagement have not changed and you would be wise to curtail your opinions while in the workplace. You should also be mindful of this on social media because those with whom you interact in a profession capacity may follow you on social media. Be careful and thoughtful is all I’m sayin’.

Whether or not you chose to express your political stance is one thing but your communication style is quite another. How you convey your messages is extremely important to your brand. I would even venture to say that the how is more important than the what. Many of us have watched and some have even participated in the blood bath that is taking place on social media. Civil discourse seems to have become a forgotten concept and the gloves are off. People are downright nasty. Constant participation in these types of exchanges impact your social media brand. In social settings, I frequently hear people refer to some as “that crazy one who always rants about [x].” Is that what you want your brand to be?

Social media has become an integral part of our society. It is not only how we socialize, it has also become an instrumental and sometimes critical part of how we conduct business. The latter needs to be carefully considered when engaging on social media because what began as a tool for good has also become a weapon that seeks to destroy.

#BelieveTruth

Beyond the disbelief that women have endured in matters of sexual assault and harassment is an issue deeper than the abuse itself - there is an underlying credibility issue that plagues women. Since the beginning of time, history has painted women as temptresses that use manipulation and deception as their tools. This has even been supported by the very first story of biblical teachings as Eve persuaded Adam into taking a bite of the apple. Thousands of years later, it is this perception of women that has been ingrained into our society and puts our sexual integrity into constant question. This even transcends into the workplace and translates into a broad description that women are emotionally unreliable and subsequently unfit for certain roles. But that is all now changing.

In the era #MeToo more and more people are willing to believe women particularly in scenarios of sexual assault and harassment. Through this movement, we have seen accusations of sexual misconduct sweep across industries and purge notorious abusers from our workforce and in many cases from our society completely. Women have not only gotten the support that we’ve longed for but we have gained an enormous amount of power in a relatively short span of time. I would even venture to say that we have gotten a windfall of power. But that actually concerns me because obtaining too much power too quickly creates a situation ripe for abuse.

With our newly heard voices and a platform designed to protect these voices comes duty and responsibility. Any abuse of this power and misuse of its purpose will only reignite the deceptive stigma that women have been fighting to disparage. We are worthy and deserving but that draws a fine line between entitled. It is important to ensure that this Movement remains pure in its purpose and we do not allow it to be hijacked for personal benefit or vengeance or as we’ve seen in the Kavanaugh hearings, to be used as a political tool. Once that line is crossed, the credibility of both the Movement and of women will be shattered. Regaining trust will be difficult.

Sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace has existed as long as there have been men in power and the #MeToo Movement has removed the inoculation that men once had against the accusations of women. What the Kavanaugh hearings have further demonstrated is that even the most privileged men in our country have to answer for sexual misconduct allegations. We clearly have their attention now, the question is, will we use it for good and to advance social progress or will we use it to seek revenge and retribution for millennia of oppression and abuse?

I for one do not believe that a history of struggle entitles women to sweeping penalties of guilt that slot an entire gender into a perpetrator framework. Just as not all women lie and deceive, not all men are guilty of sexual misconduct. So rather than choosing a side, I will choose truth. Sexual abuse of any kind is a serious offense but so are the allegations themselves. Neither the abuse nor the allegations should be taken lightly and any abuse and misrepresentation of the truth weakens the entire Movement and diminishes its cause.

Unless the standard by which we operate puts truth at the forefront, the Movement will not have a sustainable path forward and may eventually cease to exist. Due process cannot become overshadowed by the power of momentum and destroy everything in its pathway with little consideration given to collateral damage. A cause that is meant for good cannot destroy so many in the process. We have to be better than that and we can be. But in order to do so we cannot lead with anger. Instead we must have open dialogue that includes men in our discussions. And making men the villains of our pain will only hurt us in the end.

Build Trust First, Then Lead

Is it really better to be feared than to be loved? Well, not necessarily. Although fear has long been used as a form of motivation, leaders who elicit fear are at risk of undermining creativity and problem solving while stifling a culture of “speak-up.” According to research documented by the Harvard Business Review, trust in leadership has greater long term benefits as employees are much more likely to embrace a firm’s values, culture and the company’s mission.

People respond more positively to leaders who are likable and lead with warmth than those who are viewed as competent which is often associated with fear. People respond to warmth much faster than competence and warmth is considered to be a conduit of influence. Warmth facilitates trust and communications and increases information sharing, openness and cooperation - all of which are attributes of a healthy culture.

As a leader you should note that before people decide what they think of your message, they decide what they think of you. If they don’t trust you as a leader, they will not follow you with any real authenticity – meaning you will fail to capture the hearts of your employees. Your ability to influence as a leader and get people to fully embrace your vision and your message will depend upon your ability to establish trust within the organization.

So why are leaders more concerned with competence rather than connecting with their employees?

