Meg Crofton is a 35-year veteran of The Walt Disney Company. She retired from her position as President of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, U.S. and France in 2015 and currently mentors and speaks on a wide range of leadership issues while serving on multiple boards.
“The most important thing we can do as mentors is to share our stories.”
Why do you choose to use your time mentoring others?
I have two answers to that question. One, I’ve been a committed mentor for a long time because I believe it’s a responsibility and a privilege to pay forward all of life’s lessons—it’s a lasting legacy. Second, I’ve never been in a mentoring relationship where I didn’t get a lot out of it myself. I learn so much! And I love the challenging questions. I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way, so if I can help someone by sharing my path, it brings me joy. It might sound hokey, but for me, I believe mentoring is a “calling.” I like helping people—not to imprint my way of doing things on them, but to help them find their own way.
Why do you like being a leader?
First, I think it’s important to be clear about how I define leadership. A lot of people tend to think of being a leader as having direct reports, but I think the most powerful leadership is influence, regardless of direct authority. You can accomplish big work through influence.
That first “spark” for me happened when I was a kid. Our family lived in the “Space Coast” region of Florida where we had a front-row seat watching the race to get to the moon. There was something really magical about watching people come together to accomplish a mission that people thought was impossible. I loved the challenge and subsequent reward of bringing together minds and hearts to accomplish audacious goals.
There’s an African Proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
There’s an African Proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” At Disney, I saw many “mission impossible” things done time and again. I witnessed firsthand what people can accomplish when a leader inspires their team and knocks down barriers that get in their way.
What is the most challenging question you’ve been asked by a mentee?
I really love the challenging questions that stop me in my tracks and that make me really think!
I had a leader ask me once: “If you could pick only one thing that has made you successful, what would it be?” The question fascinated me so much, and ever since then, when I meet a leader that I admire, I ask him/her that question. The answers are always different—I’ve never heard the same one twice—but the responses all have a personal quality to them. People tell me they attribute their success to “stamina”, or “humility”, or simply “always trying to do the right thing.” To me, this question shows who you are, it reveals your true north—it’s always going to be there, and is a part of your personal brand that you become known for. (Oh, and my own personal answer to that question was, “I’m a very good listener.”)
What advice would you give to a woman who is starting to serve as a (formal or informal) mentor?
There’s an art to matching the mentee and mentor, and to creating the right balance and structure to the relationship. Nothing can be forced, and it has to be a good match to work. Just because you want to mentor doesn’t mean you should mentor everyone who asks. Ceresa does a great job with matching. I’ve participated in many mentoring programs and Ceresa is absolutely the best one, with just the right amount of structure to maximize the mentor-mentee relationship.
When you share a lesson you learned, tell your mentee a real example of how you got there.
It’s worth nothing that it doesn’t matter whether it’s a formal or informal mentorship—it’s important that both sides are prepared. That means figuring out what, specifically, does the mentee actually need from the mentor? When I first meet with a mentee, I ask him or her, “What specifically do you want me to mentor you about?” This is a great thing about Ceresa—the program encourages mentees to define the issues they want help on. That ensures that mentees and mentors are positioned well. There’s nothing worse than flying without a compass. Everyone’s time is valuable, so let’s manage it well.
Another bit of advice—sharpen your listening skills. Let your mentee get her thoughts out, don’t interrupt her by jumping in before she’s had a chance to finish. Listen to what she’s saying (and not saying). Good listening happens with all your senses—pay attention to words, energy, and body language. Ask questions, but discipline yourself not to rush an answer from your mentee. Before you share your own story, let her articulate her thoughts for herself. Part of a mentor’s job is to help the mentee hear herself.
The most important thing we can do as mentors is to share our stories. When you share a lesson you learned, tell your mentee a real example of how you got there…what was the series of events that got you there? People sometimes assume that if you have a big job or a big title that you didn’t face the same kinds of issues they’re facing. It’s a gift to the mentee if you can share your experiences and journey.
Ceresa is a professional development platform focused on the mission of closing the women’s leadership gap. Our “Mentor Spotlight” series shares stories and insights from Ceresa mentors.