This is going to be quite a statement coming from me, but I’m starting to see that mentors may not be the biggest factor is helping your career advance...
As you build your goals for 2018, consider adding a CHAMPION to your list of professional goals rather than a mentor. Here’s why:
Mentors have long been considered (for good reason) as someone to lean on for young professionals who are looking for timeless/priceless advice on how to rise above challenges and get ahead in their career. The benefits of having one are plentiful - they provide you with a place to vent, to validate, and to begin moving towards your solution. What mentors DON’T do, however, could be holding you back a LOT in your job.
Since mentors are not always in our current organization or field, it can be hard to use that mentor beyond getting their advice. Even with organizations establishing formal programs, mentors may still view their role as providing guidance, not necessarily going above and beyond like a champion can.
So who are professional champions? They are the advocates and supporters you need who can really make a difference in your long term career progression. Champions support you, defend you, and advocate for you, both behind closed doors and in different, more senior circles. This can seem like a daunting difference at first, but you’d be surprised to know you probably have sponsors at your job right now. The question for you is, how do you build on this relationship?
To understand how these relationships work, it’s important to understand how they form. Champion relationships start differently than mentors - that’s because you earn the relationship rather than receive it. Champions are in the trenches with you. Sometimes they’re your immediate boss, but often they’re director level and above people who personally saw you kick butt on a project. They know they can rely on you, they want you to be on their team whenever possible, and they know they can use you as a sounding board. To be a trusted advisee to a champion is an honor - the relationship will extend way beyond the end of the performance year, and can even continue for years after you’ve worked together!
I had a sponsor in one job that was incredibly helpful - someone I trusted, and who trusted me to help with a variety of highly sensitive projects. I valued that relationship greatly, and because she also valued my work, others constantly approached me for more projects and opportunities. I was treated with MORE respect because she was on my side. She even supported a year end bonus (when no one else thought there would be money in the budget, but oh look at that!). The relationship continues long after the job ended. It took some hard work to make it happen. I worked side by side with her during late nights putting together events and briefings. I went out of my way to be on call if we needed it, and I made sure that when she needed me to look at something for her, I took the time and did it right. She grew to trust my work so much so that she wouldn’t even check it after I gave it to her. In the end, it was totally worth it for me to go out of my way!
If you’re thinking about a new role in the same company OR a promotion in your current department, really think about finding a champion for yourself. Many women look to mentors for advice on HOW to succeed by themselves, but champions can be super helpful for building political support for you in the office, getting you the projects you want, and supporting the salary you deserve.
So here’s your CHALLENGE: Think of a senior staff member you’ve collaborated with and done great work with. Think of how you can continue or even BUILD a stronger working relationship with them. Is there something you can do to show off your know-how and expertise to really help them land a proposal, meet a deadline, or nail a project deliverable?
OFFER them help, even if you aren’t sure how that may play out - it could be something as small as helping them brainstorm a new strategy, or as big as planning a large event. Show them how well you perform and help them look good. If your intuition is right, this person will become a champion without you even having to ASK.
With a champion in your corner, not only will you have an advocate to support your career growth, but you’ll have the confidence you need to perform your best for the company and really build your skills in an area that you’re passionate about.
To your career success,