Ms. BDH of Birmingham wrote to us with two questions:
- Which is better, on-the-job or off-site training? And
- Is there a gender discrepancy when it comes to mentoring?
No matter how many degrees you have or outside training you receive, being able to actually do a thing will determine your success in the workplace jungle. Theory is fine, but the rubber hits the road when you have to do what you have learned, whether you learned it on or off the job. You cannot simply show up with academic credentials – or even experience from somewhere else – and expect to be a star in a new place without first understanding the place, what they want you to do, and how they want you to do it.
Now let’s be perfectly clear. Organizations want innovation and creativity, at least most say they do. They want to take advantage of new ideas and skills. The big BUT is that you have to demonstrate understanding of the “how we do it here” before anyone will hear your ideas about “how it can be done better”.
So Ms. BDH, get all the on-the-job and off-site training you can get. Become a student of your field and your organization. The real power is in your ability to execute what you have learned.
What about mentors? The best students are those who know what they do not know and have a hunger for learning. Once you open yourself to learning how things work, what’s okay, and what’s not okay, it is amazing how many people will be there to help you – to mentor you. Mentors come in all shapes, sizes, genders, colors, and levels inside and outside the organization. Don’t confuse mentors with sponsors – those who can open doors for you and make things happen – we will talk more about sponsors at another time. While a sponsor can certainly be a mentor, mentors are most often not sponsors.
Women and people of color often have difficulty connecting with mentors. That is one of the reasons I wanted to write this column and do the work I do. If you do not hear anything else I say, hear this: Do not shut the door to being mentored simply because the mentor does not look like you. Accept mentoring from a polka dot pig if that polka dot pig has information and experience you need to better understand a situation. I know, there are a lot of knuckle heads who may not want to help you. I also know there are a lot of good people – men and women of all races and backgrounds – who will help you navigate the workplace jungle. You let them know you are ready to learn!
Thank you Ms. BDH for reading the column and submitting your questions. We hope others will do the same. You can leave your questions and comments below.