We all can readily recognize the value of a well-constructed mentoring program in today’s world. However, when I was starting out in the early 1980’s mentoring was virtually unheard of in general, especially for women. The “Good Old Boys’ Networks” were exclusive to the point of being aggressively anti-women.
As a young, single mother starting out in corporate benefits this attitude did not work at all in my world. My goal was to provide the best life possible for my son, and to do that I felt I needed to excel in both sales and especially leadership. To that end, I started joining Dads’ clubs to gain confidence and break the ice. The ease with which I assimilated into the clubs transferred remarkably well to my business colleagues, and within 6 months I was asked to move and develop an underproductive territory.
Here, in the middle of nowhere, I found a friend, a colleague, confidante that would challenge me to be better in every aspect of my life. He challenged me to think beyond my one territory…to gain perspective of the company and what I could accomplish professionally. Jerry had two small daughters, so he also challenged me (often to my chagrin) on raising my son. In depth discussions were conducted at least weekly, often more if we were ever in the same place at the same time.
During this time, the company had hired a new CEO who took notice of the fact that I was not in a regional office as everyone else at the time. He liked the idea. Jim brought all the consultants together to ask our input on working in and out of regional offices. A great deal of insight was gained at that original conference, and we felt a pride in the company we had not felt for a while.
The final night of the conference was a dinner for all home office staff and consultants. Jim asked me what I thought of the gathering and I answered enthusiastically. However, never being one to stand on formality, I stated it was Halloween and I thought parents should be home with their children. I have always been fearless. He laughed and took it in stride. The next conference was a few months later, and once again, Jim asked my opinion. “Well, Jim, you did not pick a holiday and I am grateful. You did, however pick my birthday!” Jim arranged to have a desert at the final dinner especially for me and had everyone sing “Happy Birthday!” From that time on, Jim followed and guided my career talking with me at intervals to push me to a higher level.
Without the guidance and support of both Jerry and Jim, I do not know if my career would have progressed as it did. Without their thoughts on “balance”, responsibilities, setting priorities, etc., it could have been a great deal different. As it turned out, I will be forever grateful to these two wonderful mentors.