Towards the end of last year I was participating in a number of Industry Networking events, particularly around Mentoring, and was often asked “Do you think it’s important to have a mentor throughout your career?"
Good question! I would say yes, 100%.
But the person and the role they play can, and should, change as you move through your career.
It’s also not always that easy to identify the right Mentor for you, but when you find the one, you’ll know ;)
But that’s a different question, in terms of the importance of a mentor…
Personally, I think it’s important to move between Mentor, Sponsor and Coach throughout your career. These might be the same person or different people; it’s the role they play which I think is important.
There is some confusion around these different terms, often when they’re lumped in together. As people’s awareness of the advantages of having someone in your corner grows, and agencies are using these terms more regularly, I think it’s key that people recognise the different benefits each role can play.
Here is a definition commonly used, which I thinks sums up the roles in the most simple way:
Managing is making sure people do what they know how to do. Training is teaching people to do what they don’t know how to do. Mentoring is showing people how the people who are really good at doing something do it. Coaching is helping to identify the skills and capabilities that are within the person, and enabling them to use them to the best of their ability.
Initially you need someone who has been in your shoes. A Mentor will (should) show you how the people who are doing well in your industry do it. They need to have an understanding of your industry and the characters within it. They can be internal or external, and the confidentiality in this relationship stage is paramount.
Once you’ve progressed and you’re 5+ years in, it’s about Sponsorship - which is a bit like a ‘public mentor’, an advocate. This is a relationship that is really growing in corporate. Someone who will actively and publicly be in your career corner. Ideally they will have a network in the area you want to work in. This is a really important role for both parties as reputations are on the line. If someone senior sponsors you, connects you and gives you access to their network you need to live up to that expectation, so make sure you both enter into this relationship with your eyes wide open.
Then at a certain stage, particularly at middle management and beyond is where a Coach can really come into play. What’s working well, what’s not, what do you want to do rather than what should you do. The kind of questions that usually hit around 30 or 40 ;) Past your skills and your job title, stretching your strengths and ensuring your values are being met. And that you’re being recognised for the work you’re putting in.
The point of a Coach (I think) is to be objective in terms of your career, biased in terms of your happiness and straight talking to push you out of your comfort zone a little.
Bearing all of this in mind, the most important thing to remember is that you should drive all of these relationships. The action is your responsibility.
You would hope that your Mentor feels accountable, but that will only happen if you drive the opportunities. What do you want? How can they help? If you don’t know how they can help, that’s what they can help with.
Just don’t waste these opportunities or take it for granted.
If you have a good Mentor, they’ll be investing in this too.
A casual coffee chat or a moan about what’s wrong is a waste of a Mentor’s time.
Focus on moving forward, THAT is what a Mentor is for.
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