If you step into the Chicago sports scene, it won’t take long until you hear the name Amy Potter. Potter is Team Lead of North American Brand Partnerships at BMO Financial Group, President of Women in Sports & Entertainment (WISE) – Chicago, and a valued mentor, volunteer, and friend in the sports community. Amy is making her mark as a Chicagoan and as a woman in a historically male-dominated industry. She recently took some time out of her packed schedule to share her story and the role that mentorship has played in her professional and personal development.
Amy graduated from George Mason University with a degree in business, and a focus in marketing. As an undergraduate, she had found that she enjoyed sports marketing, although she notes, “Back in the 90’s, sports marketing was more stats and media, so it was a really different landscape.” Amy began her career at a sports network in DC, a role that allowed her to experience many different sides of sports marketing.
Amy recalls that, thanks to the mentorship of network directors, she left that position with a solid understanding of what kind of signage looks good on television and why particular angles or signs look better than others. Having this foundation helped her when she transitioned to later roles with athletic powerhouses: University of Virginia, University of Maryland, and Northwestern University.
Every step of the way, Amy remembers “working hard, always asking for new challenges.” It was that work ethic that attracted the attention of BMO Financial Group. She was recruited to the brand side of their business, and she has been with the firm for over three years.
Amy has always felt that “women have a responsibility to support women and their advancement, however that looks like — it doesn’t always have to be a job, it could be developing confidence in their current position or finding more time for their family.” One of her favorite quotes is Madeleine Albright’s “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women,” and while she believes this is true for all people, not just women, she has committed to doing her part to support women in sports and entertainment as one of the founding members of WISE Chicago, a non-profit devoted to connecting and supporting women in the sports industry, in addition to enhancing their success and growth in the business.
Amy is a strong believer in the power of mentorship and has been active in WISE Chicago’s mentorship program – WISE Within – since its inception. She observed that WISE Within “strengthens the core of WISE. The program is really a more formalized version of what WISE is about.” Amy herself served as a mentor in the program for two years prior to accepting the position of Chapter President.
Though Amy now mentors others, she also asserts that mentors have been – and continue to be – very important to her own personal and professional development. Here are some words of wisdom and lessons learned from Amy based on her mentorship experiences:
Seek out mentors of different kinds
Diversity of mentors can be extremely helpful to develop as a person, colleague and manager. Mentorships could be peer-to-peer, boss-to-employee, colleague-to-colleague, friend-to-friend, and you can benefit from having mentors at various levels (mid-level managers versus senior executives) as well as mentors who are diverse in gender and race. Each mentor will provide direction and perspective that the other may not have.
For example, while most of us think of mentors in a purely professional context, Amy pointed out that she currently has a “volunteer mentor,” who helped her explore how and where she would like to volunteer her time and resources. This mentor helped her realize that she wanted to focus her efforts on one or two organizations versus spreading her efforts across many groups. He also helped her decide where she wanted to commit – WISE Chicago and her local YMCA – as they align with two of her passions: women’s empowerment and youth development. Amy continues to keep in touch and meet up with her volunteer mentor as she reassesses her volunteer availability and priorities.
According to Amy, “People always need support and insight and direction,” even if the nature of that support changes over the course of one’s lifetime. It is important to be open to the nature of a relationship changing as you and your mentor evolve and grow.
For example, Amy says she is still in touch with mentors from the start of her career, even if they are no longer “actively” mentoring her. She comments, “Mentors see you grow and have a sense of pride that they helped influence you and give you knowledge. There are several mentors from the start of my career who I continue to email once per quarter every year, just to check in.” Amy notes that technology also now makes it easier to keep in touch over the long term, even though nothing beats face-to-face time!
Know the difference between getting coffee with someone and mentorship
While mentorship does not have to occur through an official program, Amy notes that there is a difference between asking someone for advice over a cup of coffee and mentorship.
Being a mentor/mentee requires time and the development of a medium- to-long-term relationship. Amy has observed that some people have an easier time naturally creating that kind of bond/relationship, whereas some may have a harder time. It is important to be honest with yourself in order to determine whether naturally evolving mentorships will likely arise for you or whether you would benefit from signing up for a formal mentor program. One isn’t better than another – just different!
Listen more than you talk
Amy believes that this applies to work and life in general, but it is particularly important in a mentor-protege relationship. It’s hard to learn from others when you are constantly doing all the talking!
Amy’s last piece of advice? This one applies to mentorship as well as many other facets of life: Work hard – people will notice.
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