Who’s on Your Success Team?
Can you imagine an elite athlete without any of the following? A sports physiotherapist. A sports psychologist. A nutritionist. A coach. A sponsor. A mentor? Just like elite athletes who strive for success, to reach the highest echelons of their sport, if you have designs on career and leadership success, you need a team, too. It’s misguided to think you can do it all alone.
Women with leadership goals should consider including in their success team a mentor, a sponsor, and a coach.
A mentor is most often a more experienced, senior leader within your organisation; an experienced and trusted advisor. Mentoring can happen formally, as part of a company-wide mentorship program, or informally. The latter usually occurs when you take the initiative to ask someone you like, trust, and respect to become your mentor.
Here’s why I DON’T recommend you get an internal mentor:
I have never seen an organisational mentorship program work well: Usually, the mentor is asked to be a mentor by Human Resources. The mentor is keen at first, because he/she knows it is going to look good in their performance review that they are ‘paying it forward’ by becoming a mentor. However, the interest wanes – mentorship meetings are set, rescheduled as other more urgent meetings come up, rescheduled again, and ultimately cancelled, leaving the mentee (that’s you!) abandoned, and having to figure things out for yourself.
Internal mentors seldom have the skills to mentor: There are some nuances with mentoring. The idea is to nurture you, the mentee, to a point of independence, so that you are able to navigate the organisation yourself. Internal mentors with no training can have a tendency to direct you, instead of advising you or encouraging you to create your own solution.
An internal mentor is too close to the action: An internal mentor knows the organisation well, its characters, and where the skeletons lie. This level of knowledge is gold, but it comes at a price. It gives them bias – conscious or unconscious – which means you, as the mentee, will be influenced by the mentors own biases instead of reaching your own conclusions.
My view is that you are better placed to get an external mentor. The independence of an external mentor means that they are not influenced by internal politics, they can help you in an impartial way, and allow you to stretch your legs as a leader and influencer. The external mentor should have ‘walked in your shoes’ – worked in a similar organisation as you, or the same industry.
You can find an external mentor by attending women’s networks and business groups, or contracting with a professional mentor.
A sponsor is someone in the organisation who is experienced and senior, and NOT your direct manager. His/her role as your sponsor is to ‘promote’ you – to speak well of you when you are not in the room; to recommend you for positions when he/she sees an opportunity. This is THE most important individual to your career within the organisation. I am forever grateful for my own sponsor, who recommended me for at least three positions in my 20-year corporate career. A sponsor in the organisation is your eyes and ears at senior level. They have strong high-level relationships, influence, and a rich network inside and outside the organisation. In some organisations, a formal sponsorship program exists. Check with your Human Resources department. If there isn’t, approach someone you respect, like, trust, and who is open to the idea of being your sponsor. In most cases, a sponsor will choose you, not the other way around, but you can certainly open the discussion.
To improve your chances of being chosen:
Perform, first and foremost. If you’re a high-performer, keep at it. Performance is key.
Know who the influential leaders are in the organisation, and which of them are talent developers and talent scouts.
Have clear leadership goals and share them with your leaders.
Be visible! Put your hand up for opportunities that give you exposure.
A coach is professionally trained to help you ‘find the answers’ yourself, to improve your performance, and to help you increase your confidence so you can be more effective in your career. The difference between a coach and a mentor is marked – a coach will usually work with the ‘whole person’, so that your life AND career are addressed. What happens in your personal life seeps into your career, and can impact it enormously. A good coach is priceless, with benefits being both quantitative (e.g. salary increase, a new position) and qualitative (e.g. increased confidence, better communication skills, greater self-worth, clear goals).
Ultimately, with all these roles, your relationship with them is critical. There needs to be a level of ‘chemistry’ or ‘good vibes’ for the success team to work well.
So…who are you inviting on to your team?