Senior Vice President of Sales, Covad Communications Inc.
Note from Michael: I first mentored Lisa in 2003. At that time, she served as a Covad sales manager. Since then, Lisa has taken on several different challenges in the company, including that of Director of Product Management. Eventually however, she returned to sales, her native soil. She has since earned responsibility for all of Covad’s Sales Division, as Vice President of Sales. Here is her story, in her own words:
“I did not experience a meaningful mentoring process until late in my career – only a few years ago, and that’s in a 23-year career to date. I consider this to be a lost opportunity. I think I can be considered a classic example of a person who entered a career, worked hard to get the next promotion, changed companies periodically – and then hit a wall. Suddenly, after sailing along, I was forced to ask myself: What am I really trying to accomplish in my professional career?
“For some of us this can be crystal clear. For me it was not. The mentoring process came into my worklife not by my seeking it but by being chosen to experience it. My lost opportunity was that I did not seek it sooner. I simply did not know just how valuable mentoring would be in achieving my professional and personal goals. More importantly how it would change how I experienced everything.
“For sure, during my career I have had wonderful managers – although less so of leaders – who were great exemplars. At various points you pick up skills you want to emulate and adopt. In addition I have had a lot of coaching. However mentoring is a much more fulfilling and expansive relationship. It is an experience that challenges you to develop your very own leadership brand, which is very empowering. Developing your own leadership brand instills the focus, confidence, and dedication needed to create followers and cultivate change in a meaningful way.
“Little did I know at the time I was very ready for leader mentoring. On all fronts my professional career appeared to be going well. My work was highly regarded and I became a successful manager. However, I really had no vision of what I wanted to accomplish on a grander scale. I had no sense of how much I could actually influence decisions in my company; and I was unaware of how my work and approach to work influenced others; and most importantly, I did not know how much my personal life (both good and bad) was both contributing to and detracting from my professional growth. Basically I was working very hard but unconscious of how much some kind of ‘bigger’ work could be available to me personally and professionally.
"In a sentence, mentoring put my heart and soul back into everything in my life including work. I stopped being ‘unconscious’ about how everything is inter-related. I fixed my challenges in my personal life first. I also stopped ‘pretending’ that I had it all. Yes I was experiencing a great career yet my life at home was, let’s say, ‘challenging.’ But I wanted it all to work together. This was much bigger than work-life balance, which now seems like such an over-stated and under-valued paradigm.
“The truth is it’s much more than balance. It’s a commitment to who you are and what you want to achieve. Every relationship, your time, and your focus all need to align to that. When that experience shifted for me, I felt very empowered and self-confident. As a woman in a professional career working with mostly men, for example, I have found we tend to underestimate our abilities much more than men do. Therefore sometimes we have this feeling like we are ‘faking’ our way through it. We think: ‘Someday they will discover I really shouldn’t be at this level yet in my career, etc.’
“Men seem to be more likely to accept that they are going to succeed – they strive for it actually – and so they enjoy all the benefits and challenges of achieving their success. I was not operating from that place but mentoring really flipped that around for me. Now I honor my strengths and capitalize on them in a very aggressive and provocative manner. I put them out there and I regularly acknowledge my weaknesses to myself and others. I look to others who have those skills that complement mine. My weaknesses no longer wear me down or hold me back. Mentoring has literally released me from what felt like running on a hamster wheel, it led me to the starting the gate, and has propelled me into a life that could be much bigger than the box I had defined for myself. In addition I stopped defining my life relative to everyone else’s.
“’Normal’ is not a goal anymore. Mentoring has helped me realize that all my experiences and decisions have been the right ones for my personal path – though not necessarily for anyone else’s. I now embrace my path - past, present, and future.
“Mentoring has also connected my professional life with my personal life. Therefore at first it seemed odd to be discussing who I am outside of work at work. In the past, learning and personal growth and development courses, readings and coaching always focused on ‘me at work,’ or ‘me, at home.’ And management coaching, a therapist, spiritual counseling, etc. usually is focused on single aspects of our lives and tend not to inter-relate them end to end. But my mentoring relationship, set in my work context, very oddly started to focus on my personal life, which felt completely uncomfortable. When I accepted the process, I gained so much more from it. That was my ‘ah-ha’ moment. Lead with heart and soul at work and at home and everywhere! For me that was the connection that really helped me take my work, skills and life to the next level.
“To that end it is critical to find a mentor you can trust with your most personal challenges and opportunities. What surprised me during the process was that it revealed to me just how uncomfortable I was, not only ‘in the mentoring process’ but with anything in my life. It made me aware of how I was constantly defining and racing to the finish line and missing a lot of experience in between. What I gained from mentoring didn’t fit neatly into a box. This is not a start and finish process, I learned. It is ongoing.
“What disappointed me in the process is that I constantly wanted to learn about how to be a better manager or leader. I expected to be given this list of ten things to do to check off as I accomplished each one. It was hard to shift out of the ‘teach me how to do this’ mode and rely on myself to generate what worked for me. It was very uncomfortable, always, to sit in that room alone, being questioned and challenged by this professional mentor. But a good mentor should challenge you in the areas that are most difficult for you (us) to deal with. Find someone who is adept at helping you pinpoint those things because you will not be inclined to offer them up. It is very liberating to work through our most difficult and personal challenges. It frees us up to accomplish and experience our most important work – whatever that may be.
“Mentoring is a relationship that is built on trust. It is a two-way relationship with your mentor invested in helping you accomplish your goals. This forces you to commit to the process and to show up and work at this. Informally you can selectively choose what to work on – what to put out there and what to take away. Bit in a professional mentoring process, there is a much bigger commitment and relationship developed formally for this purpose. The outcome of that dynamic is a far superior experience.
“What advice would I give to someone who has been chosen to be mentored? Go for it! You get as much out of it as put into it so commit to making it the most worthwhile experience you can. Pick your most challenging personal experiences and share how they might be holding you back. Commit to identifying your strengths and to capitalize on them. Define how to live your life bigger than you are today. Identify a personal pastime you utterly enjoy that rejuvenates you – and start doing it. Think with your heart and soul – even at work – and after thinking… start talking. Don’t hold back! If you are uncomfortable that’s great, it only means your experience will be that much more rewarding. So let yourself go with it...
“To someone who has not been mentored yet but wants to be: ...good for you for figuring this out sooner rather than later. Find someone you can trust and whom you know will challenge you. Jointly define your mentoring relationship.
“Even though my mentoring program has ended, the process does not stop. Every day I use this in my work and life. Of course, the reality of daily living in a pressure-packed professional situation is that some things slip away from time to time – like my personal pastime practice! But now they are never too far out of mind – and get picked up again at the appropriate time when I need them most. They never really go away as they had in my pre-mentored life. Now they sometimes just take a little break!”