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Did Mentorship Make Me a Dangerous Woman?

Recently, the editorial director of TEDWomen, Pat Mitchell, wrote a platform article about mentoring in which she described all mentees and mentors as …“dangerous women in the making.” This made me wonder about my own experiences with mentoring.

Did I become a “dangerous woman” because I often looked to leaders along my career path to provide me with counsel? Better yet, did I help create any “dangerous women” once I was in the position to provide counsel?

As Mitchell describes it, a “dangerous woman” is one who speaks the truth and who is fearless.

It so happens that in one of my very first job interviews in the corporate sector I would come face-to-face with someone I would consider a dangerous woman–the marketing director of a well-known national jewelry retailer and my prospective boss. So many things about this woman impressed me and even frightened me a bit, I must confess.

In the last moments of a solid second interview where I felt I performed quite well, she expressed to me her secret: That she did NOT know everything. “Lisa,” she said to me, “…one of the reasons I have my position in this company is because I have surrounded myself with incredibly talented people.” Being relatively new to the world of corporate interviews, I was surprised by this remark—surprised by the authenticity of it.

I also took this remark to heart. Before I worked my first day in that job as a marketing assistant, that remark made me WANT to be one of those “incredibly talented people” she referred to. I wanted her to someday think of me that way, which is remarkable because we had just spent a short period of time together, yet I already felt that I didn’t want to let her down.

While this might not have been the formal workplace mentor/mentee situation we often read about in LinkedIn stories, to this day it has take-away value that is inspirational and enduring, which are hallmarks of the mentorship experience. She would impart many more words of wisdom to me in my two-year tenure there. Some of the words were tough to hear at times, but she knew when and how to deliver them, the mark of a great mentor.

Leaving that position when a new opportunity presented itself was harder because of her; I still did not wish to let her down. I realized, however, coming to know her as I did, that moving forward was exactly what she would want me to do unless the company could match that type of opportunity, which it could not. In our last office conversation, my supposition about that was definitely confirmed and reflected in the warm and heartfelt tone of that conversation.

Much of what I would come to know about the role mentors play in work and in life was learned in that marketing assistant’s position. I thought often of that learning experience as I progressed along my career path and I heard those very words about “not knowing everything,” coming out of my own mouth when I interviewed for my first editorial assistant. Little did I know how empowering they would become.

But let’s get back to our dangerous woman theory. Perhaps, being dangerous can be the mark of a great mentor if it’s interpreted to mean someone who not only possesses the knowledge, but then has the power to pass it on like she did to me — and then like I did with my assistant candidates.

Being dangerous will only get you so far, though. Great mentors also speak with authenticity, they inspire from a place of wisdom, they recognize when you need a push, they encourage you to push yourself and then they empower you to move on—and if you’re lucky the relationship you have developed will create a bond that will last lifetime. I am so happy and proud to say mine did.

For more information on mentorship, check our Purpose page for the first in our series on the topic!

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