Of Mice and Mentors


The subject of mentors and sponsors frequently surfaces among the high-potentials in Corporate America’s most prestigious firms and organizations.  How do I get one?  What is the difference between the two terms?

Recently, a manager commented that she has a “crappy boss.”  Since the first step in a constructive dialogue is to provide specific, measurable, and objective details on behavior and steer away from evaluative and judgmental  adjectives that label the person, the question to explore is, “What is it that s/he is doing, or not doing, that causes you to label your boss as ‘crappy’?”  Answer: “She is not developing me.  Others at my level are being developed by their supervisors.”  In another situation, it was the supervisor exasperatedly telling his direct report, “I don’t have time to coach!”  And yet another manager commented, “I don’t want to coach!”

Well, to those who have DR’s (direct reports), coaching is what comes with the territory…once you have DR’s, you are responsible for their professional development and performance.  The number one priority of being a leader is leading others toward higher levels of accomplishment(s)…this is also known as succession planning, strategy, and focusing on long-term success and the survival of your organization.  The reality is, many professionals are promoted to levels of management based on competencies that do not include the necessary skills to develop others.  In essence, it is the Peter Principle — where employees rise to a level where they cannot fulfill their duties.  Corporate America is replete with supervisors who have risen to their level of incompetence.

What to do?  Find a Mentor.

When you have a boss who does not spend the time to coach/guide you, and there is no Leadership Development support, this is where you have the opportunity to seek out mentors.  Mice cower; leaders find peer mentors and senior mentors within the organization to advise them on how to meet and exceed expectations.  Some organizations offer formalized programs for mentoring; however, the best mentoring is often organic – where you manage to find each other, and there is no official titling to your relationship.

  • Got 10?  Ask people for 10 minutes of their time, and be prepared with a couple of questions that can help you understand how to increase the quality of your deliverables.
  • Never dine alone.  Approach someone sitting alone at lunch and ask if you may join him/her.
  • Back to School.  Research who in your organization attended your alma mater, and seek them out.

An external mentor, preferably someone within the same industry, would also greatly benefit leaders at all stages of your career.  External mentors can provide you with an outside perspective that may enlighten your view of a situation.  This may be, for example, a former professor, your parents (depends), or you can hire an executive coach.


Advancement is often accelerated by those within the organization who know you personally and professionally, and can influence decision-makers to offer you new projects &/or promote you.  These types of people are your sponsors.

  • Join an Employee Research Group (ERG).  If your organization doesn’t have one, perhaps you can start one.  ERG’s are professional colleagues who convene to focus on solutions for target markets.
  • Research activities.  Are you really good at racquet ball?  Golf?  Bowling?  Invite a senior executive to a challenge.  Leaders usually enjoy strong competition that isn’t cocky.
  • Provide a win-win.  If you attract a new client or gain positive publicity, this can attract attention to your abilities to lead within your sphere of influence.  Sponsors recognize leadership potential when you follow passions that demonstrate how intrinsic motivation leads to success.

It is an illusory conclusion that we can get there (wherever “there” may be) alone.  Take charge of your career.  It is easy to deflect blame onto others, yet true leaders can come up with solutions that still help you reach your goals.

Happy Hunting.

Thank you.

Rossina Gil, MSOD, MAIS, is a Leadership and Organization Development Practitioner, author, cultural analyst, coach, speaker, and facilitator.  CorporateLookingGlass.com.


About Rossina

Thought Partner & Corporate Primatologist

Posted on October 16, 2013, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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