In this interview, we gain valuable insights into the importance of mentorship for employees and employers - from Lisa Dallmer, a seasoned executive and global thought leader in technology, finance, and diversity & inclusion.
Lisa Dallmer, a global influencer and leader in technology and financial services, most recently served as Chief Operating Officer of BlackRock’s Global Technology and Operations Group. She also served as Chief Operating Officer of NYSE Euronext (Paris) and Vice President at Bank of America, Blackbird, and Archipelago. She was recognized in 2011 and 2013 by Financial News as one of the “100 Most Influential Women for European Financial Services.” She served on the board of the Women’s Bond Club from 2003 to 2007 and as Co-President from 2007 to 2009. Lisa has a proven track record of revenue growth and growing high-performing teams to actualize transformation. Also, while at BlackRock, she helped launch a mentoring partnership with Girls Who Code. Lisa holds an MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a BA from Miami University, in addition to a year at the London School of Economics.
Q & A
Q1: Do you think mentorship for employees is a nice to have or a need to have?
A1: It’s a must have. It brings value to individual mentees, mentors, and the corporate culture. People get to know each other as people. It helps generate trust, and high-performing teams perform best in high-trust environments.
Mentees benefit from it because they’re able to connect with someone they respect and get their guidance. They can rely on them as a sounding board. And since the dialogue is confidential, it reinforces that trust.
Mentors get value by helping shape, coach, and develop others. You also learn how to guide someone towards their goals and improve their performance. When you’re teaching something to someone, you think more thoughtfully about what you do and don’t say.
There are benefits all around for everyone. The important ingredients are authenticity, trust, and genuine interest in learning from others and being a coach to them.
Q2: What are your thoughts on choosing a mentor?
A2: There’s an important chemistry and experience match that happens.
I had a woman who worked for me whose goal was to get a next-level promotion. I felt she needed a mentor to help. I knew it would be better and easier for her to be open and vulnerable with someone who’s not managing her, so I knew I wouldn’t be the right mentor. I eventually recommended someone who’s not in her direct line and who had been very successful in the areas she needed the most help on - building her personal brand and feeling more relevant. I also thought they would be well matched in terms of personal chemistry.
In the last two years, I’ve played matchmaker for four mentor-mentee relationships. It’s important to match with the right people. These relationships could last for many years and through several moves among companies. I have some mentors that I still keep in touch with whom I met many years and jobs ago.
Q3: Can you share an example of how a mentor helped you succeed?
A3: Twenty-five years ago, I had an individual more senior to me but not my boss -- Sarah McAvoy -- who took an interest in me. The mentorship was informal, but she did it in a genuine, thoughtful way. She was a role model with a more experienced perspective.
For instance, I would go to her and say “I had this dialogue with so-and-so. Here’s what I wanted to accomplish, and this is what happened. What’s your advice?” She was a great sounding board, and there was a high level of trust between us.
Sarah and I have known each other now for 25 years, and she continues to be part of my inner circle of mentors. This allows me to gain a perspective outside myself and brings greater context to any situation.
There have been several others that really shaped me. I respected their accomplishments and approach to building personal relationships at work. They were a huge value to the corporate culture as they navigated the workplace while mentoring others - and they taught me a lot.
Q4: What are some success stories regarding your role as a mentor?
A4: Because I recognize the value of mentorship from a mentee’s standpoint, I like to nurture and coach others, as well.
There was a woman who worked for me 15 years ago, and she was new to the industry. I really enjoyed watching her learn and grow. At a certain point, it was the right time to promote her and have her take over my team. When the conversation regarding the position came up, I told the decision makers that she should fill it. And, so I served as both her mentor and sponsor.
As she stepped into the role, she would ask me for advice. Watching her find her own voice, incorporate my advice and that of others, and succeed in her career to grow into an even larger job has been a great joy for me.
We still talk. Our conversations about her strengths and weaknesses are valuable because they’re outside the firm’s environment, and we’re in a trusted relationship. She also know my strengths and weaknesses, too!
The role of the mentor is truly about coaching and developing. In order to do that, you need to understand your mentees’ motivations and goals, and what excites them. You have to invest the time.
Q5: How can mentorship help women in the workplace, and strengthen diversity & inclusion in general?
A5: It can help women navigate situations that others have already encountered. An example is when women are preparing to have children. That experience of telling your boss, saying you plan to take mat leave, delegating your work to others, and returning to work - it can be rocky. Navigating the demands on your time, as a working parent - especially with your first child - is difficult.
It’s one of the most common topics and significant moments in your life and career. Seeking mentorship on how to navigate this transition given our work-life-balance self-lens is normal. Companies and people need this type of mentoring support.
It’s also valuable for women to be mentors to men, too. It’s part of role modeling and being a leader, regardless of gender. Women mentoring men is great for demonstrating and encouraging inclusion in the workplace. I think it’s critical that it crosses gender lines.
The mentoring relationships you develop at work are meaningful. I’ve had individuals from my previous roles reach out and seek input, validation, feedback, etc. And I do the same to my mentors and former bosses - just had a breakfast last week with my former boss, Larry Leibowitz, from our time at the NYSE.
Q6: How does mentorship benefit companies as a whole?
A6: One of the many positive outcomes of mentorship is that the fabric of a firm gets tighter. When people know each others’ strengths and weaknesses, they know the individuals in more depth. If mentorship is broad, and everyone participates in it, the organization becomes more adept and agile. The organization knows their talent base better and has a greater understanding of who is solving problems and how.
You can move people around, and this leads to further stretch opportunities. The ultimate goal is leaders growing leaders and a deep talent base. You’ve got smart people, but it’s the untrainable skills - like communication, interpersonal skills, etc. - that will enable great talent to perform well. If you have strong mentors who can reinforce those skills, you can move people around to varying roles, increase the chances of retaining high-performing teams and for longer. Turnover is expensive.
Q7: How can companies leverage mentorship for recruitment?
A7: The firm would be smart to point to mentorship as a recruitment perk. Whether you’re hiring millennials into their first or second jobs, send the signals that you’re investing in them. Show them that you care about their career development and have strong resources for them. And, highlight mentorship as part of that career-development toolkit. Part of my reason for bringing the Girls Who Code partner program to my last company was to create employee engagement opportunities through mentorship as a way to institutionalize it.
And, mentoring doesn’t always have to come from someone with a senior title. Let’s open our minds to the skills anyone can bring to the relationship that you have. Peer mentorship can be very valuable. For example, if you’re recruiting someone for a very senior role, you can pitch your board of directors or people with similar seniority as potential peer mentors. It's part of my being - I am fortunate to have a long list of peer mentors - this week I connected with Marisa Ricciardi, Clare Hart and Penny Herscher, who inspire me, encourage me and keep me grounded!
There are many ways that mentorship can greatly benefit you and your company. If you haven’t found a mentor yet, here are some pointers on finding one. And, if your company isn’t incorporating mentorship into your employee recruitment, retention, engagement, and development strategies, they should start as soon as possible.
Here are some important takeaways to keep in mind:
#1: Mentorship is crucial for maximizing personal and organizational success.
#2: It’s important to be matched thoughtfully with the right mentors.
#3: Mentorship can be a great tool for supporting diversity & inclusion efforts at your company.
#4: In addition to supporting engagement, development, and retention of employees, mentorship can also be leveraged as a powerful recruitment tool.
#5: To be a good mentor, you need to invest the time and effort to deeply understand your mentees’ motivations and goals and what excites them.
#6: Trust is the foundation of any successful mentoring relationship.