Quite frequently, I get questions from younger professionals and sponsors as to who is my mentor. My consistent answer is ‘no one.’
Don’t get me wrong. My answer is borne out of the context in which the question is asked i.e. is there anyone I would typically discuss my career moves with and get steers from or that one person who I go to as an accountability partner in making career decisions or one who inspires me to be a go-getter career wise?
I patiently explain that there is no one person who occupies such a place as mentor in my life. Sure, I frequently bounce ideas off le hubz – after all what is he a life partner for if I can’t do so😁 But in terms of that formal person high up the ladder who I ask before taking steps – there’s none. I tell those who inquire that professionally, so many people inspire me so I prefer to just glean bits and pieces from different persons as opposed to one mentor to make up the unique me. And most times, I even do this from a distance. Of course, if I need to ask questions before making a move, I do so.
For me, I would choose a career sponsor over a mentor time and time again. Perhaps, you wonder, is there any difference between the two? There is.
A mentor advises the mentee; while the sponsor advocates for the career advancement of the protege. You see, a mentor tells you, do X, don’t do Y while a sponsor makes a case for you to be given X or Y at closed-door executive meetings where you are too far down the ladder to speak for self.
For me, a mentor does quite some talking while the sponsor acts on your behalf with fewer words. Sure, you’ve heard the truism that action speaks louder than words right? That right there is what a sponsor (not a mentor) does.
Of course, if you are extremely fortunate, you may have your sponsor + mentor embodied in one person. But if I were to pick one, I would definitely pick a sponsor over a mentor.
Sponsors have been responsible for my rapid career progression and in fact beyond my skills, it was sponsors that played a huge role in landing my current gig. And while there, other sponsors again make my landing soft, smooth and seamless.
Sponsors definitely trump mentors for me.
*image credit: http://www.google.com