There’s no doubt that mentoring has its benefits. When it’s done right, both the mentor and the mentee walk away with something. For the mentee that could mean guidance on career pathing. For the mentor, it could be a new perspective on the interests of a different generation. You wouldn’t believe how much innovation can be sparked in just having conversations with someone that is out of your normal communication sphere.
But when mentoring doesn’t go well, it can be disastrous. The wrong advice from a mentor can set the mentee down a tough path. A disengaged mentee can make the mentor disconnect and develop a poor view of mentoring overall.
A lot of times, the cause of a bad mentoring experience is because mentoring wasn’t the right answer to begin with. Effective mentoring is heavily dependent on the success of the relationship between the mentee and mentor. Both need to feel like they can share experiences and openly request guidance, while still having boundaries. A mentor is not the mentee’s boss and it will be important to ensure that distinction. Mentors are for career advice and sharing wisdom. They are not for solving a work task issue or circumnavigating their manager.
Mentoring tends to come with a feeling of a lot of responsibility and commitment. Most times, people don’t need all of that.
What people really need are advocates, sponsors, and coaches.
Sponsors open doors, make introductions, suggest you for that promotion, or drop your name when there’s a big project coming up. A sponsor is like your champion to advocate for you when you’re not around. They are most impactful for the sponsee when they are at a higher level within the organization. Especially more so if they are at the top levels of the organization.
An advocate will talk you up when you’re not around. They’re the ones making sure your brand is positive because they are always sharing positive things about you. Advocates can be your peers and still be effective as having more advocates the better. They may not be able to put your name in the running for succession planning, but can still reinforce your positive reputation.
The best leaders, supervisors, and managers should also be coaches. Coaches provide targeted feedback to help improve performance. Coaching should be ongoing but each coaching session is specific to a task or skill. The most ineffective coaching involves generic feedback that doesn’t give the coachee the tools to improve. A coachee should be able to walk away with a clear understanding of the issue, understand what the correct course of action is, and know how to achieve it.
Sponsors, Mentors, Advocates, and Coaches are not mutually exclusive
Yes, advocates and sponsors sound very similar and most hope that their mentor will also be a sponsor. If you’re very lucky, you’ll have a person in your life that can be all four. And super lucky if that person happens to be your boss. But, unfortunately, we’re usually not that lucky. So it’ll be important to identify what the person’s needs are before jumping to finding a mentor.
If someone is looking to switch careers, it would be beneficial to find a mentor that has either switched careers or is within the new career field to share wisdom from their experiences. But if the interest is get put on a new project, find a sponsor. Find someone with who you have a good working relationship and believe you are a top performer. Set up a meeting and express your interests and intent so they know when and where to sponsor you.