Lauren. Relationships. Mentors, Role Models, Heroes and Leaders

posted April 28th, 2009 by Janet Graham - One Comment

I asked Lauren about the relationships in her life which have had the biggest impact on her work and career life. And she said: “I think my mentors had a big impact.”

Lauren was very junior when her first mentor walked into her office, sat down and said: “you know Lauren, you just make sure that you tell them exactly where you want to go, don’t be in a job longer than two years at a junior level.” He was terribly senior and he took the time to encourage her, telling her “come on, you can do it, you can do it” and she has never forgotten it. At the time he walked into her office and sat down she says she was so shocked, first because he was so senior and second because he would take the time to talk to her about her career. She hadn’t been in the job for long; the bank had transferred her to Toronto from Ottawa and she was relatively new in her position. In fact, she hadn’t even thought about her next step, although she says it usually didn’t take her long in a job before she started eyeing the next one; what she wanted to do next. She simply remembers being shocked that this senior person would take an interest in her and her career.

Another fellow who mentored her when she returned from London to work in the corporate group in Toronto (before leaving to go to the regulatory agency) was ultimately the reason she returned to the bank after working at an international NGO, instead of going to a competitor from whom she had a better offer. This fellow was not her direct boss but he was very good to her.

She recalled these two fellows at the bank first and then named another person who had been extremely good to her at the regulatory agency. Lauren says this person was instrumental in her promotion to director at the regulatory agency. She says he was tough but big enough that if he made a mistake he could admit it. In Lauren’s words… “and boy he could tear a strip off you in the shake of a… … and it didn’t matter whether there were people around or whatever… … he never did it to me in person. He did it to me in an email once and he was wrong and he was excellent about it. He apologized profusely for his mistake.” And they went on to work very well together on a major financial institution debacle which was a very big stretch in Lauren’s career.

Given the flat organization structure at the regulatory agency, the time came when there was nowhere for Lauren to go, so this same mentor floated the idea of a job at an international NGO to her. And Lauren asked her husband what he thought about it and he said: “you may never get this opportunity again, why don’t you apply”.

And so she did. She completed a 40-page application, had six interviews and made a presentation to a full room of people. She says she got on the plane after two days at the NGO and thought whether I get this job or not this has been a great experience. The guy next to her on the plane wanted to talk and she looked over at him and told him she was so tired she could not even speak. And then she got the job.

Lauren says working at the NGO was another milestone in her career. “It was fabulous. It was totally different. So I feel overall I had a very, very lucky career.”

I asked Lauren whether she had role models. She said she didn’t think she had any “as a kid”. In her early years, she was surrounded by nuns. She says she had people who were kind to her and encouraging and all the rest of that stuff, saying things like, “you know, you can do whatever you want to do”. And certainly this type of encouragement was provided by her Mum. In her words: “Yes, I had that big time from my Mum, big time and a number of the nuns were wonderful but to say I had a role model, a woman in business that I knew, no.”
When I asked her whether she saw herself as a role model or mentor, she said she did. She says she really, really tried to be and sometimes she was when she didn’t even know she was and it only came out when she was leaving a job or an organization, like when she was leaving the bank or the regulatory agency or the NGO. She says she really tried to be a mentor and she was gratified when people approached her and said she had been. And when I asked whether she had mentored both men and women, she said she had mentored many more women and thought it was intentional on her part but wasn’t sure.

I asked Lauren to think of the people she considered to be leaders and to describe the qualities she associated with them. She said in her opinion leaders are people who are really smart, really sharp and not political. She says her last experience in the banking world sickened her, in terms of how political head office was. She says: “I mean, it was just… I don’t know how some of these people slept at night as far as their integrity went.” For her, a leader is definitely not political but sharp, a quick thinker, funny, inclusive and not easily deterred from doing something. She repeated several times, really, really sharp. This doctoral candidate admits her description is not a very sophisticated one but she feels it defines the essence of leadership for her.

I asked Lauren whether she saw herself as a leader and she said: “I think I was in certain situations, yes, and I think… now I don’t know if this is a strange way to answer it but I think leadership can be situational. I think when I was at the regulatory agency I was a strong leader. When I moved back to Canada and was working for the bank outside of head office I was a strong leader. When I was at the NGO I’m not sure if I was a strong leader because I was really… I didn’t have anybody to lead. I was really running projects for government officials but it wasn’t like I was a… you know we had consultants and stuff but it wasn’t like I was leading a group. So, yes, I think there were times in my career when I was an exceptional leader.”

I asked Lauren who else had inspired her. Who are your heroes? And she replied: “Well, my family. My husband has been nothing but supportive and my kids. My kids… I always wanted them to be proud of what I do.”

What Strikes Me?

Mentors can hold any position relative to the mentee

The impact senior people can have by paying attention to the most junior employees in their organization

What we remember about the behaviour of leaders, good and bad

The toxic nature of a highly political environment

The impact on our career legacy when we focus on people versus results

Political skills are not leadership skills

What Strikes You?

Please add your comments.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Lauren. Relationships. Mentors, Role Models, Heroes and Leaders”

Comment from Anonymous
Time April 28, 2009 at 11:40 am

I love your comments, people that manage up are always trumped by those who manage down. I have seen it many, many times.

Write a comment

You need to login to post comments!