Throughout my career in technology I have found that living by a strict rule book may not be the best way to create meaningful achievements and help someone grow. After all rigidity has never been synonymous with progress. Since beginning my career in technology in 2013, I have grown to take a leadership role as Head of Marketing at SEMrush, a rapidly growing technology company that deals with online visibility, and what I have learned since about living and working by a set of rules may surprise you. As my responsibilities expanded and I found myself surrounded by a growing team of extremely talented women, I have discovered that as a top manager of a successful tech company I owed it to myself and to these women to help them make a crack in the proverbial glass ceiling. I wanted to make sure that they could grow and develop with my help as their mentor. As I tried to help them, I quickly discovered that leading by example may work better for women than more traditional one-on-one mentorship we keep hearing about. And that is when I have come up with my own mentorship rule book.
1. Lead by example.
My mentorship style has quickly evolved out of the style of leadership I follow. I am a natural born communicator. I love talking and connecting with people. However, as a top manager in a busy sector, I have quickly realized that one-on-ones may not only be useless for many women I have been working with but in fact be counterproductive to their growth and career development. I have found that leading women by example is a much better way to connect with other women who want to learn something and grow. Showing them daily how you manage a particular situation, opening up about your decision-making process, explaining your train of thought and opening up emotionally goes much further in teaching women valuable lessons than a more formal one-on-one. In many meetings awkwardness ensues and no important questions get raised. And once you get the feel of the conversation, you are always out of time. That never happens when you open up and lead by example.
2. Stick to your values
For each individual these values may be different. For me they are honesty and trust. This is what my team members get from me. Absolute honesty throughout the working process about every aspect of their performance and all aspects of the business of running a team. While this may be harsh sometimes, especially when it’s time for some criticism, this approach completely cuts out Machiavellian workplace politics or gossiping. I take pride in the fact that my team members will never hear me talking about them behind their backs. The other side of this value coin is trust. This is what my team members get from me 100% of the time. Installing honesty and trust at the core of your leadership and mentorship style allows you to give the women you are working with full responsibility over what they do and allows them to grow quicker.
3. Do not be the Iron Lady of the workplace
In many industries women have been encouraged to show no emotion, to appear man-like and leave their empathy at the door. I find this style of leadership and this way of mentoring women extremely counterproductive. I have noticed firsthand that whenever I show emotion and am open about being confused, sad or angry about the work process to the women I work with, they only respond with more respect for me. They do not see me as a lifeless statue but instead as a person of flesh and blood, a teammate who gets frustrated and sad and angry every day in the same way that they do. This allows them to see not only their challenges but also their abilities to overcome difficult emotions, to make tough decisions. They no longer see me as this go-getter who sees no obstacles but as someone who sees these challenges and finds ways to overcome them.
4. Challenge women to achieve milestones they have not been able to achieve (yet)
If you challenge women to achieve a milestone they have not been able to tackle at this point in their careers, it will encourage them to think outside the box. I always encourage them to look for a better version of themselves and have them grow into that future version of who they can be.
My leadership becomes asking questions. One time I assigned a complex project with a specific employee in mind. We wanted to create our own marketing award and a ceremony at Sydney Opera House. When I assign a project, I typically envision that it is already done by this person and I have no doubt in my mind that it will be. So this time I assigned the project to one of my teammates and four months later we saw ourselves flying to Australia to seal the deal.
5. Get to know your teammate
I take my time to get to know the women I work with fully, which goes beyond just knowing what project they are responsible for. Business trips often help with that as they promote an environment in which I am not just a boss for them but also a mentor of whom they can ask questions, to whom they can express concerns and with whom they can share their thoughts. This type of environment helps break barriers and create a more open work environment. I use this opportunity to communicate with the women I work with at every chance I get.
Following these five basic rules has allowed me to be a better mentor to the women I work with than any one-on-one discussion with them ever would. It is important to remember when you mentor women at work that many of them need to be encouraged and inspired at the start of the project and given free rein to act as they embrace their responsibilities. Women are courageous when they are in charge of the project but need to be empowered in the beginning. Micromanaging through constant one-on-ones is not a good way to do it but leading by example absolutely is.