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'You've got to deliver'

Mentor in the mirror: Sheila Wellington


By Stephanie Morris

(CNN) -- You pass them in the halls on their way to corner offices.

You see them having power lunches with others at their level and you read about their latest accomplishments on the company Intranet.

But how do you get to be a part of the upper echelon of management in your company?

Sheila Wellington, CEO of Catalyst, lays out what she says are the tools in her new book, "Be Your Own Mentor: Strategies from Top Women on the Secrets of Success."

Wellington has been with Catalyst -- a nonprofit research firm that works to advance women in business -- since 1993. That's when she left her job as the first woman secretary of Yale. She says the time had come for her to give something back.

"I felt (that) aside from writing checks, I'd never really paid my dues. And I felt, 'If I'm ever going to do it, this is the time and the place.'"

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"Be Your Own Mentor" strives to be a guide-on-paper to the maze of politics, policies and people in the workplace. Some research indicates, in fact, that women in business tend to have fewer mentors than men. Wellington's book is particularly useful for women without mentors.

Wellington takes the time to instruct others on how they can succeed -- and she also lets some of those at the top know how to give back and help others.

"The critical issue is to have a mentor, period," Wellington says. "You want a mentor who has clout and who can be helpful to you."

The search

Mentoring sounds great on paper, but in the real world of work, a lot of people don't understand what a difference it can really make. Wellington says an advantage that mentors bring to the table is access to informal networks.

And she says one of the best parts about hearing what mistakes a mentor has made is that you can then avoid them.

Once you're sold on the idea of having a mentor, it's time to find one.

Wellington says her favorite example of how not to go about seeking out a mentor is reflected by a quote in her book.

Carol Bartz, CEO, chairwoman and president of Autodesk says that when someone asks her directly to be a mentor, "I don't know what that means: Be their mom? Be responsible for their career success? Share my life secrets with them? I advise women to build a mosaic of experts and guides that will cover each of the areas where you need specific information and advice. Someone who's good at office politics, someone who's a good time manager, and so on."



In Wellington's opinion, "It's a little bit like a stealth mission."

The underlying message in the book is that not only do you have to be strategic about your career, but you also have to be strategic about picking a mentor.

"You have to think about what you need advice in, what in your long term do you most need help with, and who is the person who sat in the chair you want to sit in? Then think about someone who's got it, who's been friendly and where there's a good vibe."

With the changing economy and widespread fear of layoffs, having multiple mentors can only be a good career investment.

"In these days with career change and job turnover, you don't want to put all of your eggs in one basket."

Three tips from Wellington for your mentor search:

•  Think about if someone has reached out to you

•  Ask them a question or two, and then ask them for advice

•  Let the relationship flourish from there

The negotiating table

Wellington draws on her own experiences to help others succeed without having to jump the same hurdles. She focuses on the skill she considers to be a necessity in women: negotiating.

"Women are frequently afraid of negotiating and you've got to not be afraid of how to do it. It's something that I've learned the hard way --- that money matters. You've got to know when you've reached your break point and you've got to understand what your bottom line is."

Sheila Wellington
Sheila Wellington  

When Wellington went out for her first real professional job in 1968, she had a degree in public health and she took the job for $12,000 a year.

"I said it was awfully low, and the guy that I was going to work for said to me, 'I can get anybody with your qualifications for $10,000 a year and a hot lunch."

Wellington has career advice for women at all levels of the game.

"I think one thing women just entering the work force have to know is that performance is key. You've got to deliver. One thing both entry-level and middle managers have to know is if you don't blow your own horn no one else will. Don't sit around and wait to be noticed, make sure people know about the great work you're doing.

"For the top-level women, time is of the essence. This is about balancing work and personal life. If you have 20 things you have to do in a day, figure out the top 10 that are really critical and let the rest go."


• Book reviews: Career guides and guises
June 5, 2001
• Book review: Good spin on office politics
May 29, 2001
• Book review: Consider 'Annie' asked
March 27, 2001
• Welcome to the girls' club
May 3, 2001
• When clothes make the careerist
March 19, 2001
• He clicked, she clicked
January 17, 2001
• Women and men: Payday
December 12, 2000
• Dual earners: Double trouble
November 13, 2000

• Random House

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