Well let’s examine this for a moment. With the pressures that exist in today’s organizations, leaders are given a short time horizons to prove their value. We associate leadership with strength and then set an expectation that encourages the optics. Leading with warmth however, is about vulnerability. How confident and self-assured a leader is will determine their threshold for vulnerability. Additionally, in order to connect with people, you must also be connected with yourself. Leaders who lack self-awareness will be hard pressed to connect with those whom they lead.

It is more difficult to hate people up close, so lean in.

So often, leaders forget basic tenets of building relationships because they don’t think of the people who they lead, as individuals. But organizations are made up of people and everyone has basic human wants and needs. Everyone wants respect and a sense of belonging. They also want recognition; not only for the work they are doing, but to be recognized as a person. Reaching out to individuals and getting to know people by name goes along way at building loyalty and trust. Connect first, then when you lead, people will follow.

How to lead with warmth

It isn’t easy to lead with warmth particularly in a cutthroat environment. But non-verbal cues and body language speak volumes about what kind of leader you are. Tone and pitch of voice gives way to your enthusiasm and your receptivity to ideas. Your physical posture in front of others also tells a story: head down, arms crossed and the pivot of your body away from those you are speaking to are all signs of someone who is closed off.

Your words matter. Telling stories is a great way to connect but telling a story that ends with how great you are probably won’t connect you to your audience. Humility tends to be more effective while compassion and empathy go a long way, especially when boosting morale under grueling conditions.

Leading with warmth is more challenging for some than for others. If you are a leader struggling to lead with warmth make a human connection than I can offer you one simple tip - SMILE.

Failure is a Myth

As we strive for success and look for that silver bullet that will catapult us to career advancement we also look for one to inoculate us against failure. Most of us are terrified of failing but any truly successful person will tell you that failure is a necessary part of the success equation. I would even add that if you aren’t failing then you probably aren’t taking enough risk. This concept has been rather eye opening for me. When I first heard it, I recognized my own risk aversion and saw that I only really take chances after I’ve carefully calculated my odds of succeeding and then I only act when those odds are favorable or comfortable to me. As such I probably haven’t reached the full potential of my capabilities. Have you? 

How many of you are so afraid of failing that you don’t take chances?

Upon further study of failure as a critical ingredient to success, I have learned that failures bring forth new beginnings and failure acts as a catalyst for change. But human beings are creatures of habit and most of us don’t like change so there is little appeal to the concept of a new beginning. Instead we do the exact same thing that we do every day and often hope that it will yield a different result; which is also the definition of insanity.

I have learned that enormously successful people have failed many times before hitting it big. Failure is also an important part of their learning process. In order to grow we need to continue to learn and failure brings with it valuable teachable moments. The value of failure only exists if we allow ourselves to learn from the experience. If we let our failures hold us back by impacting our confidence, and becoming the mental barriers that prevent us from trying again, then their value is somewhat wasted. Learn to use the lessons to make you smarter and wiser. Don’t allow your failures to dictate your narrative. If it doesn’t serve you in a way that is beneficial then let it go!

Cool Things

As you may have noticed, I've been radio silent for the last several weeks as I tried to balance some much needed R&R with a boat-ton of work that I had to do for my passion project. All of this and all of you are my passion project, in case you were wondering - and it’s what keeps me inspired and motivated. But now that summer is over, it is time to get back into the rhythm. So here’s what I got going on….

  • Labor Day has come to pass and with it marks the anniversary of my mother’s death. This is of course a somber time for me, but I also treasure it and hold it dear, in her honor. The reason I mention this, in what is essentially a career blog, is because I always attribute her death as a driving force behind my success.

    I admit that the years following her passing were an extremely brutal way to start my adult life, but hovering at rock bottom really only provided me with one direction in which to proceed – UP! Somewhere in the depths of despair, I found strength and resolve and a will to strive. I always say that I am who I am today because of my mom's death, as it was the one single event that changed every aspect of my life. This one is mine, but I leave this with you as food for thought as you reflect on your own life.

    Back to business and making money:

  • Tonight I am attending an options trading class to brush up on some hedging strategies for my personal trading account. As you know the market has seen a straight shot up since the election, which is great but it also leaves us exposed, should it all fall to pieces. Putting on some hedges in order to protect against downside risk seems like a good idea to me, but I am no expert and want to learn more. As I prepare for this class, I have been looking at my own portfolio and am pondering the following:  buy NKE on the dip?

