Working with mentors and giving back
Learning from mentors
I love learning and some of my best experiences come from mentors. Some large companies formalize mentorships, and that is okay. I tend to like finding people I respect, and once I get to know them, I ask them to become a mentor. Some people have been my mentors for years, some of them are new—and some I have lost in job transitions. I am always honored to be mentored, regardless of the length of time, or just while I’m working at a company. To have someone take interest in your life and career is a special thing.
One of my great mentoring experiences was with the person who hired me at Microsoft. He threw all kinds of things at me that I needed to learn. I learned by stretching, sometimes reaching beyond my comfort zone. He set very high standards. It wasn’t enough to learn something, I had to master it.
As much as he was giving me this opportunity to learn and stretch, perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that I own the perception of what ‘good’ means. Other people can define good performance or good learning, but they are defining it for themselves, not for you. I learned I have to be satisfied with my own work, and no one can give that to you. Praise from others is great, but as you move up the organization, the pool of people to praise you gets smaller and smaller, as do the opportunities to greatly exceed expectations (because expectations are set pretty high!). So you need to define what good means to you…and you have to learn to appreciate your own accomplishments.
From a mentor at Oracle I learned that when things get intense, you need to remain calm. As a leader, amping up negative emotion or stress just makes things worse. One of the best skills of a leader is self-awareness — a sense of how others perceive you. When things get intense, step back and ask how other people might be reading your behavior, and act the way you want to be perceived, even if inside you are just as scared or angry as those who work for you. I am not saying it is easy, but by working hard to create stronger mental muscles, persevering will help you reach standards you set for yourself!
Learning, meeting standards, satisfying your own sense of accomplishment…none of that means anything if you burn yourself out, and burn out those around you. You have to control your hours. You have to have compassion with yourself — in making mistakes and learning, it takes time to do the things you love, and be with those you love. Learning and execution have to be sustainable or your successes won’t last long, nor will your career.
Giving back – learn by contributing
I find being a mentor one of the best learning experiences, because those I mentor challenge me, often without even realizing they are doing so. People have such wide range of experiences that they see even common things through lenses I can’t even imagine. So when they share their ideas and perspectives their questions and insights, I’m always amazed at what I learn as I’m sharing my own perspectives.
I was at a big Microsoft sales meeting and a person came up to me and said that I helped him grow and get a new job in the company. He didn’t tell my boss…it was a private conversation. But I felt very fulfilled.