The Truth About Mentors / by Lewis Lin

Photo Credit: Kapil Goyal/Nan Stothard

Photo Credit: Kapil Goyal/Nan Stothard

Greetings! I finished up an interview workshop in Southern California. In the coming weeks, I'm headed to Nashville and Chapel Hill for more workshops. If you're attending, please swing by and say hello!

When I'm not traveling, I've been working hard on a new book that I'm releasing in 2019. This time it's not about interview prep; instead, it'll be focused on managing your career after you've landed that offer.

Below, you'll find a sneak peek from one of my favorite chapters: finding a mentor. What you'll read will resonate deeply with mid-career professionals. Late-career professionals will appreciate the excerpt if they've partnered with the perfect mentor; other late careerists might regret not having a mentor at this stage of their career.

Finally, those who are just beginning their careers might find the topic too advanced. However, it's something to keep your eye on, so you don't accidentally let a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip through your fingers.

Enjoy the excerpt,

Lewis C. Lin


Excerpt from Lewis' New Book

Your typical mentoring relationship
Almost all mentoring relationships are one-sided: the mentee asks for advice, which the mentor provides.

Given this typical dynamic, in the best case, the mentee gains valuable insights and answers. In the worst case, the mentee merely glorifies the mentor’s ego. Since mentors are often unfamiliar with the mentee’s day-to-day work, mentors dispenses generic and usually irrelevant advice.

Although the mentor gets the mentee’s admiration, the mentor can get frustrated too. When the mentee discards the relationship, the mentor can feel used.

When people say, “I want a mentor,” what do they really want? A sponsor. The terms mentor and sponsor are often confused.

Sponsors and protégés
Having a sponsor is different. The sponsor and protégé relationship is a bilateral, mutually beneficial relationship. First, they are well-aware of each other’s work because they work in the same company and organization.

The sponsor needs junior employees to achieve their objectives. Maybe the sponsor needs technical skills. Or perhaps they just need a humble individual who’s willing to do grunt work. The protégé rises to the challenge.

In return, the sponsor rewards the protégé with promotions and political air cover. And because the protégé holds a special place in the sponsor’s heart, the sponsor is eager to mentor and counsel the protégé.

The sponsor and protégé relationship is strong and enduring because they need one another.

Qualifications of a sponsor
It’s easier to get promoted if your sponsor has sufficient influence and organizational control. Sponsors are rarely your immediate manager. There are a few reasons why:

  • Your immediate manager may not have enough influence or opportunities to accelerate your career.

  • Your immediate manager has limited incentive to promote you to be his or her peer. At best, the manager will have to replace your missing productivity. At worst, the manager just promoted you to be her new rival.

In the rare situation where your immediate manager has enough influence and is not threatened by your rise, that person could be your sponsor.

How does one find a sponsor?

  • The sponsor is likely to be in your chain of command. It’d be odd for a sponsor to assign projects and promote a protégé that’s not within their organization.

  • Sponsors typically select you, not the other way around. Sponsors have their eye out for capable individuals who can take on special projects. Sponsors do not choose unremarkable performers. Find opportunities to shine and demonstrate your worth.

  • When you get your shot, don’t pass it up. Sponsors are looking for protégés more often than you think. Sponsors are ambitious, and they need help realizing their grand vision. Many protégé candidates unknowingly pass, unaware of the mutually beneficial relationship that could occur. A sponsor and protégé relationship will never be formally proposed or documented on paper. It’ll start casually and small, like a request to help with an important project. When you’ve been beseeched, don’t hesitate. Plunge in and give the sponsor a chance.

One last thing: is a sponsor and protégé relationship declared publicly? No. A typical sponsor and protégé pair implicitly understand what each one needs to do and what they’ll get out of it.

Your Prototypical Sponsor & Protégé Relationship: Harvey & Mike from  The Suits    Photo Credit: USA Network

Your Prototypical Sponsor & Protégé Relationship: Harvey & Mike from The Suits

Photo Credit: USA Network