06 Mar 2017

The Power of Mentorship


To honor women on International Women’s Day, we asked Harvard Business School faculty and staff about their professional and personal mentors. Their stories illustrate how mentors can nurture and challenge, influencing an individual’s path forward.

Colleen Ammerman

Colleen Ammerman Director, Gender Initiative

I continue to be inspired by the many women leaders I have been fortunate to know, here at HBS and beyond. One of my earliest bosses and mentors gave me numerous opportunities to lead new projects and made it clear that she trusted my judgment, sending the message that I was competent, capable, and integral to her team. Knowing that I—at the time an administrative assistant fresh out of college—was valued by a senior leader instilled a sense of confidence in my skills and abilities that I have carried with me in the years since.

Francesca Gino Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration

I am thankful to HBS professor Max Bazerman for always inspiring me to be a better scholar and a better human being. Max has never been afraid of providing tough feedback whenever I needed to hear it, which helped me tremendously in my own development and career. To this date, when I find myself advising others or mentoring junior colleagues or facing a difficult situation, I ask, "What would Max do?" That allows me to consider multiple perspectives and come to a decision that is informed and (hopefully) fair.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter Ernest L. Arbuckle Professor of Business Administration

While grateful to people who helped open doors or provided a tip, I greatly appreciate those who held high standards and didn’t make things easy. In retrospect some of the best help came from the opposite of mentoring, from people who said something was impossible or posed very tough challenges and let me alone to struggle through them. While cursing them, I wanted to prove them wrong. Of course, I had enough encouragement to keep going; it is hard to persist without knowing that success is possible, which is the theme of my book Confidence. But I also benefited from skeptics and critics. Leaders need to listen to the critics. Still, now I want to open more doors for others and help them through those doors, while remembering that it is better to be challenged by friends who want you to succeed. I’m a very positive person, and like to find peoples’ strengths. But strength comes from overcoming obstacles.

Anat Keinan Jakurski Family Associate Professor of Business Administration

One of the things I enjoy most about being at HBS is the people I get to meet. One of these special people is Gail McGovern who was a professor in the Marketing Unit before becoming the president and CEO of the American Red Cross. Gail is my hero in so many different ways. I have learned so much just by observing how she interacts with and encourages her students and colleagues and how she solves complex problems with honesty and a sense of humor. Her genuine caring for others has been an inspiration for me. She is a loving mother, wife, and daughter, a wonderful colleague, and an inspiring leader. I am grateful for her mentorship and friendship.

Kristin Mugford Melvin Tukman Senior Lecturer of Business Administration

Shortly after graduating from HBS, I joined the private equity group Bain Capital and at the time was the only post-MBA woman on the investment team. Jane Brock-Wilson (MBA 1983) was a partner at nearby Berkshire Partners. I had never met Jane, but she called me up out of the blue and invited me to breakfast. She delivered a simple message: You got this. You can do it. I'm here for you. I went back to work brimming with confidence and inspiration. It is a good reminder that powerful mentorship can come in small packages: words of support, just when I needed a little fuel for what would become a twenty-year career at the firm. Now as a faculty member, I make it a priority to "pay Jane forward" to students here at HBS.

Raffaella Sadun
Thomas S. Murphy Associate Professor of Business Administration

I have been so incredibly lucky to find many mentors in my personal and professional path so far, some in the personal domain of my life, others in the professional one. Very different people, with different histories. These mentors have pushed me to see possibilities that I had not considered or that I had seen but decided not to pursue because I thought they would have been out of my reach. Most of all, they provided me with an example of intellectual generosity that is incredibly motivating. How can you not at least try to do your best when someone you respect believes in you?

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