It’s National Mentorship Month! In advance of our upcoming Lean In Canada Kickoff and Mentorship meeting, we sat down with panelists Judi Hughes and Despina Zanganas to discuss their own mentorship relationship, and what being a mentor and mentee means to each of their professional lives.

Despina and Judi met each other over four years ago when Judi, co-owner at consulting and coaching agency Your Planning Partners, was advising on 108 ideaspace with Despina, a partner and creative director there. Out of that relationship grew a proposal to embark on a formal mentorship relationship—not only to help further develop 108 ideaspace but also to hone Despina’s professional skills. Since then, Despina and Judi have met regularly to set and achieve goals, discuss plans, and navigate the world of female small business owners.

Lean In Canada: When you first became mentor and mentee, what were you hoping to get out of the relationship?

Despina: I ran my own solo-preneur business for about ten years before I met Judy, and I was a creative director at another company. But when you’re a partner (in a company), it’s a lot different, and I wanted tools to be able to handle different situations differently than you would with a boss.

LIC: Judi, what interested you in being a mentor?

Judi: One, I want business owners to succeed. I’ve been in business for a long time — since 1978. And I recognize that there are some processes and areas that I can speed up for people, to avoid them making mistakes, so they don’t have to. And to give them tools that I’ve learned through the years to make it easier for them.

LIC: How did you set it up your mentorship, in terms of meetings and milestones?

Despina: Originally, we were going to do it over the phone, but that didn’t work for me. I’m more of a face-to-face kind of person. So, Judi suggested maybe we have breakfast or lunch. So, every two weeks we meet—usually for about an hour and a half sessions.

Judi: I’m driving the agenda most of the time, and leaving room for things that Despina has on her agenda. I come to the meetings with some identified areas that I want to address or know we should be discussing, and I also leave room to make sure Despina can bring things to the table.

And we’ve set professional goals as well. We touch base on those every month and make sure we’re working toward them.

LIC: You’re both women in business. How does that affect your mentorship relationship?

Despina: I think it affects it a lot. You know, because Judi understands where I’m coming from. Women can be emotional in different ways and can require different things. We talk about sexism in the workplace, and how not to be “a girl.” Because sometimes it’s so easy to be the cute one, and when you’re in a business you can’t. Judy coached me not to be like that, whereas if that came from a man, the message would be a lot different.

Judi: I think the other piece of it is there aren’t a lot of formal training programs or mentorship programs for women business owners. There are a lot of them within corporate environments, which are supported by and paid for by the organization. In a small business, that isn’t the case. It’s a pet peeve of mine that women business owners don’t have anywhere to go to learn those skills that you can in a corporate environment.

LIC: What recommendations or advice would you give women looking for their own mentorship arrangements?

Despina: Look for somebody who is wise. I’ve said to Judi a number of times, “How do you know this? How could you possibly know something like that?” And she says, ‘I read a lot, and it’s years of experience.” She’s been there and done that. When I ask her a question, she knows exactly what I’m asking her because it’s happened to her before.

Judi: There obviously has to be a connection, because if you don’t have a connection already, you have a battle to go through before you get to the mentorship. I would also say that I don’t want my mentee to agree with everything I’m saying. If Despina didn’t ask questions and I wasn’t able to give context, she wouldn’t be learning.

I think the other piece in a mentorship relationship, is that it’s important to realize that it’s not about the mentor, it’s about the mentee. You have to be almost egoless as a mentor. Although I’m very proud of what Despina has accomplished, she’s been the one doing the work.

Have more questions for Judi and Despina, or about mentorship in general? Ask them at our next Lean In Canada Kickoff and Mentorship Panel on January 26th at the Spoke ClubGet your tickets now!

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