“I admire you. You are better than you see. You have to own this.”
These 14 words hold a special place for me. One of my mentors gave me this advice early in my career. And it has helped me build the courage to continue believing in myself even when I felt like no one else did. She saw something in me that I didn’t recognize myself – I am capable and have the courage to handle anything.
I met this mentor shortly before having a horrible meeting with a boss after I started a consulting job. (Yes, I had a work life before AT&T, but can’t imagine one after.) While she is not someone who likes to be measured by her status or cares for any attention or notoriety, she made time to talk to me. And I am so grateful she did. She helped teach me to be a Go-Getter, Innovator, Risk-Taker and Leader.
There’s no question that technology is advancing faster and faster. As well-known futurist Ray Kurzweil pointed out in 2001, “We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century — it will be more like 20,000 years of progress (at today’s rate).”
So it’s crucial for all of us, now more than ever, to keep learning new skills and taking risks. However, as you see in my story, it doesn’t always come naturally. I’ve had to rely on a mentor more than once in my career, sometimes to provide guidance for tough decisions.
Today I oversee AT&T's technology and global network. And it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s part of my job to ensure we’re taking smart risks to innovate and advance our network. Technology is ever-changing and our challenge is to always stay a step ahead. I’m proud to be the first woman ever in this role.
Finding a mentor can be as easy (or hard) as reaching out to a colleague. But at AT&T, one way we enable employees to connect with each other and form mentor relationships is through specific employee groups – Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Employee Networks (ENs). These organizations reflect the diversity of our company and focus on specific business or professional development.
How to be a Mentor:
- Be available – This is a no-brainer. We’re all busy so you need to make time for what’s important.
- Be committed – You’re not just dispensing career advice, but cultivating a relationship and building trust, which requires mutual commitment.
- Be transparent – Don’t just tell someone what you think they want to hear, but what they need to hear, even if it can sometimes be uncomfortable.
How to be a Mentee:
- Be proactive – Your mentor is giving previous time in his/her schedule to get to know and help you. Use that time wisely.
- Be engaged – You’re not just getting free career advice from someone with more job experience. You’re building a relationship that, hopefully, you both learn from and enjoy.
- Be open – You might not always get what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.
Whether you are mentoring someone at work or in your personal life, remember you can have an impact. Mentors, you can help the next generation of leaders. Mentees, you can become and be part of the next generation of leaders.
91% of women senior leaders at AT&T are engaged in mentoring relationships. As an employee, that’s a number to be proud of.
A close friend of mine shared some wise words that I keep going back to: “You must have the courage to imagine and re-imagine the future. Sometimes we have to let go of the life we may have planned to accept for the one waiting for us."
Because these special people in my life have continued to spur me on, I’ve had the courage to imagine beyond my expectations in all areas of my life. So, I encourage you – find a mentor and/or a mentee today.
Melissa Arnoldi is president of AT&T Technology & Operations