My belief is that leadership is all about giving back. By giving, I am granted the gifts of life that nothing else ever could. In the last 10 years of my career, I have mentored over 30 people and currently mentor three colleagues. In all honesty, my mentees taught me much more than I could ever have given them.
Especially during Women’s History Month, I look back on men and women I have mentored and how they gave me insight and leadership development while growing their own careers.
I grew up in a time when women were not expected and often kept from having upper-level leadership roles. Fortunately, my mother instilled in me the belief system that I could be anything and anyone I wanted to be, and that I shouldn’t ever give up. This caring and talented woman was a part of a family of 13 adopted children at a time when some families adopted many children to work on their farms. No path in her life was easy, and she lived through years of abuse. Still, she persevered. She was the only child in her family to get a scholarship to college and was a straight-A student. I will never forget her saying that school was her safe haven and she never wanted to miss one single day. Although she married early, she returned to finish college as an adult and always put people first. She was my inspiration for adopting three, of our six amazing children. Every child on this earth deserves a loving family.
Through my education and leading businesses in building operations and construction, automotive battery, energy services, global facility services and government contracts, I learned profit and loss management, client relationship building and sales. Working and living internationally — I spent six years in Asia — positively changed my life and thinking forever. While running businesses in North and South America and Asia, I held mentoring relationships with people from Singapore, China, Japan, Malaysia, Brazil, India and the U.S.
One mentee in Singapore reflected that he became learned how to relate to executive level clients, moving his business relationship from vendor to partner. Another mentee from Brazil needed to have a confidential mentor to learn how to engage with a difficult boss and keep his career on track. Both mentees have progressed significantly in their careers, having been promoted over three levels. Our mentoring relationships have progressed to lifelong friendships and we stay in touch, regardless of the many miles that separate us.
As a mentor, you have the joy of watching the people grow in their careers, who often find themselves more centered and positive about their lives in general. Listening to others gives your brain a chance to completely immerse in the moment. If you set aside time carefully and ensure you won’t be interrupted or distracted, you do come to this experience with your whole, authentic self.
If you have ever considered mentoring and wondered if that was a step you should take? I wholly recommend you give it a try. Always say yes to life-changing experiences. Houston is rich in networking groups through industry, alumni associations and in your place of business.
Deborah Roberts is one of the CEOs at France-based Sodexo and has over 20 years of global leadership experience in business operations and general management. She is based in Houston.