Maria Davis and her grandmother, Yolanda Dean

It seems I've always had mentors, even long before I knew what that word meant. I didn't ask for mentors. They were just there.

 

My grandmother Yolanda Dean was a perfect example of a mentor and a feminist. She raised seven children, five of whom she raised by herself after my grandfather died in an airplane crash. (He was a pilot.) At that point she knew she had to do whatever it took. She was the only one who could take care of herself and her children.  

 

She was dedicated and committed. She had to be strong and be an example to her four daughters and my father. She led by example, and taught them to take care of themselves. She taught them to lead the next generation to be as good as, if not better than, you.   

  

I had the opportunity recently to listen to Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook Inc. and author of "Lean In", address PricewaterhouseCoopers about her new book, "Lean in for Graduates," and  I realized it's my turn to mentor. Thank you, Sheryl, for bringing to light what is in each of us, and encouraging us to share with the next generation of mentors.    

 

I've summarized some of her tips, but you can read the list online.   

 

1. Proceed and be bold

You can't get the job (account, business, etc.) if you don't apply. "Fake it til you make it." You'll learn as you go.

 

2. Break long-term goals into short-term steps 

Just like climbing a tree ... one limb at a time. Short-term steps are concrete and measurable. Don't map it out or you'll miss opportunities. If Sandberg had mapped out her long-term goals, she would not be at Facebook because there was no Internet, and company co-founder Mark Zuckerberg was in grade school.

 

3. Sit at the table

Men overestimate their own performance and remember it slightly better than it was. Women underestimate their performance. You've earned the right to be at the table. And be confident, as confidence begets confidence.

 

4. Don't ask, 'Will you be my mentor?'

Leaders pick protégés based on performance. If you excel, you'll gain mentors. It's hard for women to find mentors because there are fewer women in leadership roles. Start a professional women's group. You can achieve more in a group.

 

5. Understand and challenge gender bias

There is a balancing act between confidence and being liked. Confident women aren't usually liked. Awareness begets fairness. Advocate for and support other women.

 

6. Make your partner a real partner

Fifty-fifty is better for everyone, whether it be marriage, children, careers, business partners, etc.

 

My grandmother demonstrated many of these attributes in a time when it wasn't well received for women. She was one of many leaders who paved the path for the rest of us. Here's to leading the next generation of successful women.

 

Maria Davis is a senior account executive with Business Record sales. She can be reached at mariadavis@bpcdm.com.