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Jungle Gym

Facebook CEO, Sheryl Sandberg: Serial Mentee, Serial Mentor

I just finished reading Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” and couldn’t stop thinking about two of the chapters. Understandably, Chapter 5 – “Are You My Mentor?” struck a chord. After all, I speak on and train my clients’ employees and association members in the skills they need to succeed as mentors and mentees. And here was Sandberg making my point so clearly. No matter how privileged, smart, talented and lucky you are…no one does it alone. Being mentored and being a mentor are integral to your success.

Jungle GymThe other chapter that captured my attention is Chapter 4 – “It’s a Jungle Gym, Not a Ladder.” For years, I’ve been saying, “There’s no longer a career ladder to climb.”  Sandberg and I agree on this.

Young people starting out used to get that entry level job and over the years, high performers could systematically move up the ladder with incremental promotions in one company. Today’s flattened organizations have pulled out most of the rungs and thinned the ranks of middle management dramatically. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2010, the average American had eleven jobs from age 18 to 46.

This is why the metaphor of a jungle gym makes a lot more sense (borrowed from Pattie Sellers, Senior Editor at Large, Fortune and Executive Director of Live Content, Time Inc.). “There’s only one way to get to the top of a ladder,” writes Sandberg, “but there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The jungle gym model benefits everyone, but especially women who might be starting careers, switching careers, getting blocked by external barriers, or re-entering the workforce after taking time off,” she explains. I think she’s right and I think it’s also a solid metaphor for people of color.

Even with the jungle gym view that allows you to see many different ways to get to the top (your definition) mentorship and sponsorship are critical to getting there. Studies have found that people who are mentored and sponsored report having more career success (higher pay, more promotions, and greater career satisfaction). Studies also show that people with MBA’s who mentor rise higher and earn more than their colleagues who don’t, up to $25,000 a year more according to a 2012 Catalyst study. So being a mentee allows you to learn at a much faster rate what experience alone cannot. Being a mentor supports you in walking your talk and helps you reignite your passion for what you do.

If your company or professional association has a mentoring program, my advice is to take full advantage. If it doesn’t you can seek out someone to mentor or someone to be your mentor. I’ll talk about that in my next post.

In the meantime, my book, “Aspire Higher,” tells compelling true stories of business and career mentoring success. After each story, I unpack what made each mentoring partnership so powerful. Sandberg’s book gives you her story and a clear view of her career and the mentors who generously helped her swing from one bar to the next on that career jungle gym.

Susan Bender Phelps runs Odyssey Mentoring and Leadership. She is the author of the best-selling book,” Aspire Higher,” true career and business mentoring success stories that inspire readers to use mentoring to create breakthrough results.

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