Follow the Leader

'Follow the Leader' (a children's rhyme)

Follow me/ Wherever I go/ And do what I do/ When I tell you so

As children, we did as we were told and we followed our parents and our teachers. As adults, making one’s way through the business world can demand more than “follow the leader,” and that’s where a mentor can come in. To celebrate our 42nd anniversary, we wanted to look at this special business relationship that has significantly benefited so many individuals with whom we’ve worked.

A good mentor can have a positive influence in many different ways, and it can be difficult to pinpoint exactly how the mentor relationship works. Aisling McDonagh, Executive Director of the Home & Family Group at Hearst Digital Media, feels that the mentor relationship is very case-specific. She often finds that effective mentoring involves addressing specific hurdles (e.g. negotiating job titles, salary increases, and difficult relationships at work).

Anne Hrubala, VP of Sales at SourceMedia, suggests, “To effect change you need to be present and participate as you go—that’s the biggest challenge.” In her opinion, a good mentor needs to show vulnerability, tough love, and be able to share personal examples of both career successes and failures. The last part is important—sharing specific stories (both positive and negative) lends credibility to a mentor, which is necessary in building trust. Vanessa Cognard, Associate Publisher at WebMD, adds to the list that a mentor should be a good listener and give honest feedback. “A mentor can’t just tell you what to do and have it all work out….You have to plan for the unexpected.”

Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images
Photo by Wavebreakmedia Ltd/Wavebreak Media / Getty Images

Cognard notes that her view on mentoring has shifted dramatically over the years. Citing Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Cognard mentioned that the career trajectory is no longer linear. Rather, it's more of a jungle gym. As such, a mentor is no longer necessarily someone who is above you in title, but rather someone who can offer a different perspective. Hrubala agrees, emphasizing the importance of knowing what you want from your mentor before you select someone. Sometimes a mentor isn’t necessarily for linear career advancement, but rather to help expand your knowledge of other professional arenas. “Focus on someone who’s in a part of the business where you want to learn more,” she suggests. “It’s really about taking a thoughtful approach.”

In Cognard’s view, the mentor stands to gain from the relationship as well. Besides providing another point of view for the mentee, the mentor also gains “a beautiful, new, refreshed perspective” of one’s own career. By opening up, it changes the relationship and empowers the mentee to help as well. As McDonagh notes, “Mentoring never stops, and it never should. It’s like having a child—being a mother never stops, even if they’re out of the house.” For her, the satisfaction comes from passing on the torch and watching her mentees become mentors themselves.

While there is no one way to be an effective mentor, the common theme we heard from sales leaders was that mentoring is about sharing knowledge, perspective, and celebrating the successes of others. This support is ultimately what helps individuals at every stage of their career grow, develop, and navigate the ever-changing landscape of the professional world.


Interviews by Cynnie King, written by Stephanie Kronenberg