Why You Should Have Mentors and Advocates
In the past, people often received career advice about how important it is to get a mentor. Now, people are receiving career advice about how having a mentor is passe because the mentor allegedly prevents you from innovating and improving the day-to-day operations of an organization. The new buzz in career advice is getting an advocate that can help sell you in an organization.
However, I think that it’s important that you should have a mentor and an advocate.
To explain the difference between the advocate and the mentor, the mentor is your coach that helps you enhance your strengths and overcome your weaknesses, and the mentor is a teacher to help you through the shark-infested waters that we call work. The advocate will go to bat for you in the organizations or in other environments. The advocate will “sell” you to others on how great you are, and how lost the organization or other environments would be without your skills and expertise.
If you have an advocate but not a mentor, you may end up hurting yourself. If you’re making a ton of mistakes because you’re learning on your own, and it’s impacting the organization, others are not going to be as enthusiastic about you as your advocate is about you. If those people who are not your fans have more influence, the advocate can’t save you. No matter how influential your advocate is, the opinion of the many will outnumber the opinion of the one. Just say your advocate is the “top dog” in the organization – remember the “six degrees of separation rule”…those people who are not your fans will spread the word about you throughout their network, and your reputation will proceed you when you’re looking for another opportunity, whether it’s a new job or a new client.
I think that mentors got a bad rap because people ended up with a person that really shouldn’t have been a mentor. For example, the mentor was happy with thing being status quo, so the mentor didn’t want to change how things worked. In a worse scenario, the mentor may have been threatened by the mentee, and either the “mentor” didn’t share a lot of information, or the “mentor” shared completely incorrect information.
What are some qualities that a good advocate and good mentor have?
A good advocate is:
- A person with influence, but not necessarily an executive
- A person with credibility and respect
- Someone that you can trust
A good mentor is:
- Open to change
- Someone with significant experience that’s willing to share their knowledge
- Someone that you can trust
Can you have multiple mentors and advocates? Absolutely YES! In fact, having multiple advocates will be to your benefit because you have more than one person singing your tune, and having multiple mentors gives you more perspectives on different topics, which helps you make better decisions.
Can a person be both a mentor and advocate? YES! Think about your favorite university professor. That professor not only teaches you, but he or she can act as a good reference for your character and your work ethic when you need it.
I’ve experienced both good mentors and bad mentors, and I’ve benefitted from having advocates. I had a bad mentor who found me as a threat, and she would often give me incorrect information about people who worked there, as well as little information as possible to do my job. I also found out that she wasn’t my advocate – she would give incorrect personal and professional information about me to other people. Luckily for me, my manager noticed my skill set because I made sure that I kept him informed with weekly status reports of my work. He also noticed what she was doing, so he gave me a gentle warning about her. Apparently, she had a reputation of being a troublemaker, so that helped me. My manager became my advocate, and I got a reputation from higher-ups as a “go-to” person.
On the flip side, I had great mentors. One of my first mentors was a manager named Jim, who often gave me great advice on my career, constructive criticism on how I did things, and taught me a few things that they don’t teach you in school, such as secondary soft skills like social networking to build business relationships. Another mentor that I had was my own mother, who ran her own staffing business. Even though she wasn’t a technical person, she gave me a strong understanding of how businesses operate, so it gave me an advantage of how to use technology to benefit a business. This helped higher-ups see me as “more than some computer jockey”, and I was able to move up the ladder. It also gave me a foundation on how to run my own business.
I also had great advocates, and in the shark-infested waters of government work, I needed these. My nature is to introduce ways to make tasks more effective and efficient, and this didn’t go over well with people who liked the “status quo”. Fortunately, I had quite a few advocates who helped support my causes, and they protected me from the sharks who wanted to see me fall. I also used my skills that I learned from my first mentor, Jim, to help build relationships with people to help fend off the sharks.
I would love to hear your thoughts, opinions and experiences. Please post a constructive comment.
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