A Mentor is Not Enough

A Mentor is Not Enough

What you need is a mentor ! We have all heard that piece of advice at some point or the other in our careers. Organizations believe in this idea too and many make it a policy to assign employees to mentors.

While this concept is well-intentioned there is an inherent flaw in the idea.

The flaw lies in the assumption that a single mentor can be the solution to all learning needs of the employee. 

In reality, an employee needs more than a single dedicated mentor to reach their potential. So for instance a mentor who is technically very sound may not have the insight into the larger firm to help the mentee navigate the organization’s unwritten rules. Therefore what is needed is a network of mentors–a network that represents a variety of competencies and varying degrees of expertise to help an individual navigate different stages of their career.

Another flaw in the ‘you need a mentor’ argument is that it is incomplete in its thought process. What it should say instead is: you need a mentor AND a sponsor !

What’s the difference?

A mentor answers questions and offers advice. A sponsor acts on your behalf—helping you to advance in knowledge and in success both by providing you with helpful advice and by working behind the scenes for your benefit.  As Jan Combopiano, Catalyst VP & Chief Knowledge Officer, explains: “Mentors support you face-to-face; sponsors advocate for you behind closed doors.”

It’s an important distinction to understand!

Whether or not you have access to the right mentors and sponsors at the right time can be a major factor in determining your level of professional success. This is true for men—but even more so for women. Women face additional obstacles while building their career. (did you know that less than 4% of Fortune 500 companies feature a woman as CEO?) Therefore it is critical that they have resources in place for support. (Useful link: How to build a network of mentors.)

While building relationships with mentors and sponsors may not seem like a priority at the moment, if you wait until youneed them, it will be too late. It is important that you begin taking steps right now in order to develop these relationships. Not sure where to start? Below are three ideas.

Tip # 1: Look for mentors and sponsors within your company. The first place to look is the most obvious—within your company. Seek out experienced professionals and attempt to strike up a relationship. A great first step may be to invite them out for coffee “so that you can pick their brain.” Ask questions and listen! Approaching someone and asking them to be a mentor is an awkward way to do it. If you must, make sure you give the person a way to get out of it by noting that you understand if they are too busy (useful link: How to find a mentor at work.)

Tip #2: Attend professional networking events.  Before you attend such events, scan the list of all those attending, if needed send an email in advance informing them how you look forward to meeting with them. Referring to any work done by them can help make a connection quickly. Make sure to seek them out and be ready to appear like someone who had done their ground work. Touch base after the event is over.  This may be the start of a wonderful future relationship.

Tip #3: Look for opportunities to give, not just to receive. When you’re new in an industry or with a company, you have many more questions than you do answers. But do your best to look for opportunities to help others out—you never know how such a relationship may benefit you in the future!

If you can build a strong network of mentors and sponsors, you have a huge advantage in the world of business. No matter how intelligent or determined you are, there will be times when you simply don’t have the answer. In those circumstances, your sponsors and mentors will be your saving grace! (Useful link: Finding the right mentor for you)

Take the time right now to lay out a strategy for building your network. Feel free to contact us for further information… good luck!

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