Entering the Big League! How choosing the right Champion or Mentor Can Help Your Career
I really need your advice. I feel stagnated in my current role and I want; NO! I need, to get to the next level in my career. Everyone keeps telling me that I need a mentor, someone who could guide me and help me reach my goals. My only problem is that I don’t know how to get a mentor or what I should look for in one.
Please help me! Hopeful Mentee!
Dear Hopeful Mentee,
You are not alone. Many of us often reach a stage in our careers, jobs and even our businesses when we feel stagnated and rudderless. Given your situation you may not only need a mentor but a champion (sometimes called an angel or sponsor) as well. Let me explain.
What is a mentor?
A mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. Ideally a mentor should be someone in your profession, who has the experience and the “know-how” that you need. A mentor gives you advice, exposure and inspiration to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. A mentor connects mentees to their network, relates lessons from their own experiences and would be able to critically assess the career path of their mentee and provide guidance to them appropriately. Ideally, a mentor should be a master of their craft, who would be able to pass on their varied experiences and the knowledge they have gained to others.
A mentor should be trustworthy, respectful and respectable, authentic, creative and honest. They should also be someone you admire with similar values. They should be forthright in their communication and willing to openly and constructively give you feedback. A mentor is not a psychologist, though a mentor might be someone you trust, have a good rapport and are comfortable with, it is important that the relationship remain professional.
A Champion is someone who is in an influential position, and has the capacity and inclination to assist you in moving up in your career or chosen field of work. A champion is someone who supports and collaborates with and advocates for you professionally. This individual would ideally be in a senior position in your organization or field of work. They should understand your professional goals and be interested in promoting your interests and ambitions. This person’s goal is your success.
What’s the difference you might ask?
That depends on the persons involved, a mentor could be a champion and a champion could be a mentor, or they could be two different individuals. It all depends on the circumstances and your goals for establishing these relationships. Simply put, a mentor’s role is to guide and a champion’s role is to advocate.
A relationship with your champion would take on a more transactional tone that that of your relationship with a mentor. You have to identify your currency as an individual, take note of all you strengths and talents as well as your weaknesses and areas where you are challenged. After all you bring yourself to the table. You must show your potential champion that you are loyal, trustworthy, reliable, competent and dedicated. I will advise that you build your reputation as someone that an individual in an influential position would want to be associated with, as well as be seen as an individual that delivers. It’s important that you are an asset not a liability.
How do you get a mentor or champion?
Be deliberate and set your objectives. Filter out persons who may not be aligned to your goals. Be honest with yourself and ensure that you are clear about what you want and why you want a mentor or champion. Be specific and identify the type or person with whom you want to establish this sort of relationship. Make a list of their character traits, years of experience, area of specialization and so on.
Join an organization. You could join a volunteer or civil society organization or a professional group or charity organization. You could join a network of influential people, such as AFETT or like-minded organizations where the mission is to empower its members and encourage this sort of interaction. Attend networking sessions and other events of this nature. Be where the people you want to meet are present.
Be creative, be vocal. At your next staff meeting speak up, suggest a new and innovative idea that demonstrates your creativity. You need to be brave, identify yourself as a person who is unafraid to be heard and then follow up your words with dedicated and strategic action. Participate in professional or your company’s activities, volunteer for committees, make a contribution and ensure that your presence always adds value.
Get introduced. Start looking around your own personal group of contacts and friends for persons who may know the targeted persons with interests that are similar to your own. Be bold enough to reach out and ask someone for help in meeting or getting an introduction to the person you are interested in meeting. Be respectful and professional to everyone because you never know who might be in a position to connect you to the ideal mentor or champion.
What do you do next?
I would suggest that over the next few weeks you try to locate a mentor and a champion. It is not impossible. First identify the reasons for your feelings of stagnation and then systematically work through them with a view to addressing each in turn. Then, you end the exercise by stating the alternate feeling and one activity that you could undertake to help you move towards the alternative position. Use this as an opportunity to identify your most important career goals and start looking around your own professional circle for persons who have attained these achievements and seek out the persons who you believe to have the traits I listed above and the relevant experience or influence.
Ask for an appointment, offer to take your potential mentor or champion for a cup of tea, a snow cone or even a doubles and be open about your intentions. Remember that a relationship with a champion, and that of a mentor is developed over time, there must be mutual trust and loyalty and a willingness to engage by both parties.
Know that you must be prepared to be mentored or championed. This engagement will bring with it vulnerability and fear and you will be opening yourself up to potential rejection and criticism. Be brave! Remember that you have a lot to offer as you can bring your own talents and knowledge to the table.
You have more to gain than to lose;
So Go For It!
AFETT is a not-for-profit organization formed in 2002 with the goal of bringing together professional women and engaging in networking opportunities, professional training and business ideas. ASK AFETT is a column meant to address issues and concerns of professionals seeking advice to assist in progressing in their careers. Today's response was written by AFETT member, Simone Francois Whittier, Attorney-at-Law and Owner of Phoenix Legal and Consulting Services. Learn more about AFETT at www.afett.com, search for AFETT Events on Facebook, follow us @AFETTEXECS on Twitter or contact us at 354-7130. Email us your career-related questions at email@example.com.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors, meant strictly as advice and guidance, based upon their experience and expertise. In no way are they meant to be legally binding upon AFETT and or its members, servants nor agents.