Me, Myself, and My Mentor: A how-to guide for beginners

Tuesday 27 October 2020
Mentors. Sponsors. Coaches. How can they help your career? How do you get started? Where do you find the right person?
Two women beside computer

Having a helping hand to get us where we want to be in our career is invaluable – whether that’s in the form of having an informal professional network, seeking out a sponsor, or finding a mentor, there are many ways you can forge strong working relationships that are mutually beneficial.

As well as having our own mentoring service for CMI members, we’ve also written a number of articles exploring the subject – dispelling any myths, giving tips for new mentors, and advising how to approach the experience. Here, we’ll go through the available resources on CMI Insights to help you get started and find out more about mentoring, coaching, and sponsorship.

“Mentoring and sponsorship are absolutely key to having a successful career,” Emilie West from Alchemy Coaching believes.  “Most senior leaders can name at least a handful of mentors and sponsors who helped them reach their position; both are incredibly important in identifying and developing talent within your business and can be used as a powerful tool in improving diversity at work whether that is gender diversity or diversity of ethnic background.”

The differences...

The three main categories we’ll explore are:

  • Mentoring: This relationship is formed when the mentee approaches the mentor through a formal programme or a personal contact, asking for the mentor’s guidance, encouragement, and support due to their experiences. The aim of mentoring is to facilitate the mentee's learning and development and unlock their potential.
  • Sponsoring: A sponsor is a network- and action-orientated mentor, taking mentorship to the next level. A sponsor will actively promote the person to a wider network of people and champion them when they're not in the room.
  • Coaching: Coaches are usually performance driven, focused on helping their coachees find the answers to their own challenges through open-ended questions and debate.

“While mentors provide advice and guidance based on their own career experience, sponsors are individuals who rate your abilities and may recommend you for a promotion or key project helping you to step up at a critical point in your career,” says Emilie. “A mentoring relationship is usually longer-term, whereas a sponsor may just advocate for you at a particular point in time.”

You can read more about the similarities and differences here.

The benefits of different viewpoints

In our article Opposites Attract – But Should Opposites Mentor? we look at the numerous benefits of working with someone outside of your field in order to get a fresh perspective on the challenges you’re facing.

“I felt that my mentor provided a great sounding board, helped me navigate through the politics of the organisation, pointed out when (in his view) I was misunderstanding or misinterpreting a situation,” says Andy Johnson, managing partner at Change Partners, a leadership coaching consultancy. “As a result, my self-awareness and therefore self-confidence increased, and I became more effective in my role.”

Getting started

Choosing the right mentor for you depends on where you are in your career and what you want to achieve, says Pam Dyson CMgr FCMI, who is involved with several mentoring programmes. Sometimes it can be beneficial to find someone who has a completely different approach than you have, particularly if you’re trying to develop your behaviours, where it can pay to be challenged. If you’re just starting your career and are learning the ropes, you might want someone with similar values, who offers a guiding hand. Find out more in our Ultimate Guide to Mentoring.

Thinking of becoming a mentor yourself?

As he rose up the ranks of the banking sector, Dean Westwood CCMI didn’t give mentoring much thought. Then he moved into the learning and development sector and realised the full scope and benefits of being a mentor. “There are so many different types of it now, and a very different mentoring culture.”

Mentoring promotes self-analysis and self-reflection, Westwood says. “It’s helped me, personally, change how I perceive myself as well as how I think I am perceived by others. It’s made me aware of the old saying: you’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason. Mentoring has taught me to listen.”

Read our article to see if you have what it takes – and ask yourself these six difficult questions beforehand.

Emilie’s top tips for mentoring and sponsorship:

  • Becoming a mentor is a great way to develop your leadership and coaching skills and you will always learn from your mentees just as they will benefit from your guidance.
  • Look around within your business at the more junior members of staff. Is there someone with potential and the right attitude but who isn’t great at self-promotion? Look for someone with a different background to you to encourage diversity in your organisation.
  • You may need different mentors at different points in your career, keep looking for senior people, both within and outside of your company, who inspire you and consciously cultivate those relationships.

Emilie will be going through her practical advice on mentoring and sponsorship in more detail as part of the CMI Women Blueprint for Balance series.

And remember – there’s a mentor out there for everyone, including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and Steven Spielberg – see for yourself

Found this article useful? Check out how to get access to CMI’s exclusive mentoring platform by becoming a member.

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