How Great Mentorship can Come from Unexpected Places

Posted on May 25, 2017

When it comes to finding a mentor in the workplace, the process doesn’t always have to be formal. Women leaders from Capital One share their stories behind finding and being mentors.


While formal mentorship programs may exist in the workplace and offer employees a great place to turn for guidance, more informal mentors can come in many forms—from colleagues to family members. To continue our conversation series with women across Capital One, we spoke with some of our executives about their experiences with mentorship — from having a mentor to being one – and how that’s helped them advance as women in business.

Mentors can really help you along the way in your career, but finding a great mentor can feel daunting. How have you found your mentors, and what did you learn from them?

I’ve had a series of mentors within my companies and/or industries along the way. They were invaluable in helping me understand how to navigate organizational politics, connecting me to key leaders and influencers, helping me work through obstacles I faced in my role and providing advice and perspective on career decisions I was contemplating. I continue to have amazing mentors: At work, I tend to identify my mentors by combination of chance and thoughtful connection. I may hear someone speak or learn about their background and connect the dots between what that person is uniquely good at and what I’m working on being better at as a leader. Or, I may have the luck of working closely with a leader through a project and, again, realize they are really good at something I am actively trying to learn. Once I’ve met someone and realized they are differentially good at something that I would like to learn, I reach out and make the ask for a formal mentorship relationship.

All that said, the most influential and consistent mentor in my life, cheesily enough, is my dad. My dad continues to be the person I turn to for advice on all things—career, financial, interpersonal. While my dad always pushed me and my three older sisters to work hard and do our best, he was never upset when we failed. Whenever I went to my dad and was sad or upset because I hadn’t done as well as I wanted to on something, his first question was always ‘did you try your best?’ If I said ‘yes,’ he’d say, ‘then you have nothing to regret.’ Another favorite dad quote is: ‘There are no such things as mistakes in life, only lessons learned.’ The point is, my dad has been a constant force in my life who has taught me to look forward, not backwards, believe in myself and to work hard to create opportunities for myself and others. These have served as critical principles for me throughout my career and personal life. — Mili Mittal, Senior Director, Card

I’ve been very lucky to have many mentors from both genders along the way. They’ve helped me become a better leader and people developer, learn job-specific skills, and most of all allow me to be myself and learn that to be successful, I didn’t have to settle. Most of my mentorship relationships just happened organically, with either someone taking an interest in me or in me finding ways to connect with them through a common interests. – Clary Leffel, Senior Director, US Card Brand Strategy

Usually, my mentors have grown out of other working relationships—previous managers or leaders on projects that have developed into an informal advisory role. I can’t underscore how important this group of people have been to me over time, and how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to work with each of them.

Specifically, I tend to have different mentors for different things I’m working on—when I’m facing a communication challenge, I’ll reach out to a few inspiring story-tellers for help. When I’m trading off credit and other strategic risks, there’s another set of people I go to. There are others I go to when I’m evaluating career options. Not all of these ‘mentors’ are more senior then I am, but they all push me to think differently and challenge myself. – Lauren Connolley, VP, US Card

I’ve had great mentors along the way, who invested time and offered great coaching and feedback. I also appreciated watching each of them in action in a variety of settings—selling new ideas, drawing out the opinions of others, navigating contentious situations. I got to see what worked (and sometimes what really, really didn’t), and it’s provided me with a wider array of approaches to take. – Christine Hales, VP, Technology – Delivery Transformation

It sounds like you’ve had some amazing experiences with your mentors. Are you passing that on by mentoring others?

I have a couple [mentees], some still from previous companies. I spend most of my time focusing on their needs and how to get them to maximize their potential, not necessarily focused on increasing their marketing acumen, but helping them find their voice/role and who they want to be professionally. – Clary

I have had mentors, and have been a mentor, throughout my career. These have been rewarding and important relationships. However, I think sponsorship is far more important than mentorship. The times when I have really been able to move forward in my career it’s been because someone senior sponsored me and trusted me to take on an important piece of work. A sponsor is someone who will put their own career on the line to help you build your career. I feel a very strong obligation to be a sponsor for the great talent in my team.” – Diane Lye, SVP, Technology – Enterprise Data Services and Architecture

You’re in a traditionally male dominated industry, which can be challenging. How have you navigated that and have your mentors helped?

It may sound too optimistic, but I have not felt that being a woman has ever limited my ability to lead or be successful, I believe your results speak for themselves and I let the work do the talking. I am not shy about asking for what I want and try to demonstrate my value as much as I can. - Clary

For me, it really is about finding work I’m passionate about and doing my best to achieve great results—and not focusing too much on myself in the process. I’d also say that surrounding myself with people who keep me honest and cheer me on matters so much! Having the right support network is essential. – Lauren

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Colleen Krieger, Senior Manager, Brand
Colleen Krieger is Senior Manager of Digital Brand Strategy at Capital One.

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Unless noted otherwise in this post, Capital One is not affiliated with, nor is it endorsed by, any of the companies mentioned. All trademarks and other intellectual property used or displayed are the ownership of their respective owners. This article is © 2017 Capital One.