  • Interesting reading: For those of you who worked at Merrill, you may remember Harley Bassman aka the Convexity Maven. Harley is a brilliant guy and my former partner in Meet the Markets initiative. I recently caught up with Harley, who has spent the last decade working at PIMCO’s crappy office location in Newport Beach, CA. Attached is Harley’s latest publication – a must read if you follow the debt markets:  http://convexitymaven.com/images/Convexity_Maven_-_Not_the_Sharpest_Knife_.pdf

Cool Things

1.  Cool things continue as I have been asked to speak on a panel at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women this October. This conference is one of the premier women’s conferences and is attended by 10,000 participants. This year’s key note speaker is Amal Clooney, an accomplished Human Rights Lawyer who found stardom through her marriage to Actor George Clooney - Go figure, America. Conference Link

2.  I am working on a second edition of my book “Lose the Gum” which will include a few more chapters including one on the topic of harassment in the workplace. The book will be released in September.

3.  And the coolest, most dearest thing that happened to me this week was when I received an email from Saint Basil’s Academy inviting me to be a guest speaker at a new program they are developing on Women’s Leadership and Business. Saint Basil’s is a tiny, private, all girl’s highschool outside of Philadelphia. The reason that this is so special to me, is that my mother, who died when I was just eighteen years old, went to this highschool. The school randomly came across my book, found my website and reached out to me. This all just happened today and means more to me than all else combined. 

The Art of Networking

The Art of Networking

Networking is both a necessary tool and useful skill that everyone utilizes at some point in their careers. For many people however, networking can be a dreadful process of meaningless small talk which one hopes to exchange for some type of career chit which is why it can feel forced and contrived. And if that is how you feel about networking, then I can assure you that you probably aren’t going about it in the right way. I would even venture to say that your style of networking is probably ineffectual and I doubt that it is bearing any meaningful fruit.

Cool Things

Cool Things

I am on vacation this week at my friend’s Lake House in the Adirondacks which is a Cool Thing in itself. Thanks Damian for being such a generous friend and graciously lending me your lake house for the week! This is the place that I came to work on my book two years ago. It is truly a writer’s paradise.

Managing your Manager

Managing your Manager

Equally as important as the role you have, is the manager to whom you report. Your manager can make or break your career; a good manager can give you the support and exposure you need to attain the recognition you deserve while a bad manager could set you so far back that it could take years to recover. Not only does your manager determine your fate within the company, but they are responsible for setting the tone of the working environment which impacts the culture of the department.

Cool Things

Cool Things

Life is moving at a fast and furious pace and if we don't stop for a moment in order to acknowledge the cool things that we experience then they vanish from our minds. In an effort to give these moments a longer life span, I thought that I would jot them down and share them with you. So here is a short list of what I’ve seen, heard, read or did this week that may either interesting, useful or just plain fun.

Be Bold!

Be Bold!

During the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, my mom got me a job at her insurance company in Livingston, NJ. It was the subrogation unit, independently run by a man whom we called Mr. Famular. The subro business was booming and Mr. Famular needed additional help, so I recommended my best friend who was home from college for the summer. We were trained by one of the other summer students who had worked there several summers before and had more knowledge and greater tenure. Mr. Famular gave us a fair amount of autonomy and so we were mostly left to our own devices. As such, the lack of an influential force allowed our personal personalities to shape our professional demeanors.

Success Begins in the Mind

Success Begins in the Mind

Since I wrote about impostor syndrome, I have received a number of emails with people sharing their own personal stories; it even became a topic of conversation at a party that went to last weekend. I therefore thought it might be worthwhile to unpack this further because impostor syndrome is only one of the many symptoms that result from a lack of self-confidence.

Rules vs. Culture

Rules vs. Culture

Throughout the years, financial institutions have had their share of issues regarding fraud. As such, fines have been imposed and sweeping regulations have been implemented. After the financial crisis, banks focused on developing tougher rules through enhanced policies and procedures. Tighter controls have also been put into place to mitigate risk against nefarious behaviors. But despite all of these efforts, misconduct continues to plague our industry.

The Intern

The Intern

Last week rising seniors came to Wall Street to begin their summer internships. The goal is, of course, to try to obtain an offer by the end of the summer in order secure a full-time gig post graduation. The field for front office jobs is highly competitive as the industry remains cautious and somewhat apprehensive about hiring. You want to rise above and stand out amongst your peers. Always try and be memorable for the right reasons.

Who Do You Think You Are? | Combatting Impostor Syndrome

Who Do You Think You Are?  | Combatting Impostor Syndrome

Some of the smartest and most successful people I’ve known have confided to me, that their greatest fear is, the world will discover they are a fraud. Initially, I was taken aback by this because these individuals were quite accomplished. But while writing my book, I researched issues of confidence and found this was a real psychological condition known as Impostor Syndrome.

Negotiation Critical: Why Negotiating is More Important than Ever in Closing the Gender Pay Gap

Negotiation Critical:  Why Negotiating is More Important than Ever in Closing the Gender Pay Gap

In October of last year, New York City joined a number of US jurisdictions (full list below) in passing a law that bans hiring employers from asking candidates for their salary history. Since most hiring companies determined a candidates salary base some percentage increase over their last salary, the pay gap would follow women throughout their careers.