Over the past 14 years, thanks to social media, I have had the privilege of meeting inspiring marketing, branding, customer experience, leadership, and gender equality experts. One of these experts is Susan Colantuono, a leadership expert based in Rhode Island. Susan has graciously appeared here on my blog twice over the last few years, and we recently continued our conversation about leadership, specifically about the importance of mentorships. Highlights follow Susan’s bio, and links to previous Q&A’s are provided at the end.
Susan Colantuono is an internationally renowned author, speaker, and mentor/coach. She discovered, developed, and introduced to the world a definition of leadership and four keys that have transformed women’s leadership development and initiatives to close the leadership gender gap – including The Missing 33% of the career success equation for women. Her TED Talk entitled, “The Career Advice You Probably Didn’t Get” has garnered over four million views.
QUESTION: In your book Make the Most of Mentoring, you wrote that “we need to rethink (the concept) of mentoring.” Why?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: I wrote Make the Most of Mentoring as a way to strengthen mentoring programs – especially those designed to help all women advance. I’ve been told that it is hugely valuable for marginalized men as well. There are many reasons why we need to rethink the concept of mentoring, the whole first section of my book covers them, but for now, let me list two:
 The importance of mentorship in career progression has been an identified tool for women’s advancement since the 1970s, and yet, since the proliferation of formal programs in the 1980s, these mentoring programs have only marginally moved the needle in terms of women in senior roles.
 Initial research into the role of mentoring in the success of executive men focused on the process and relationship, and not on the content. Thus, most mentoring programs do nothing to address The Missing 33%, in other words, the importance of business, strategic, and financial acumen in career advancement.
QUESTION: In your book, you shared a quote from Professor Gale Evans of Georgia Tech: “There’s only one rule that matters, one rule that I have not seen written about in any book, article, or website. That rule is this: Every woman must always play on the women’s team. Why? Because every time any woman succeeds in business, your chances of succeeding in business increase. And every time a woman fails in business, your chances of failure increase.” While true in theory, often women become competitive in the workplace. How can that change to create a women’s team mindset?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: I am a huge advocate for supporting other women, but I think that the expectation to not compete is unattainable. When resources (e.g., promotions, plum assignments) are scarce, everyone competes.
(An aside, why don’t we hear about the problem of men competing? Answer: sexism).
So, my guidance is this, declare what you want, always put your best foot forward when advocating for why you should achieve it, do not denigrate a woman with whom you might be competing, and if another woman gets the position/assignment, support her as best you can.
SHARE THIS: Every woman must always play on the women’s team. ~Gale Evans via Susan Colantuono #WomensTeam #DebbieLaskeysBlog
SHARE THIS: If another woman gets [a desired] position/assignment, support her as best you can. ~Susan Colantuono #GenderEquality #DebbieLaskeysBlog
QUESTION: Before someone enters into a mentoring engagement/relationship, what questions should they ask themselves?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: Key questions for a protege/mentee to ask: What are my goals for this mentoring relationship. In other words, what concrete new skills, knowledge, experience do I want to gain and how can this person be a resource to me? If you can’t answer this question decline mentoring until you can. If you are tapped on the shoulder by a mentor, the question is different. What development needs do you (the mentor) see in me that you’d like us to address? The other absolutely crucial question is this: Am I committed to following through on any agreements we make about things like reading, practice opportunities, scheduled meetings, etc. Again, if your answer is equivocal, decline…for now.
QUESTION: Who do you consider to be the most important mentors in your life, and why?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: My first mentor was Dave Chichester, my first corporate boss. (Yes, bosses can be mentors, mentors can be sponsors, sponsors can be bosses and mentors. Do NOT think of these relationships as either/or relationships, they are a Venn diagram.) He gave me CAKE mentoring. (Helped me develop my Confidence and Encouraged me to take a position I would have NEVER considered.) Another was Kaleel Jamison who also gave me CAKE mentoring. (She helped me develop my Aptitude for facilitation and Konnected me with career resources.)
QUESTION: Academy Award winning filmmaker/director Steven Spielberg has said, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” What does this quote mean to you?
SUSAN COLANTUONO: To some extent, I agree with Spielberg’s quote. As mentors, we never want to push someone to become a mini-me. However, at the same time, part of mentoring is to help others develop skills that we have, especially business, strategic, and financial acumen. So, I’d say there’s a difference between developing a skill (moving the mentee toward our image) and manifesting that skill in our own unique way (creating themselves).
SHARE THIS: As mentors, we never want to push someone to become a mini-me. ~Susan Colantuono #Mentorship #LeadershipTip #DebbieLaskeysBlog
My profound thanks to Susan for returning to my blog and sharing her inspiring thoughts.
Image Credit: Bryan Garces via Unsplash.
Links to previous Q&A’s here on my blog:
Do You Use Your Voice to Lift Up Women Leaders?
December 10, 2022
As We Celebrate 1920, Work Remains to See More Women in Top Leadership Roles
August 26, 2021 (Women's Equality Day)
Connect with Susan at these links:
Ted Talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/susan_colantuono_the_career_advice_you_probably_didn_t_get