Mentoring and sponsorship can be extremely powerful in helping you navigate the twists and turns of your role or career. However, if you’ve started working with a mentor or sponsor and feel that it’s not really useful, here’s a word of advice.
Rule number one of building a long lasting network: never burn bridges.
Rule number two: never burn bridges.
Rule number three?
You get the idea.
With that being said, if you decide to formally work with a sponsor or mentor, it’s important to consider how effective the relationship is because neither side should want to waste the other’s time.
Charles Sturt University Executive Dean of Science Megan Smith has been on both sides of the table in sponsorship and mentoring.
“It’s about whether or not it’s helping you to decide what to do next,” she says.
In her own career, Smith says, she has sometimes received advice that she later discovered wasn’t the best.
“If I go back, I would have looked for a range of opinions,” she says.
This is why it’s important to have a number of trusted people you can reach out to for guidance and support.
Because relying on a single person to overcome all of your challenges and trusting them blindly without some serious consideration on your part will limit your scope for growth.
“A mentor can’t tell you what to do,” says Smith.
“They can help you feel comfortable about what you decide to do.
“If you’re going to take someone’s advice on [everything] then you’re probably going to come up stuck.”
So as you build your network, try to connect with a series of people who can mentor and sponsor you in one way or another.
The good ones will be genuine in their desire to help you achieve success.
This is one of the most important attributes of a mentor, according to New South Wales Woman of the Year Dr Raji Ambikairajah.
“They should engage in active listening and provide problem-solving based feedback,” Ambikairajah says.
ARE WE COMPATIBLE?
When working with sponsors and mentors, what matters most is that you are aligned.
According to Smith, asking questions like “is this relevant to me?” or “is this person’s values system similar to mine?” are very important.
Stars Foundation founding CEO Andrea Goddard says that feeling comfortable with your mentor or sponsor is also fundamental for the relationship to work.
Even if they are highly skilled, talented and experienced, if the relationship isn’t compatible it will be difficult to create any mutual benefit.
“It has to feel like there’s a comfortable fit,” says Goddard.
Goddard’s mentor, a highly experienced business executive who sits on the board of top ASX companies like Telstra, is extremely generous with her time because she doesn’t feel it’s wasted.
“I think it must be incredibly difficult for her to do that [but] she prioritises this over all of that,” says Goddard.
IS THERE A POWER COMPLEX?
Sponsors and mentors are often people who are highly senior or more experienced than you.
However, this should not be used as a lever to disempower you.
Charles Sturt University associate professor Maree Bernoth says mentors, sponsors and coaches should not treat you like they are “higher” than you.
“We have to be able to relate with the person we support in terms of that person rather than in our terms,” she says.
“Power is an issue we all have to think about in a mentor relationship.”
HAVE YOU BEEN CLEAR?
If you realise that a mentor or sponsor relationship is not effective, be upfront.
Express what sort of advice you want and clearly communicate what you need out of the relationship.
“Be honest,” says Smith.
Try not to cut people off completely because a powerful network is built on meaningful, long-term connections and you never know when you might cross paths again.
“You can be a bit shortsighted if you cut people off,” says Smith.
“And sometimes, it’s just timing.
“They’re just not the right people for you at that point.”
Besides, you don’t have to apply advice just because it’s given.
“There’s a difference between taking advice and getting advice,” says Smith.
The rest of this series can be found here:
Introduction: ‘The Mentee’s Manifesto 2019
Part one of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to build a support network of mentors, sponsors, coaches, personal cheerleaders and more
Part two of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How leading women at the top of their game have worked with mentors and sponsors to get there
Part three of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to land a mentor and work with one effectively
Part four of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to benefit from and get started on mentoring others
Part five of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: Why a sponsor could make a difference to your career
Part six of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: How to self-learn from role models
Part seven of the Women’s Agenda Mentee’s Manifesto: Know your ‘cheerleaders’: Getting your family, friends and others to back your career