Ruby, Having & Being a Mentor
I met Ruby Garcia, 46, at a convening in North Carolina. She lived in nearby Chapel Hill and had been spending quite a bit of time coaching others. So, it was only natural that we got to discuss life and careers. Ruby is a Leadership Coach with a particular emphasis on Latina Leadership. This is her experience being mentored and mentoring others.
In two-three sentences how would you describe what you do most days/weeks?
I spend a lot of time cultivating relationships. Everything begins and ends with people, so I see it as one of the most important investments to make. I do 1:1 coaching and hypnosis sessions, facilitate leadership programs and am regularly creating workshops and content, primarily for the Latine community.
When did you first experience having a mentor? How did you meet them? What role have they played in your life?
My first mentor was in my first corporate job at GE Capital. As a first-generation corporate professional, I didn’t know how to navigate the corporate system, but she always looked out for me. Patty was my team leader and ended up being a mentor and sponsor for over a decade. She was very instrumental in my career development and growth; advocating for me even if I wasn’t in the room. She brought me into the room with executives when I was only 20 and helped me to build my executive presence without even knowing it. I followed Patty to two additional organizations because I had such respect and trust for her not only as a leader but as a friend. I always look back at her with admiration and gratitude knowing that she helped me become the professional I am today.
As you’ve continued to grow professionally how did you meet your other primary mentors?
Another mentor that I have had for two decades was one of my friend’s older sisters. We became friends and I always admired how smart and authentic she was. I watched as she went back to school, received an MBA, and then made a career transition. I really respected her tenacity and resourcefulness as a fellow first-generation student. I never thought I was smart enough for graduate school, but Jenny encouraged me and would reiterate her belief in me. That confidence is what made me pursue a masters. I would repeatedly tap into her knowledge, wisdom and resourcefulness. Recently, she mentored me through a competitive fellowship application process. I was being awarded that fellowship because she constantly challenged me and helped me develop a growth mindset.
One interesting thing to note is that Jenny and I had different career backgrounds. She started in technology and moved to marketing/marketing analytics in a completely different industry. However, I found her unique perspective to be valuable because she could point out things I might not have otherwise realized. Most of my other mentors I have met in the workplace.
What would you recommend to others seeking a mentor? What should you look for?
Find people you relate to and can trust. Look for someone who will be your biggest cheerleader AND play devil’s advocate. My mentors supported me, but they also pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me. They were in service of me and my goals, even if it meant calling me out or better yet, calling me forth. Sometimes they gave me the harsh truth I was not ready to hear but I needed to hear. Because I trusted them, I knew that they were only looking out for me. Also, different seasons may require different types of mentors. Keep an open mind and continue to nurture your relationships, even if you’re not in a position to “need” them. This is genuine relationship building.
What did you do to be a good mentee?
- Show up.
- Do your work.
- Be proactive.
- Make specific requests for support.
- Respect your mentor’s time and do not abuse or take advantage of the relationship.
- Acknowledge and recognize your mentors (a personalized note, LinkedIn recommendation or even a few words of validation can go far)
- Express gratitude to your mentors by paying it forward.
What are the pros/cons of having a mentor?
- You can inherit a lot of knowledge, wisdom, and learn from their previous experiences.
- You’re not left to figure it out on your own or learn the “hard” way.
- A great mentor will help connect you to additional resources, networks, and opportunities.
I don’t know if there are necessarily any cons but make sure to find a mentor that’s a good fit. If you have a mentor that is jaded, far removed from the role or industry, or has their own agenda, be cautious. Take their word with a grain of salt, make sure they are not projecting their opinions or judgements onto you or what you are trying to accomplish in your journey. Remember at the end of the day, your growth is your responsibility.
How much did identity matter when you were seeking a mentor or to mentor someone else? Are there factors that mattered related to any aspect of your own identity outside of a common interest in a specific kind of work? (For example, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and/or shared schools, contacts, interests, or hometowns?
One of my mentors was a first gen Latina like me but not all of my mentors come from the same background whether it be educational, cultural or something else. Depending on the season, you may need a specific mentor to support you. Be open and willing to explore relationships, especially with people that are different than you. You’ll be surprised at the gifts and perspective they bring. In return, you may provide something different for them too!
When/How did you decide to serve as a mentor to someone else? When did you think you were ready to do so?
I didn’t actually choose to be a mentor first but rather individuals started coming to me for advice and so I fell into it. If I had to decide to be a mentor, I probably would have succumbed to imposter syndrome, but the need was there and I could help, so I did.
What do you think are the attributes to being a good mentor?
A good mentor gets to know their mentee not just professionally but personally. They not only want to know what you are trying to achieve but the why behind it. They are open, patient, transparent and enjoy cultivating meaningful relationships. It’s great if they can have fun and laugh about the mistakes too. The best mentors are those that are transformative, supportive and are going to push you to explore outside of your comfort zone.
What would you say to someone who is doubting their readiness?
It’s like having kids. You’re never ready. Just do it and learn as you go.
What are the pros/cons of being a mentor?
- Rewarding to see others grow and flourish as a person and in their goals
- It can be a mutually beneficial experience. Mentees can offer you a different perspective, share updated knowledge or teach new skills to you as well
- It’s an opportunity to further develop your leadership skills
- Inspires and re-energize the mentor’s career
- Time commitment can be a challenge
- Having a mentee that is too needy or clingy
- Sometimes you’re going have to say the “hard” thing - remember to do it in service to someone’s growth and be aware of your delivery
- If a mentee is “assigned” to you, you risk incompatibility or a mismatch
How have your relationship(s) with your primary mentors/mentees changes over time?
I’ve evolved and so have my relationships. I may not communicate with my mentors or mentees as often but usually we’ve developed a strong enough rapport and friendship that we keep the lines of communication open. I always love hearing from mentees and I especially love when the student surpasses the teacher!
What’s the #1 piece of advice you have for finding a mentor?
I’ve never asked for a mentor. I built relationships and got to know people. I asked if we could do lunch together, go to a meeting together or how I could support their efforts.I was genuinely curious about their career trajectories and did what I could do to help them; whether it was to solve a problem or be someone on their team they could count on. Then I just kept showing up. Trust is built in the small things and I earned it through consistency. I invested in them just as much as they invested in me, It was a two way street.
—Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor. A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship and a Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z & LBBTQ Influencer by LinkedIn.