On Wednesday afternoon I was honored to be a part of the WILD (http://www.rochestermnchamber.com/wild) mentoring panel. Prior to the event I searched through over 20 years of documents on mentoring. Being mentored, mentoring and providing lessons on how to choose a mentor have been strong elements of my life. Beyond career, I believe that asking for guidance and guiding others (when asked), is essential to personal growth. The panel and participants helped me to articulate the mentor relationship and the organic flow from learner to teacher.
To reflect, I have been mentored through formal mentor relationships which I initiated, and those that were impressed on me. The challenge for me was to identify a mentor expert that had strengths in a variety of desired growth areas. It took me years to realize that the “to do” list and “best practices” for a mentor/mentee relationship were simply not a fit for who I am and my needs. At that point I adopted a “collectors” attitude and began to collect mentors on a variety of skill, social, and expertise areas. This approach worked for me because I found that experts come from a variety of professions, genders, and ethnic backgrounds. Narrowing the feedback for lifetime growth to one person was not fair to them or my growth. Now I reach out and ask one person to connect about the background or politics of a situation and another about a skill I need to acquire. Occasionally, I ask for a referral or introduction to individuals that have skills or connections where the new relationship would lead to a growth opportunity.
At the panel discussion I was reintroduced to the term “sponsorship” by the esteemed Barbara Jordan. What is a sponsor in this context? According to a New York Times author it is “a powerfully positioned champion — to help them escape the “marzipan layer,” that sticky middle slice of management where so many driven and talented women languish” (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/jobs/sponsors-seen-as-crucial-for-womens-career-advancement.html?_r=0). I love this definition. It is a great fit for the many talents (Rock Stars!) I have been blessed to work with in my career. It reminds us to lift each other up and reminds me to have a commercial for talented individuals so I can promote their work to others. Sponsoring others is an essential part of who I am and what I can bring.
Further, I am reminded how scary it is to ask someone to sponsor you. Honestly, that may be the hardest ask, and the most beneficial. I will continue to maintain my cadre of mentors because I need them and hope I can help with their development in return. My current goal is to move to the next level and begin to intentionally sponsor and, when needed, ask to be sponsored.