The Right Mentor: Finding Your Mirror Image
By Jenny Q. Ta
Choosing the right mentor can be a daunting process. How do you know where to start? What if the person you choose, doesn’t have time to mentor you? Or worse, what if you pick the ‘wrong’ mentor?
My very first mentor was my Mom. For a lot of women, their mothers are their first true mentors in life. But in the business world, my very first mentor and the person who taught me the most about being a woman in business, was actually a man! He was a Senior Broker at Shearson Lehman (now Morgan Stanley). When I first started working there I was about 21 or 22 years old. He was probably in his late 50s, had a big corner office, and would come in early around 5am before the markets opened and work until about 5pm, four to five days a week. I was working in the Operations Department at the time on new accounts and cashiering. Every now and then I had time to talk to him, usually after hours when everyone had started to go home. I would be finishing up in the clerk area, referred to as ‘the cage’ and he would come over to the cage and talk to me on his way out or sometimes invite me to his office. These chats became more frequent and we developed a sort of father- daughter relationship over time. It was a natural progression. I don’t even know if he knew he was mentoring me, or if I knew he was mentoring me at the time. We started the conversation as friends and it grew into a mentorship.
At the time I met him there were not a lot of women working on Wall Street, this was around 1991-1992. He would ask me, “What do you want to do? What do you want to be? Do you want to stay working in the cage forever? If you do, there is nothing wrong with that but you need to decide so you can work toward what you want.”
I answered him bluntly and said, “I would love to be in your shoes.” That was the first aggressive thing I had ever said in business but I meant it. I wanted that corner office, that title of Senior Broker, that paycheck! I was dreaming of being him one day. I believe he saw that fire in my eyes and he continued to mentor me the year and a half I worked there. The most important piece of advice he gave me was “Never accept ‘No’ from a man or a woman.” He told me that if I wanted to be on Wall Street and if I was ever going to walk his path then I should never bow down or look down, only up. He said, “No man will be your superior, you are equal.” I couldn’t believe he said that to me as a white man in a position of power knowing that I was a minority being both a woman and Asian. It had a profound effect on me. Of course, he also gave me some basic steps to take to reach my goals in terms of courses of action, licenses I need to get, etc. But he ultimately influenced me to take the career path that I did walk upon for 18 years. Today I mentor many people- my coworkers, my staff of employees, my friends.
The core attribute for not only a mentor, but also a business partner is to find someone you click with. Women have a sixth sense about these things, even more so than men. When looking for a mentor you should see a mirror image of yourself in your mentor. If you don’t see a mirror image of yourself in that mentor then that might not be the mentor that you should take advice from because they could contradict who you are as a person- your values, your beliefs. When I look back at my mentor, I see a lot of similarities between us and when I look at those I mentor, I see myself in them. The most important thing is to make sure when you look at them, and not just physically, but at their heart and soul you feel that it matches yours. If you do this, you can not select wrong.